Bengals lose top defensive player for season

Cincinnati Bengals nose tackle D.J. Reader reacts while being moved off the field on a cart during the second half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Credit: Nick Wass

Credit: Nick Wass

The Cincinnati Bengals got the confirmation news they feared on the severity of nose tackle D.J. Reader’s injury.

Reader suffered a left quad injury during the third quarter of Sunday’s loss at Baltimore and was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Monday. The Bengals filled his spot with the free agent signing of defensive tackle Xavier Williams.

Cincinnati is now down three regular contributors on the defensive line, as coach Zac Taylor also indicated defensive end Sam Hubbard will be out this week, possibly a couple weeks, because of the elbow injury he suffered Sunday. Mike Daniels has been out with an elbow injury as well, and tackle Geno Atkins is just back from injury. Atkins made his season debut Sunday, quietly appearing on 30 percent of the defensive snaps.

The Bengals face another challenge this week preparing for Philip Rivers and the Indianapolis Colts.

“He’s the heart and soul of this defensive line, heart and soul of this defense, really,” defensive tackle Christian Covington said of Reader. “One of the key guys on this team. To lose a guy like him is hard. I was able to talk to him after the game, obviously (and) talked to him today. He’s feeling good. He’s optimistic. He has faith in this defense, this team. We gotta pick it up now. We have to fill in the spot that he played with this team and do what we can, honestly.”

Covington said Reader seemed to still be processing the injury when he spoke to him Monday. So is the defense. Reader was the team’s biggest free agent signing this offseason, as a centerpiece to the Bengals' rebuild on defense.

The former Houston Texans fifth-round draft pick had been the only consistent on the defensive line right up until his injury, finishing with 19 tackles, one tackle for loss and one quarterback hit while playing 80 percent of the team’s defensive snaps prior to Sunday and as much as 97 percent of the snaps in one game.

“I’ve been nothing but impressed by D.J., just his effort on every single play, not only his talent level, just his overall effort on every single play and really the leadership that he provided,” Taylor said. “He’s no-nonsense, comes in here gets the work done, has high expectations for himself and those around them. Just everything you’d hoped for when you sign the guy without knowing him too well.”

Now the Bengals have to figure out how to quickly incorporate Williams, who had visited with the team a couple weeks ago when Daniels ended up sidelined again, just a few days after returning from a groin problem.

Williams is a sixth-year player who was with the New England Patriots earlier this season after spending time with Kansas City (2018-19) and the Arizona Cardinals (2016-17), who originally signed him as a college free agent in 2015. He’s played in 45 career games, recording 80 tackles, three sacks and three forced fumbles.

Covington has been in Williams' shoes. He came to the Bengals through a trade with the Denver Broncos the day before final cuts were made. Nine days later, he played in 51 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in an opening loss to the Chargers.

“At the end of the day, I know what my job is,” Covington said Monday when asked about his increased role because of injuries. “I have to come in here every single day and be a professional. And at the end of the day, too, whatever is asked of me, whatever is required of me, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability. I’ve been blessed to be in this league for six years now. I’ve played a lot of ball. I’ve been in a lot of situations. I’ve been a starter. Obviously, I’ve been a backup. It is what it is with my career. But at the same time, I’m ready for whatever is asked of me. I’m ready to step up in whatever way that is.”

Taylor said the team will “be smart” about increasing Atkins' role, but the important thing is just having him back on the field.

Cincinnati hasn’t gotten much out of some of its top-paid players so far this season, including wide receiver A.J. Green, who exited Sunday’s game in the third quarter because of an issue with the hamstring that he tweaked in training camp.

Taylor said Green’s injury is still being evaluated, but when asked if Green expressed any concerns about his role or anything else aside from his hamstring, Taylor said he’s had good conversations with the veteran receiver. Green has 14 catches for 119 yards but had only one target Sunday.

“I talk to my players every week; I’ll keep those conversations private, but I feel really good about where he’s at,” Taylor said.

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