Bengals rookie cornerback returns to practice in surprising role

CINCINNATI -- Cam Taylor-Britt’s first practice back with the Cincinnati Bengals following a core muscle injury that landed him on injured reserve was one to remember. The rookie cornerback is serving as the scout team quarterback this week, doing his best to emulate Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

It’s not an easy job, but Taylor-Britt was honored for the opportunity to play such a unique role to help his team prepare for Sunday’s primetime game at Baltimore.

Taylor-Britt, a prolific quarterback at the high school level, had been injured the week before the Bengals’ preseason opener, and after his four-week stint on injured reserve to open the season, he was designated for return Wednesday. That started the clock on a 21-day window before the team has to make the decision to add him to the active roster.

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For now, he’s jumping back in as Jackson.

“It’s tough,” said Taylor-Britt, who was recruited as an athlete in high school. “It’s like you’re a little kid in the backyard, playing your best ball with your buddies. Basically, I’m really just trying to get the best look possible for this upcoming game. Sunday is a big challenge especially going against Lamar and the Ravens and for me to have that opportunity to help these guys out in any way possible, I’m gonna do that.”

Taylor-Britt was an unexpected but reasonable choice for the job as someone who played the position in high school and was a dual-threat quarterback like Jackson.

The Bengals’ 2022 second-round draft pick threw for 1,466 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for 1,030 yards and 16 touchdowns on 117 carries in 2017 as a senior at Park Crossing High School in Mobile, Ala. Taylor-Britt said he watched a lot of Jackson when the Ravens quarterback was playing in college at Louisville, and he tried to pattern his game after him “a tad bit,” but played with a little more physicality.

On Wednesday, Taylor-Britt nearly completed a 65-yard pass, but the ball was tipped. He’s still getting his throwing arm back into gear after not really throwing a football since senior year, but his arm was good enough that Scott Frost was recruiting him as a quarterback at Nebraska. Taylor-Britt said he told Frost during the coach’s visit at his home that he didn’t want to play quarterback, and the next thing he knew the Cornhuskers signed Adrian Martinez and Taylor-Britt got his wish to play defensive back in college.

Serving as the scout team quarterback brings back memories of high school. The Bengals set him up for the play they want to run, but Taylor-Britt improvises like Jackson will.

“He’s like a basically a Madden character that you build up and put up everyone’s (ratings) to 99 and you know, I’m trying to do the best to help the team,” Taylor-Britt said.

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Jackson is off to a strong start this season, ranking in the top 10 rushers with 316 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries, while also throwing for 893 yards and 11 touchdowns. Last season, he finished with 767 rushing yards and two touchdowns over 12 games, down from previous years, but his passing stats improved, averaging 240.2 yards per game, and now he’s on pace for a career-year in terms of throwing. Jackson passed for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns and rushed for 1,206 yards and seven scores during his MVP season in 2019.

Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said Taylor-Britt is doing a good job of providing the defense looks it might get from Jackson, but it’s the unexpected the Bengals have to be prepared for Sunday.

“He’s playing terrific,” Anarumo said of Jackson. “When the crunch time comes, he keeps the ball and puts so much pressure on the defense. You can have the initial play covered, but it’s second and third part of the play that you’re worried about when guys are uncovered because it’s hard to cover anyone for an extended amount of time, especially their talented receivers. It’s all about team defense. We have to do our best to play with every team that plays us, keeping them in the pocket. That’s easier said than done. We’ll do our best and team defense is a big part of it. But if he keeps extending plays, then it’ll be harder to be successful.”

Jackson has averaged 193.2 passing yards and 1.5 touchdowns, plus 87.3 rushing yards, over six career starts against the Bengals. He’s run for as many as 152 yards against them and threw for a best of 257 yards in the first matchup of 2021. Cincinnati limited Jackson to three yards on two carries in the first matchup of 2020 when Logan Wilson was tasked with spying him, but Anarumo said that doesn’t always work.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said it helps just having a lot of guys who have faced Jackson multiple times before, but whether that makes a difference on Sunday remains to be seen.

“It doesn’t hurt, certainly, to have seen it in person because he’s such a dynamic player in every way that you could explain it,” Taylor said. “It’s a good thing that you’ve played against him, you’ve felt the speed firsthand, you’ve felt the accuracy firsthand, you’ve felt the play-making firsthand, but it’s another thing to go out there again and try and stop it. He’s one of the most dynamic players in the league.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Ravens, 8:20 p.m., NBC, 700, 1530, 102.7. 104.7

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