The Cincinnati Bengals opened the preseason in worrisome fashion Friday night, losing three starters to injury in the first four minutes and another early in the second quarter.
In a seven-play span early in the Bengals’ 17-6 win against the New York Jets, guard Travelle Wharton, linebacker Rey Maualuga and defensive end Carlos Dunlap went down with right knee injuries.
Saturday afternoon head coach Marvin Lewis said that Wharton is likely lost for the season. Wharton, who is in his ninth season, was the team’s first free agency signing during the offseason and one of two new starters on the offensive line.
Clint Boling took snaps at left guard with the first unit on the second series and has shown improvement in camp after a rocky rookie season where he struggled in his three starts at right guard. Second-year player Otis Hudson and rookie free agent Trevor Robinson are also listed as backups at left guard.
It is also possible the team could look to a veteran free agent to sign.
This is the second time Wharton’s season has been lost due to a knee injury. The other was the 2006 regular-season opener with Carolina when he tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee.
“It’s football,” Maualuga said. “It’s a physical sport. No one knows what will happen. Unfortunately everything went down — boom, boom, boom.”
Maualuga’s injury did not appear serious as he remained on the sideline, encouraging teammates throughout the game.
The fourth starter to leave was safety Taylor Mays, who suffered a hit to the head while tackling Jets rookie Stephen Hill.
Lewis said it was a possible concussion.
Strong debut for Burfict
Rookie linebacker Vontaze Burfict could not have asked for a better NFL debut.
The undrafted free agent out of Arizona State had said he hoped to enter Friday’s preseason game against the New York Jets sometime in the first half, which he did. He also made a diving interception of a Tim Tebow pass in the third quarter and five tackles, sharing team honors with Dan Skuta.
“Making plays is making plays,” Burfict said. “I’m excited I got a pick off Tim Tebow, but it’s just one play at a time. I just jumped (the route) and the ball was coming and it just came in my hands.
“He didn’t quite see me getting there because I could barely see him about to throw it,” Burfict continued. “When he did, I was like ‘this is my pick for sure.’ And it just ended up in my hands.” Burfict also played special teams on punt coverage, punt return, kickoff coverage and kickoff return.
“I put a lot of good stuff on film and a lot of bad things on film,” he said. “But the bad things I can correct.”
The Cincinnati Enquirer contributed to this story.