Reader hasn’t played a game since Oct. 11 and would like the chance to see where he’s at physically and mentally before he’s really needed. The sixth-year veteran was still rehabbing his quad and knee during the offseason workouts, but he was fully cleared for the start of training camp and the Bengals have just been bringing him along slowly.
It’s been a long road for Reader, but through the rehab process, he said he confirmed what he already knew about himself – that he’s “a fighter, a warrior.”
“I never had a major injury before,” said Reader, who joined the Bengals as a free agent last year after spending his first four seasons with the Texans. “It’s a little bit different from an ACL or anything like that, you’ve got to sit still for six weeks. That was the hardest part of it, being down, not being able to play ball. Having my son not being able to chase me around was really tough.”
Reader came back in better shape than he’s been in a long time. After weighing 347 pounds to start last season, he is down to 326 now and pleased with where he’s at physically.
The mental part of trying not to think about the injury was more difficult to overcome.
“It is at the beginning,” Reader said. “You get flashes. As long as you get those flashes, you get confidence. I had a lot of people around me, a lot of my previous teammates and guys that I’ve played with and friends around the league, they kept me encouraged, told me how it was going to go. They’ve been injured, been down and out and they told me how it was going to go. You’re going to have days where you felt really good and days you didn’t. I took those days, every day as a step. When I did feel good I felt great, and some days I didn’t feel good. I still pushed through.”
Reader looked like a player progressing Sunday, showing effectiveness in the run defense and applying pressure up the middle. Last year in his five games, he didn’t have a sack and only had one quarterback hit after recording 2.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hits in 2019 with Houston.
That’s something he wants to do more of this year is make an impact in the pass rush. Cincinnati never found a consistent pass rush from the interior last year.
“That’s always a goal, but it’s just becoming a better player,” Reader said. “Rushing better, having a better plan. Year 2 in a new system, coming into a new system last year trying to figure it out, I got more of a grasp in it this year, I’ve got more confidence in myself as a player and my ability as a rusher.”
Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said he’s just glad to see Reader back on the field, but especially in the shape he’s in now. Anarumo said Reader looks the best he’s seen him and it’s easy to see he’s “itching to get back out there.”
Meanwhile with Reader being somewhat limited and Larry Ogunjobi out with a hamstring injury, the Bengals have gotten a chance to see what kind of depth they have behind the starters. Injuries impacted the defensive line heavily last year and Cincinnati attacked that through the draft this year. Now others are getting a chance, like Josh Tupou, who sat out last year, and rookie Tyler Shelvin.
“They’ve been doing well,” Reader said of the backups. “I think getting those live practice reps in (Saturday) was a good test to seeing how those guys react. They’ve done a good job getting thrown in there in and out, making sure rotations are good. I think everyone’s doing a good job of just playing hard no matter what happens, right or wrong. We’re playing very, very hard. Guys are out there flying, getting things done.”
Bengals at Buccaneers, 7:30 p.m., Ch. 12 (WKRC, Cincinnati); Ch. 22 (WKEF, Dayton); 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7