‘I’m feeling good’ -- Bengals stalwart Reader returns to practice

Nose tackle could play Sunday at Pittsburgh

CINCINNATI -- D.J. Reader said he’s anxious to get back on the field with the Cincinnati Bengals, and he could do that this week.

The Bengals cleared Reader, the team’s starting nose tackle, and safety Brandon Wilson to return to practice Monday, designating them for a return from injured reserve. That opens a 21-day window where they can practice without counting against the 53-player active roster.

Reader, who suffered a knee injury in a Week 3 win over the Jets, could be activated to the roster at any time during that period, but coach Zac Taylor said he is optimistic he will be available Sunday at Pittsburgh. His return to play depends on how practices go this week, and that evaluation began with a light walk-through Monday, after which Reader said he got through it feeling fine.

“I’m feeling good,” Reader said. “We’ll see how the rest of the week goes. We’ll push it and stay on top of it.”

Wilson had been on the reserve/physically unable to perform list since Aug. 23 because of a knee injury he suffered late last season, but Taylor said Monday he did not expect Wilson to play Sunday. He’s been out much longer than Reader and will need more time to prepare.

There’s still no update on wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who remains on crutches to help his inujured hip heal, and defensive back Dax Hill is still “day-to-day” with a shoulder injury.

Reader said he tore his MCL in two places but did not require surgery. He had been working out on the rehab fields the past few weeks and hoping to return the week after the bye. Now he is hopeful he will be ready to play Sunday.

“I tend to heal fast,” Reader said. “I work really hard at it. I’m not really a dip my toe in the water type of person. I try to push things and work really hard. … In my head this is what I thought about. But you never know how it’s going to go with injuries. You try to take it a day at a time.”

Taylor said getting Reader back for the second half of the season “is crucial” because of what he brings to the defense as a run stopper, someone who can affect the pass rush from the interior and a leader as one of the team’s captains.

Reader was off to a great start to the season when his injury occurred. Reader played 15 regular-season games last year and was a key part of the team’s run to the Super Bowl. He missed 11 games in 2020, his first in Cincinnati, with a torn quad.

“He’s one of the best D-tackles in the NFL,” Taylor said. “It’s not just the pass rush, it’s the run downs as well. He does such a great job of winning and freeing up those around him on the line of scrimmage. Freeing up the (line)backers behind him. That’s a big piece if he’s able to play Sunday. He’s a captain so he brings all of those leadership things to the table as well. Tremendous energy. He’s a great playmaker and we’re lucky to have him on our team.”

Josh Tupou initially stepped in to replace Reader but then he suffered a calf injury in Week 6 at New Orleans. Rookie Zach Carter and second-year player Jay Tufele, who the Bengals signed off waivers on Aug. 31, have been sharing the load since then.

Reader said both players have done well and he’s enjoyed watching them grow. It was difficult being sidelined by an injury, so he tried to stay as connected as possible and available to help as needed.

“It was something I’ve been working towards -- that captain’s patch was huge for me,” Reader said. “I knew it meant a lot more than just being around the guys. I didn’t want to get in that lull that I kind of got into with the quad where you’re out for the season so you leave. You’re hanging out, but not really around. I knew I would have the chance to come back so I wanted be around the guys and make sure I was in there with them, making sure we were talking on the sidelines and just try to be a coach as best I can and be a good teammate.”

Having gone through rehab with his quad in 2020 helped him understand the day-to-day process and some of the ups and downs that come with the recovery process. Reader said he was fortunate to not have any setbacks, and he stayed focused on getting his body right as quickly as possible without forcing it too quickly.

“It’s an itch,” Reader said. “I’ve been blessed to play a game that I really, truly love and compete at something that I enjoy to the fullest. It’s an itch that you get, not being able to be out there, that smell of the fall and football on Sundays, it doesn’t just go away. And that doesn’t go away for a long time. As a veteran, you always want to get out there, but you know you’ve got to do the best for your body. You want to be out there and help the team, you don’t want to be out there hurting the team.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Steelers, 4:25 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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