Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan is hopeful tight end C.J. Uzomah will be able to play in the Super Bowl in two weeks, but if not, Drew Sample and Mitchell Wilcox have big shoes to fill.
Uzomah had 493 yards and five touchdowns in 16 regular-season games and was one of the best weapons on the field in the first two playoff games when he caught 13 passes for 135 yards and one touchdown combined.
However, after two targets in Sunday’s AFC Championship victory over Kansas City, Uzomah suffered a knee injury, which coach Zac Taylor said Monday appears to be a sprained MCL. The team is keeping him in the picture as a possibility for the Super Bowl when the Bengals play the L.A. Rams on Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium.
“Certainly not having CJ in two weeks is something that we’d have to work around and guys are gonna have to step up with Drew and Mitch, but yeah, he means the world to our offense, the world to our team as a leader,” Callahan said Tuesday. “You guys all see that, his personality is infectious. His leadership skills are outstanding. Our guys love him, and so to not have him with us would be something that would be detrimental to us to some degree, guys will step up and fill the role but CJ is a big part of what we do and hopefully we’ll potentially get him back. I’m not sure. That’s for Zac to answer. But you know, we love him. He’s a huge part of what we do and we could definitely use him.”
The Bengals are going up against the NFL’s third-leading passer in Matthew Stafford and will need as many weapons available to Joe Burrow, who will face a defense featuring All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald (12.5 sacks) and All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey (4 interceptions).
Los Angeles’ defense ranks third in interceptions with 19, second in passing touchdowns allowed with (17) and sixth in run defense (103.2 rushing yards per game).
“They’ve got great players at all levels of the defense, really, really talented,” Callahan said. “You know, Aaron Donald is probably the best defensive player in football the last five years. Jalen Ramsey’s is probably considered top at his position. I was with (outside linebacker) Von Miller in Denver. I’ve seen what he can do and he’s played really well for them over the playoffs. So, the talent alone we have our hands full.
“They’re a really, really good football team. They play well together, schematically. It’s really Raheem Morris calling the defense but that scheme is what (Chargers head coach and former Rams defensive coordinator) Brandon Staley brought with him when he first got there two years ago. So, it’s in the (Vic) Fangio system, Staley system, multiple fronts, multiple coverages, a lot of try to keep it in front, limit your explosives type of defense. They do a great job. They’ve got all kinds of different looks you’ve got to prepare for, but the main thing is just you’ve got to handle the talent first before you even worry about the scheme and they are extremely talented.”
Callahan also has familiarity with Stafford after working with him in Detroit when Callahan was the Lions quarterbacks coach in 2016-17.
Callahan said he wasn’t surprised to see Stafford lead the Rams to the Super Bowl his first season in L.A. Stafford threw for 4,886 yards and 41 touchdowns with 17 interceptions this season as the Rams went 12-5 in the regular season and won the NFC West.
“I think he’s really cemented himself as one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL,” Callahan said. “He’s a phenomenal worker. He’s extremely intelligent. And he’s a great human being on top of it. If you look at all the things that he’s done for the city of Detroit, when he was there, he’s phenomenal. So I’ve got nothing but the utmost respect for Matthew. I have a good relationship with him. … I love the guy. I think he’s one of the toughest competitors out there and we got our hands full with that offense. They’re really good with him at the trigger. So, looking forward to playing against him and competing against him, but he’s a warrior. He’s as good as they come.”
The Rams have the advantage of playing at their home stadium, though the Bengals are set to be the home team at the pre-determined “neutral” site. Cincinnati is planning to travel to L.A. next Tuesday, two days earlier than the league had originally planned, so they can practice in the warmer weather and get acclimated to the time change.
“I think that will be important that we do it,” Callahan said. “But it’s always easier to transition from not so great weather to good weather. It doesn’t take long to figure that part out. They guys will get accustomed to that quick. It will be good to get the lay of the land, but when the weather’s good like that, that’s an easier transition than going to play in 8, 9, 10 degrees or something like that. That makes it very difficult.”
SUPER BOWL LVI
Sunday, Feb. 13
Bengals vs. Rams, 6:30 p.m., NBC, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7