‘Variety of guys’ needed to fill special teams roles of injured Wilson

Cincinnati Bengals defensive back Brandon Wilson (40) tackles Washington Football Team running back Jaret Patterson (35) during the first half of a preseason NFL football game Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Caption
Cincinnati Bengals defensive back Brandon Wilson (40) tackles Washington Football Team running back Jaret Patterson (35) during the first half of a preseason NFL football game Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Credit: Nick Wass

Credit: Nick Wass

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons already was feeling a little unsettled in the return game, but now losing Brandon Wilson to a season-ending knee injury leaves several holes to fill.

Wilson tore the ACL in his left knee when he was tackled going out of bounds on a kick return in the first half of Sunday’s loss to the Cleveland Browns.

The backup free safety was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, and the Bengals will be contemplating over the bye week replacements at the kick return spot, among other roles Wilson filled on special teams.

“It’s certainly not gonna be just one person (stepping up) when you lose a player of his caliber and his experience,” Simmons said Tuesday before the team broke for the bye. “You really can’t just plug-and-play one person to do that, it’ll be a variety of guys. You saw a little bit the other day, Tre (Flowers) jumped in there for us as a gunner, we had Mike Thomas who has made a living in this league playing gunner. We’ll have to fill his role with a variety of people probably on kickoff and the same thing on punt return (team). When you lose a core guy like that it stings, it hurts, but that’s life in this league too. Everybody loses players on a week-to-week basis. You hate it when it happens to one of your core guys like that, but what it provides is an opportunity for one of the other guys to step up. That’s how Brandon got to play in this league. He started off on PUP and when he got an opportunity he took it and ran with it.”

Wilson has returned 13 kicks for 291 yards (22.4 yards per return) with a long of 44 this season, his third year in that role. Prior to Sunday, he had played two-thirds of all special teams snaps, outside of the Jacksonville game when he stepped in to replace injured free safety Jessie Bates and played all the defensive snaps.

Simmons said he’s confident the Bengals will figure out how to replace Wilson, but he was disappointed for the player.

“I hate it more for him,” Simmons said. “We’ll be fine, we’ll get it figured out, but I hate it more for the kid. Brandon’s worked his tail off. Everybody around here feels terrible for him because they love and respect him so much. And I think the personal side of it really comes into play for him. We’ll get through it. It won’t be easy. We’ll have to do it in a variety of different manners, a variety of different ways, but it certainly doesn’t help.”

Darius Phillips, who has been returning punts, is the leading candidate to take over on kick returns right now, Simmons said. He finished the game in that role Sunday when Wilson went down, but his role as a punt returner wasn’t even locked.

Simmons said a couple practice squad players could also step in and there are some other candidates, such as Chris Evans, on the active roster.

“There’s gonna be inexperience when it comes to that for sure,” Simmon said. “As I told the group yesterday, when somebody gets hurt, what it does is it provides an opportunity for someone else to go out and show what they can do. I think that’s how you gotta view it.”

Losing linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither for at least three weeks also has an impact on special teams, though his role was less noticeable. He went on injured reserve with a foot injury Tuesday, and Bengals coach Zac Taylor indicated Monday it was unclear how long he could be out.

Simmons said he is used to having six linebackers active on game days and pulling from that group for special teams tackling, but with the Bengals using fewer linebackers and more defensive backs, he’s had more limited options. Davis was a guy he could count on, especially as someone who communicated well and played with intelligence.

The Bengals already lost another special teams leader from the linebacker position when Jordan Evans suffered a knee injury and went on injured reserve last month.

NEXT GAME

Sunday, Nov. 21

Bengals at Raiders, 4:05 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

About the Author