Bengals’ Awuzie will play in opener; team ‘taking it day by day’ with Burrow

Cincinnati opens season Sunday at Cleveland

CINCINNATI — Bengals coach Zac Taylor confirmed that cornerback Chidobe Awuzie will play Sunday in the season opener at Cleveland, but he wasn’t ready to make that determination for quarterback Joe Burrow.

The Bengals are still “just taking it day by day” with Burrow, Taylor said.

Burrow returned to practice last week for the first time since suffering a right calf strain July 27 on the second day of training camp, but while offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said Thursday there was a plan in place to get him ready for Week 1, Taylor is more cautious about declaring Burrow ready.

Taylor didn’t leave any room for doubt with Awuzie.

Awuzie was limited throughout training camp as he continued to work back from his Oct. 31, 2022, ACL tear, but began getting into 11-on-11s the final week of the preseason and was optimistic then he wouldn’t need much time to prepare for the season once he was full-go. Still, Awuzie hadn’t put a timeline on when his first game would be, and now that is set.

“He’s arguably one of the smartest corners in the league,” Taylor said, when asked what it means to have Awuzie available again. “I haven’t coached every corner. But he’s got those instincts, that awareness. Physically is as talented as anyone. There’s a lot that he brings to the table that people see and people don’t see. It’s good to get him back. Him back in the huddle, him back out there taking reps. He really makes those receivers work for everything that they get. I know that they would tell you that. He’s a great weapon to have back there.”

Taylor also gave a positive update on Joseph Ossai, indicating the third-year defensive end is not “week to week” at this point but rather “day to day” after he sprained his ankle in the preseason finale at Washington.

Ossai told The Cincinnati Enquirer last week he could be out at least four weeks. He was at practice Monday but working out on the rehab field during the 30-minute portion open to media.

“I think everything has been encouraging,” Taylor said.

The team doesn’t have to release an injury report until Wednesday, which is typically the first practice day in preparation for the next opponent. The Bengals had two practices last week, then took a long weekend off and used Monday as a “bonus practice” to fine-tune some things in preparation for Cleveland.

Taylor said it feels more “real” now that the season is here.

“I think our guys are juiced up, had a good weekend, relaxed, ready to come back to work so I thought we had good energy today,” Taylor said.

The Bengals have their typical day off Tuesday and will be back in the regular routine Wednesday. Taylor said he felt good about what was accomplished in training camp and up to this point, and now the players and coaches get to show it in a meaningful AFC North division game to open the season.

Cincinnati is coming off back-to-back division titles and AFC Championship game appearances and looking to get back to that stage this season.

“I feel like they are in the place they need to be right now,” Taylor said. “They just have to go show it on Sunday. Again, I really like what our guys are about. I really like the effort and attention to detail they put forth these last couple weeks. So, I feel very confident we are going to put in a good week of work and be ready to go on Sunday.”

Another sign that it’s officially game week came with the announcement of the team’s six captains Monday, as voted on by the players. Burrow, nose tackle DJ Reader, defensive end Sam Hubbard, center Ted Karras, and running back Joe Mixon are captains for a second year in a row, and cornerback Mike Hilton replaces departed safety Vonn Bell as another representative on the defense.

There is no representative from special teams this year. Safety Mike Thomas was that guy last year but is currently on the practice squad.

Taylor said the coaches play no role in the voting process, and there aren’t any qualifications they set forth in what kind of individuals they want as captains. He hasn’t disagreed with any of the past captains that were selected, so he trusts the players to know what they are looking for in those leaders, who play a valuable role in the locker room and in communicating with coaches.

“They’re the voice of the locker room, and that doesn’t mean that guys who aren’t captains can’t have that voice as well, but they’re the guys I will turn to -- we don’t do it every week but then I’ll turn to and we’ll have discussions, things that are on my mind about practice or the opponent we’ve got, or things I want to get done in the locker room,” Taylor said. “So, extra voice I guess you could say. They do have a little bit of obligation to speak up when something needs to be said. But again, there’s so many other people in the locker room that don’t necessarily have the captain on their shirt that represent what that should be, and they do a great job of articulating thoughts they have to me and not shying away from that.”


Bengals at Browns, 1 p.m., CBS, 1290, 1530, 95.7, 102.7, 104.7

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