Injuries are beginning to take their toll on the Cincinnati Bengals, who are dealing with their worst one yet. Outside linebacker Thomas Howard, the leading tackler on last year's seventh-ranked defense, tore his anterior cruciate ligament during Thursday's practice and is out for the season.
The Bengals are not only dealing with the loss of their surest tackler but they don't have a proven replacement for him. Cincinnati can turn to Vincent Rey, a special teams player, or Dan Skuta, whose made three of his four career starts at middle linebacker.
Howard isn't on the same level as LaMarr Woodley or Terrell Suggs. But he was the most underrated outside linebacker in the division. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis referred to Howard last year as "one of the most athletic linebackers he's ever coached."
With Howard out, there's more pressure on middle linebacker Rey Maualuga to step up as a tackler. Howard's injury just happens to occur in the same week when Maualuga and Browns running back Trent Richardson have taken shots at one another publicly.
Overcoming injuries has become a trend for Cincinnati. Howard is the third starter for the Bengals who will miss significant time because of injury and it's only Week 2. He joins guard Travelle Wharton (knee, out for the season) and center Kyle Cook (foot).