CINCINNATI — With the return of tight end Hayden Hurst, quarterback Joe Burrow should have all his weapons available to him when the Cincinnati Bengals play host to the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football.
The question remains what his protection will look like with right tackle La’el Collins now on injured reserve because of a left knee injury.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said this week he wasn’t going to reveal their new starting right tackle. But Burrow might have revealed the Bengals’ plan to put player Isaiah Prince, rather than Hakeem Adeniji, in that role. It’s possible both players could have a role of some kind.
“The good thing is that we’ve played with Zay for most of last year,” Burrow said when asked about how a change at right tackle could impact the offense. “So, that’s a guy we’re comfortable with, has played a lot of football and so whoever we’re putting out there, I have the utmost trust in them because they’ve all played a lot of football.”
Asked to clarify who “Zay” is, Burrow backpedaled and said that’s a better question for Taylor.
Adeniji seemed the more natural fill-in after replacing Collins when he suffered his first-quarter injury last week at New England. He also had been getting regular midweek reps with the first-team offense on Collins’ veteran days off. Adeniji also has been getting opportunities in games this season as an extra tackle in some packages.
The Bengals have stashed Prince, who confirmed his nickname is “Zay,” on the practice squad since he was waived on Nov. 22 to make room for the signing of wide receiver Trenton Irwin to the active roster. Prince has not played a snap this season. Prince was designated for return from injured reserve and activated to the roster Nov. 21 following his recovery from an elbow strain suffered in training camp.
A former Ohio State tackle, Prince was originally acquired by the Bengals on waivers from Miami in 2019 and served as the replacement at right tackle last year when Riley Reiff went on injured reserve with an ankle injury in Week 15. Prince played the final eight games, including every snap in the postseason, but the Bengals signed Collins in free agency as part of the offensive line rebuild.
“I didn’t take offense,” Prince said. “We’re all here to help the team and we’re here for one goal. So, wherever my role is to help the team that’s what I’m here for. I’m grateful for whatever my role is.”
Taylor said offensive line coach Frank Pollack has done a good job pushing the backups in practices to be ready for moments like this, and Prince and others have responded well in scout-team matchups against starting ends Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson.
Prince has been waiting for his opportunities while working to improve his hands and “landing good strikes.” He couldn’t recall how long it took for him to get healthy, but he’s been practicing with the team for more than a month. It just happened his reps were coming with the scout team until now.
“I’ve been in the building all year,” Prince said. “I haven’t missed a day. I’ve worked out every day, lifted, been to all the meetings, took notes. I’ve been here just getting the amount of reps and just working out to stay in shape to play the best I can.”
Burrow said he will be comfortable with whoever starts Monday, but the Bills defense is going to create challenges even for the regular starters. Buffalo has limited teams to the second fewest points this season, and with a high-scoring offense on the other side, the Bengals will have to make the most of opportunities on every possession.
The Bills defense is highlighted by Pro Bowl safety Jordan Poyer, who was limited the first two days of practice this week with a knee injury. Poyer has four interceptions in 11 games. Standout linebacker Von Miller is on injured reserve.
“You can tell their secondary is very well-coached, and they are sound in their scheme, they’re not having a ton of coverage breakdowns,” Burrow said. “Their safeties do a great job of disguising what coverages they’re in and their defensive line gets after the passer. I know they lost Von, but those other guys have really stepped up and done a great job and gone after the passer really well. So I feel like I’m saying that every week but I gotta get the ball out quickly, got to make sure that I get the ball in my playmakers hands.”
Hurst’s return from a calf injury gives the Bengals a chance to have all of their top playmakers on the field. He was hoping to be back last week but felt some tightness as he ramped up his workload in practices and was ruled out before the game at New England.
This week he says he is “100 percent” and Taylor said it’s helpful having everyone available for a game like this against a good defense.
“We have weapons in all five spots,” Taylor said. “Hayden out there, Joe Mixon and Samaje (Perine). I think Samaje’s got (37 catches ) and Mixon has (55). It gives (Burrow) the flexibility to be able to know I’ve got five winners in a given moment. I’m going to go where the defense takes me to go and it maximizes the weapons that we’ve got.”
Bills at Bengals, 8:30 p.m., ESPN, ABC, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7