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Bengals starters not expected to play beyond halftime

While Cincinnati Bengals fans can expect to see much more of the first-team offense and defense tonight against the Arizona Cardinals, it may not be as much as they are used to in the third week of the preseason.

Most teams play their starters into the third quarter in the third game of the preseason — aka the dress rehearsal — but Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said he no longer sees the need to put his best players at risk simply for the sake of shaking off rust.

“I don’t know when I flipped over, but it’s been a while,” Lewis said. “The health of the football team is so important. We’re going to let some of the guys play more this week, but ultimately what counts is being able to prepare and be ready to go for Baltimore (in the season opener), and having the guys stay healthy.”

Lewis has said he likes to see how players respond after cooling off after halftime, but he indicated that likely won’t be the case tonight.

“I don’t foresee that as a possibility, but we’ll see how I feel at halftime,” he said. “I’ll reserve judgment of that.”

All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins and right tackle Andre Smith are expected to make their preseson debuts, so they likely will play fewer snaps than the rest of the starters. Running back Giovani Bernard also could see less action as the Bengals want to see rookie Jeremy Hill get some snaps with the first team.

By this point in the preseason, most veterans are ready to start the regular season, and getting all worked up for a few series and then having to come out only adds to the frustration as the days crawl along until the season opener Sept. 7.

“I kind of hate that you have to come out of the game,” defensive end Wallace Gilberry said. “Even though it’s a preseason game, you have a job to do so you get so caught up in the moment.”

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth said he’s anxious to play a full game but added the process has to be followed because self-inflicted injuries are as big of a concern as hits from opponents.

“It’s a build-up process,” he said. “It’s no different than strengthening and conditioning. The very first week, even if you feel good you don’t want to push yourself to the point where you injure yourself because you put too much weight on or did too much running too soon. It’s a process. Top to bottom in this organization, we understand it’s a process. It’s harder to do than people think.”

There are two other reasons for Lewis to want to pull the starters earlier than usual tonight. The first is that the team won’t arrive back in Cincinnati until 5 a.m. Monday and then will have to turn around and play another game Thursday night.

And the earlier the starters leave, the more time the coaching staff will have to evaluate the second- and third-teamers who will be facing cuts this week.

Rosters have to be trimmed to 75 by 4 p.m. Tuesday, and the final 53-man unit will be announced at 4 p.m. Saturday.

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