Hendrickson clears concussion protocols, will play Saturday vs. Titans

Credit: Frank Franklin II

Credit: Frank Franklin II

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor said defensive end Trey Hendrickson has cleared concussion protocols, meaning the team’s top pass rusher will be available to play this weekend.

The Bengals play the Titans in the AFC divisional round Saturday and already will be missing one starter on the defensive line with tackle Larry Ogunjobi going on injured reserve Monday with a foot injury suffered in the Wild Card win against Oakland.

Hendrickson also went down in that game but began the concussion protocol process Tuesday when he was a limited participant in practice, and he was a full participant by Wednesday. The Bengals still have concerns inside with Josh Tupou still limited Tuesday and Wednesday with a knee injury, though Taylor said he and wide receiver Stanley Morgan (hamstring) are trending upward.

Cincinnati also will be down a backup linebacker with Joe Bachie going on the COVID list Thursday.

Preparing for the scheme

Much has been said about running back Derrick Henry ahead of the game, but he isn’t the only explosive weapon the defense will need to watch.

When the Titans suffered their last loss, a surprising defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15, they also were without wide receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. Henry is back from a Week 8 foot injury that required surgery, and Brown and Jones – who have dealt with various ailments this season – appear healthy as well.

Taylor said the Titans offense is “really impressive” as a whole, but not just because of the talented skill players.

“Forget about the talent they have for a minute,” Taylor said. “They do a really good job with the scheme. Todd Downing has been there for a while and he’s put those guys in a really good position to take advantage of the complements to the run and pass stuff. They’ve got everything. They have a lot of concepts that people steal around the league. It does start with the run. They’ve got a great offensive line. The receivers are willing blockers. The quarterback has to be able to get them in the right plays and then really good stable of running backs that really picked up this team when Henry got hurt. Then off of that they run all the keepers, all the play-actions, all the screens, and (Ryan) Tannehill is great at the dropback stuff. So it presents a really unique challenge for your defense.”

Jones, an 11-year veteran, has missed all or parts of six games this season because of a hamstring injury that first surfaced in training camp (he also missed one game because of COVID protocols). Brown missed four games while dealing with various issues throughout the year, including injuries reported with his knee, hamstring, calf and chest.

But both have remained threats on the field. Brown leads the Titans receivers with 869 yards and five touchdowns on 63 receptions, and Jones adds 434 yards and one touchdown on 31 catches.

“He’s still Julio Jones,” Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton said. “His resume speaks for itself. You have to respect what he’s done over his career. He might’ve been slowed down by injuries and stuff, but he’s still easily one of the best receivers in all of football. And you go to A.J. and he’s an Ole Miss Rebel, so we have that connection No. 1, but he’s one of the best up and comin’ receivers. He’s built just like Julio, a strong guy, a run after catch guy. He brings another physicality that the Titans teams live off of. Dealin’ with those two, we have to be ready and we have to be able to stop their explosives.”

Penalty concerns

The Bengals had the second fewest penalties in the league this season with just 72, but quarterback Joe Burrow said it will be important to keep that trend up on the road Saturday in a playoff situation where there will be a lot of noise.

“It (the silent count) has been good all year,” Burrow said. “We’ve only had two or three pre-snap penalties on the road. You see when teams come into our stadium. There’s a lot of pre-snap penalties. That’s a tough thing to do on the road. I think it’s a credit to our guys up front, being locked in to the mechanics of our silent count.”

Taylor said it’s worked well because the players have remained disciplined.

“A lot of that is on those guys around Joe, but Joe articulating things in the huddle to make sure we’re all on the same page, because it is difficult in this environment,” Taylor said. “The Titans do an outstanding job of drawing offsides and false start penalties as well, so we have to be really dialed in there. That’s always a challenge especially in these road playoff environments where the noise gets really loud and everyone has to be extra tuned in and that’s where the visual communication has to be at a premium as well.”

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