Bengals leaning on banged-up secondary to replace Awuzie

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo called cornerback Chidobe Awuzie “irreplaceable” on the field and in the locker room, but the defense now faces the challenge of having to move forward without him.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor confirmed Wednesday the team will be placing Awuzie on injured reserve after he suffered a season-ending ACL tear late in the first half of Monday’s loss at Cleveland.

Anarumo said the Bengals will try to keep the scheme the same and just plug in new players the best they can, but if the coaches can help personnel with some changes Sunday against Carolina, they will adjust accordingly throughout the game.

Planning that out becomes even more difficult with two potential starting cornerbacks working back from injuries and considered “day-to-day,” according to Taylor. Eli Apple missed Monday’s game at Cleveland because of a hamstring injury, and Tre Flowers, who initially replaced Awuzie, exited with his own hamstring issue in the second half.

“That’s where the depth in the room really has to step up,” Taylor said. “It’s a group that we’re confident in. They need the experience, and so they’re gonna get some experience, guys like Cam (Taylor-Britt). That’s a good thing for the depth of the room. It’s unfortunate. Chido’s such a leader for us and great player. Of course, that’s hard to replace, but again, we’ve got confidence. I know Chuck (secondary coach Charles Burks) has done a great job with that room, developing those guys, and when their number is called, they’ll be ready.”

Taylor-Britt, the team’s rookie second-round draft pick, started in Apple’s place Monday and played all but one snap on defense. Flowers played 26 of 72 snapsand rookie free safety Dax Hill stepped in.

The Bengals let the trade deadline pass without making a move for reinforcements, and Anarumo said slot cornerbacks Mike Hilton and Jalen Davis will not play on the outside.

Apple said he is feeling better and is itching to get back out there after watching helplessly from the sidelines in Cleveland as his fellow starting cornerback went down and the team struggled to replace him.

“That’s my guy,” Apple said. “Since day one, you always had that connection, kind of feed off each other’s energy on the field, so that’s gonna be tough. It’s definitely gonna be something that as a group, we’re all going out to take that responsibility to pick that up.”

As the new leader of the group, Apple said all he wants to do is “be that guy everybody can count on.” That might mean providing extra guidance to Taylor-Britt and Hill, both whom he praised as having the tools to be successful.

Hill wasn’t sure what his role would be this week when he spoke to media Wednesday before team meetings, but Anarumo said the Bengals would have to work him out at outside cornerback to help provide cover in case Apple and/or Flowers aren’t able to go.

Taylor noted Hill’s versatility in college and some of the different packages he’s worked in since his arrival in Cincinnati provide a good base for him to make the adjustment if needed.

“He’s played a lot of those roles in college, some of the things we’ve asked him to do and the packages he’s played gives him a chance to help you in a lot of different areas like he did in the game the other day, going out there at corner,” Taylor said. “It’s something he practiced very limited in training camp. I think a day or two there at corner. He’s a guy that can serve a lot of roles for you.”

The Bengals are riding the ups and downs that come with playing rookies, but Anarumo said the key is that they stay confident because “if they don’t, they don’t stand a chance.”

Hill couldn’t even remember getting reps at cornerback and said he might not have played the position since high school. The technique and how he reads the field is different at cornerback, compared to safety, but he is up for the challenge as the Bengals prepare for Panthers quarterback P.J. Walker.

“It is an adjustment,” Hill said. “I mean, I haven’t played it in some years, so I knew it was gonna take a little bit of time, but I think I’m good. I’m ready for anything that comes my way. I mean, I believe in myself, my talent, my hard work, my skill set. So I’m ready for anything that’s put in my position.”


Panthers at Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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