It was about a month ago when my editors at ESPN.com asked me to put together my list of "can't lose players" for each division team. The clear choice for the Cincinnati Bengals was wide receiver A.J. Green.
So imagine the reaction from Who Dey Nation when Green went down with a left knee injury in the first practice of training camp. But the Bengals can breathe a collective sigh of relief, because Green has a mild knee bruise. The MRI revealed no structural damage. Green is expected to miss practices this weekend, when the Bengals will have contact for the first time.
It is key for Green to be healthy for the regular season, because the entire offense would change without him. Losing Green would have been a bigger blow than losing quarterback Andy Dalton. Green is the one player they need in the lineup on the offensive side of the ball if they want to have any hope of reaching the playoffs for a third straight season. The Bengals have a good supporting cast at receiver with promising second-year target Mohamed Sanu and shifty slot receiver Andrew Hawkins. But neither is a dynamic playmaker like Green. The first thing any defense playing the Bengals does is find Green, and for good reason.
The Bengals' worst offensive game last season was the playoff loss at Houston, where the team didn't throw to Green once in the first half. When the Bengals lost Sanu to a season-ending injury last season, Dalton averaged 205.4 yards passing with four touchdowns and six interceptions. Just think how much worse the passing attack would be without the likes of Green.
The injury to Green should make for some good television for the HBO series "Hard Knocks." But the Bengals would prefer not to have this type of drama this summer.