While most football injuries result in a simple replacement plan where one man fills in for another, there is a much larger ripple-and-rearrange effect when a wide receiver goes down due to the number who see action, and where.
Cincinnati Bengals receivers Mohamed Sanu, Dane Sanzenbacher, Brandon Tate, Cobi Hamilton, James Wright and Ryan Whalen will ride those ripples for the next several weeks as the team deals with the loss of Marvin Jones to a fractured left foot.
Sanu likely will ascend to the starting spot opposite A.J. Green — whose role obviously will not change — and that should create more chances for Sanzenbacher in the slot and extra snaps for the others when the team goes to three- or four-wide sets.
But Sanu could just as easily stay in the slot to allow one of the faster guys to line up wide.
“Our guys are multiple, and when we teach the concepts and when I emphasize how we do things, I teach, ‘This is the concept’ so that we can plug-and-play people at different positions so they learn the concept,” receivers coach James Urban said. “Not, ‘I line up here and do this on this play.’ It’s what the concept is.
“We like to move guys around. Some of that is you find out, ‘Boy, this guy is really good at doing this route in the slot, and he’s really good at doing this route outside. So when they’re outside, you’re asking them to do the things that they’re good at.
“Each player has their own strengths,” he continued. “That’s what we’re trying to do through training camp, through the offseason and through training camp – finding out what they’re really good at.”
The Bengals began Tuesday’s practice with Sanu split wide and Sanzenbacher in the slot, but throughout the two hours there were numerous combinations.
Sanu and Sanzenbacher were expected to make the team even before Jones got hurt, as was Tate due to his kickoff and punt return duties in addition to the fact he’s been impressive at receiver during camp.
The two players poised to benefit the most from Jones’ injury, second-year pro Hamilton and rookie Wright, are the two most suited to replicate his speed. But Hamilton, who Urban said is probably the second-fastest receiver on the roster, said cloning their fallen teammate is not the mission.
“We’re all our own receivers,” he said. “We all bring different knacks to the game. Marvin’s a hell of a receiver, but I just can’t wait for my opportunity.
“I don’t really count the numbers,” he added. I’m going to be playing somewhere this year. I know it’s a numbers game, but if I keep working every day and doing what I’m supposed to do, I feel like I’ll be playing somewhere.”
Urban said he’s been impressed with Hamilton’s development since spending his rookie season on the practice squad. But they are both looking for even more.
“He’d be the first to tell you that you’ve just got to make plays, finish plays,” Urban said. “He’s close. I always talk about the 50-50 ball where the defense makes the play or we make the play. We want to make those plays 90 percent of the time. That’s our mentality: 90 percent on the 50-50. And we’re not quite there yet with Cobi. That would be the next step. He can do it. It’s just a matter of doing it.”
Wright was impressive in his pro debut Thursday night at Kansas City, catching two passes for 20 yards, including an impressive, top-tapping touchdown late in the fourth quarter. It was his first touchdown since high school and his first catch in a game since two years ago at LSU.
But Urban stopped short of calling Wright a “project.”
“Like all of us, he’s a work in progress. But he’s not a project,” he said. “His experience in game reps and real reps of wide receiver play is not as great as some of the other guys, so we’re just building that experience. But James has done well.”
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