Shifting roles leave some Bengals disgruntled

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers (17) throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Caption
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers (17) throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Credit: AP

Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Josh Bynes said players should always be striving for bigger roles, regardless of where they are in their careers.

The veteran was speaking in generalities when asked Monday if the players seem to be on the same page regarding their roles within the defense. However, the comments proved timely after a handful of his teammates have expressed frustration with their changing roles.

Cornerback Darius Philips and safety Shawn Williams took to social media last week appearing to complain about demotions with a tweet: “Don’t waste talent… especially mine.” Phillips lost a starting job with the return of nickel corner Mackensie Alexander and the decision to use LeShaun Sims as the cornerback opposite William Jackson. Williams was the starting strong safety before Vonn Bell’s arrival.

Two weeks ago, defensive end Carlos Dunlap spoke to media about frustration with being benched for a third-down role. Then, when it seemed he might get his starting job back with Sam Hubbard out, the Bengals went with second-year player Amani Bledsoe instead for Sunday’s game at Indianapolis, a 31-27 loss.

“I feel like everybody’s on page on what their role is for sure right now,” Bynes said. “Obviously, why wouldn’t guys want bigger roles or you know and what they capable of doing for this defense? I would never limit anybody. I feel like, why wouldn’t you want to play up to a higher standard than you feel like you can play if you get an opportunity.”

Bengals coach Zac Taylor was asked specifically about Phillips' and Dunlaps' public display of frustration and said players know the coaches' doors are always open to discuss things “in a mature way and a professional way.”

Taylor said the staff just needs to keep educating players that “everything you say is going to get magnified” on social media.

“We’ve got a group of guys that I believe in that want to handle things the right way,” Taylor said. “Sometimes, guys get frustrated and say things. Ultimately, we end up talking through it with everybody on the team. It happens sometimes, and you wish it didn’t, but it does. That’s just the reality that we live in.”

Dunlap, an 11th-year veteran, will continue to be evaluated like all players are each week, Taylor said, but for now it seems the Bengals are going with the younger crop.

Defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who signed a three-year contract extension in 2018 alongside Dunlap, could be in the same boat, but Taylor and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo both say he’s still working back in after missing the first four weeks with a shoulder injury. Atkins was hardly used last week in the loss to Baltimore and played just 29 percent of the snaps Sunday.

“We’re paying close attention and he’s just two weeks into it,” Anarumo said. “As he feels more comfortable and we feel more comfortable, again, he’s only got two games under his belt. Jeez, I’d like for him to be out there every snap. But it’s kind of not where we’re at right now.”

The defensive line is a hodge-podge right now because of a slew of injuries. The Bengals on Monday waived defensive tackle Andrew Brown and signed Margus Hunt, a free agent who spent the 2013-2016 seasons with Cincinnati before a three-year stint with the Colts and four games with the Saints to open this season.

Bledsoe and Hunt can play both inside or outside. Bledsoe, who spent last year on the Titans' practice squad before joining the Bengals on Aug. 15, got his first start in Week 2 at tackle, before switching to end to start Sunday’s game. He played a season-high 46 percent of the snaps.

The former Oklahoma player said he found out he would be starting toward the end of the practice week, and he felt comfortable with the unit despite so many interchanging pieces. Newly signed tackle Xavier Williams also started Sunday, alongside Christian Covington.

“There’s some little things that I’d like to clean up,” Bledsoe said. “Overall pretty good, but just some little technique things I wish I could have gotten back to help me play at a higher level, first the run and pass, just play faster to just make a little more production but I think that’s probably the next step for me not just doing my job but like doing more and helping this defense as much as possible, making more plays.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Browns at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 1290, 95.7, 102.7, 104.7

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