Wednesday was a big day for Tyler Boyd, and it had little to do with the fact it was his 23rd birthday.
The second-year wide receiver is eager to get back on the field for the Cincinnati Bengals after missing the last four games with a knee injury, and he knows he needs to make a better showing this week on the practice field, starting with Wednesday’s first session.
“I had an opportunity to play last week, but the way things went in practice wasn’t too great for me,” said Boyd, who was a limited participant in the first two practices last week before going full on Friday.
“I wasn’t all the way locked in,” Boyd added. “It wasn’t that I was showing that my knee was weak, it was just mental things, things I needed to correct on the field. So with that right there, I think they felt like I needed the extra week to get better.”
Boyd’s return could provide a needed boost for an offense that has converted 2 of 18 third downs the last two weeks and ranks 31st in third-down efficiency this season.
Last year as a rookie, Boyd led the NFL with 22 third-down receptions, with 72.7 percent of them resulting in either a first down or touchdown.
“He’s good in short-area quickness stuff, he knows how to separate, he’s a good-sized target on the inside and he’s a natural football player,” wide receivers coach James Urban said. “Sometimes those things really show up on third down inside.”
Boyd has six catches for 43 yards this season, two of which came in the first quarter of the 20-16 win against Buffalo on Oct. 8. The knee injury occurred after the second reception when Buffalo cornerback Shareece Wright knifed in with a low tackle, hitting Boyd in the side of his right knee after a 1-yard gain.
Boyd limped off and has been out of action since. Not only is it the first significant injury he’s had to deal with at any level, it came three days after he was charged with drug possession stemming from an accident in which his friend wrecked his car when Boyd was not with him.
“It’s been tough for me,” Boyd said. “Not being able to play is the toughest part. If we’re winning, I’m fine. I’m getting healthy and we’re winning. It’s a win-win for me. But losing just really hurts me the most because I feel like we have the players and the talent to win without me. I definitely want to get out and play with them.”
Boyd was a full participant Wednesday as he further tested the knee in a cold, steady rain.
“He was much improved,” Urban said. “I was encouraged. In real tough conditions, he transitioned a lot better off that knee than he did last week. He took a whole bunch of scout team reps to just keep running routes, to keep moving and keep going on that knee.”
The Bengals dressed six wide receivers last week, one more than usual. Assuming all seven stay healthy in practice this week, there are likely to be two healthy scratches Sunday in Denver.
Boyd is hoping he’s not one of them.
“He just has to get back to where we feel comfortable with him doing it like that — when he’s 100 percent physically and he feels confident in the knee and everything that way,” head coach Marvin Lewis said. “Last week, he wasn’t quite there, and he has to keep showing me that he’s back.”
Boyd feels as though he is and said he is looking forward to proving it.
“I woke up with a smile on my face on my birthday,” he said Wednesday before practice. “Hopefully I can get back after it this week. That will be a great birthday present for me.”
Not only are the Bengals among the league’s worst in converting third downs (33 of 106, 31.1 percent), Denver is ranked No. 1 in third-down defense (32 of 116, 27.6 percent).
“You get in third and 8 or more against this defense, and holy smokes,” Urban said. “They’re good. They’re the No. 1 third down team in the league for a reason. They’ve got rushers, they have scheme, they’re well coached, they have blitz packages.
“I’d love to have Tyler back,” he added. “But like anything with injuries, Coach Lewis’s thing is (the player) has to prove it to him.”