Good Wednesday morning, everyone.
We're finally inside the 36-hour window to kickoff for the Cincinnati Bengals' Thursday night game at Miami. While the ESPN NFL Nation Bengals crew -- yes, you're right, that would just be yours truly -- will be making its way to South Florida this morning, we encourage you to keep checking back throughout the day as several items will hit this blog to help you continue to get ready for the big midweek showdown.
One way the Bengals have been finalizing preparations extends not only to work they have put in this week, but also practice time going all the way back to the preseason. It was first during camp that each of the team's linebackers began training at multiple spots, getting an understanding how each of the Mike, Will, Sam and nickel linebacker positions operate. Due to injuries at the outset of the season, defensive back Taylor Mays was even taught the fundamentals of various linebacker responsibilities by linebackers coach Paul Guenther.
This week, with Mays and the team's second-leading tackler, middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, out with injuries, Guenther's lessons from long ago could have an impact against the Dolphins on Thursday. If veteran Michael Boley, signed during the season as a free agent, can't go due to a hamstring issue that has prevented him from practicing this week, Cincinnati will be remarkably thin at the position.
For that reason, don't be surprised if young backups Vincent Rey and Jayson DiManche end up having their highest defensive snap counts of the season. Also don't be surprised if former University of Cincinnati product J.K. Schaffer ends up taking some of DiManche's and Mays' special-teams snaps as the injury-induced ripple effect trickles down toward him. Schaffer was added to the 53-man roster Tuesday, moved up off the practice squad for the second time this year.
The linebacker shuffle -- pun intended, Mr. Ickey Woods -- gets the top-of-the-order treatment in Wednesday's Morning Stripes:
The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr. broke down the shuffle at linebacker. In the story, Guenther discusses the importance of training each of his linebackers to know various roles and how it could have an impact during weeks like this when depth becomes a very real issue. Guenther feels quite optimistic about what his youngest linebackers have done in practice this week, and he's looking forward to seeing how they operate when given more responsibility. It's good he feels that way, too, because this could be the norm for a few weeks for the Bengals if Maualuga's and Mays' injuries are as serious as they appear.
Speaking of norms of late, quarterback Andy Dalton's recent run of success has become the type of routine the Bengals have grown quite fond of seeing offensively. In the past three games alone, he has thrown for more than 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns, propelling himself into history-making territory. He is the only quarterback to throw 11 touchdowns in a three-game stretch in team history. The Associated Press' Joe Kay has this look at Dalton's recent romp, and outlines how the rest of the Bengals' offense has been key in helping him allow it to take place.
Sticking with Dalton a little longer, we move over to Bengals.com, where Geoff Hobson takes a look at the age issue with respect to the quarterback who turned 26 on Tuesday. Among the Mount Rushmore of big-name Bengals quarterbacks (that list includes the likes of Ken Anderson, Boomer Esiason and Carson Palmer), Dalton already has more wins, yards and touchdowns at the time of his 26th birthday than any of them did, according to Hobson.
One more Dalton link, for good measure. Bengals.com's Hobson also outlines his matchup of the game here. He believes that the Dalton-Coyle battle of wits will be among the most important. Coyle is Kevin Coyle, the Bengals' former secondary coach who now serves as the Dolphins' defensive coordinator. In last year's meeting between the Bengals and Dolphins, Coyle's unit suffocated receiver A.J. Green and really didn't allow Dalton's crew to get into a rhythm. With perhaps an improved Dalton and more options for him to throw to, maybe things will be different this year.
That's all for now, folks. It's about time to get ready to fly.