Key Bengals returning to health, but Sunday status remains unclear

The Cincinnati Bengals have four key players who have yet to take a snap in the preseason, and there does appear to be any urgency to remedy that Sunday at Washington or Aug. 31 in the finale at Indianapolis.

While wide receiver and first-round pick John Ross (shoulder) only began participating fully in practice last week, and safety George Iloka (knee) returned on a limited basis after two weeks off, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (hand) and running back Giovani Bernard (knee) have been full go since camp began July 28.

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Head coach Marvin Lewis said it’s not that he isn’t willing to expose any of them to possible re-injury, it’s that he’s not able.

"It's more of the doctor's call than it is my call," Lewis said. "It doesn't matter what it feels like to me. I can't weigh in one way or the other.

“It would be nice for all 90, back when we had 90 guys, to play all the time,” Lewis added. “But obviously that isn’t going to happen. It’s important for guys to have an opportunity to play, but if they don’t, they don’t. After three or four plays (in the season opener), it isn’t going to matter anyway.”

That’s probably truer for Kirkpatrick, a six-year veteran with 66 games and 34 starts under his belt, Iloka (sixth year, 67 games, 60 starts) and Bernard (fifth season, 55 games, 12 starts) than it is for Ross.

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Which is why of the four, he is most likely to see action against the Redskins.

Even though Lewis would not confirm whether Ross will play, Ross called it “imperative” that he see some action in the preseason and his teammates made it sound as though they expect him to be out there Sunday.

“I think this will be a good chance for people to see him for the first time and for him to get some first-game action, which will be good for him,” quarterback Andy Dalton said.

“He’s been holding a lot back,” Kirkpatrick added. “They’re watching him, hovering over him, making sure he’s doing everything correctly. It will be good to go out there and see him blow it out.”

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Kirkpatrick said he’s hoping he gets the all clear as well.

“I’m looking to run around,” he said. “I don’t know how much time. Hopefully they’ll let me go and blow it out a little bit. I’m not expecting to play the whole first half. They haven’t made a call on that. I don’t even know if I’m playing. They still haven’t given me the word.

“I feel like it’s always important (to play) in the preseason,” he added. “Obviously you still have the risk of taking an injury. That’s something nobody wants But you have to go out there and get a feel for the game, get in a routine and get adjusted to the speed and going against different guys is always good.”

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The player probably least likely to see action is Bernard.

While his rapid recovery to be ready for the first practice of camp was impressive, it shouldn’t be overlooked that he’s still less than nine months removed from ACL surgery.

“Right now we’re just being as careful as we can be with him because he’s that important to us,” running backs coach Kyle Caskey said. “If anybody doesn’t need that kind of feel of game speed, it’s him. We have all the trust in the world that he’ll be just fine.”

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“I think once he gets the first big hit out of the way, which he’s taken a few in practice obviously,” Caskey added. “He’s going to take some early on in the season. And it’s going to make him a lot more confident once he does that. I don’t believe that he’ll have any slow down in his play because of it.”

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