CINCINNATI -- Just before the Cincinnati Bengals took off on their bye week, coach Marvin Lewis expressed optimism last Wednesday that his team would be at its healthiest point in about six weeks when it returned from the time off.
Linebacker Rey Maualuga was supposed to be back. Cornerback Chris Crocker was expected to be healthier. Even guard Kevin Zeitler and defensive tackle Devon Still were going to be in the mix again, Lewis intimated.
On Monday, when the Bengals went through a lightly paced but somewhat lengthy walkthrough on their practice fields -- their first since the bye week began last Wednesday -- nearly all of those once-injured players were back in the mix. Maualuga, Crocker and Still all were accounted for. Zeitler, who suffered a foot injury two games ago, was not.
Maualuga and Crocker had been expected to return this week. The linebacker missed the past month as he rehabbed from a knee injury suffered against the New York Jets in late October. He practiced parts of the past two weeks and was being slowly brought along to make the trip to San Diego this coming weekend. Crocker missed Cincinnati's game against Cleveland two weeks ago, but it didn't appear he would need much more time to recuperate from a hamstring injury.
Still had been targeting this week as the time he'd return from a dislocated elbow he sustained during the Bengals' mid-October game at Detroit. He thought the workout Monday, as limited as he may have been, still was a good one.
"I really need to get into a full load of practice," Still said. "Probably Wednesday when we put on the pads, I'll see how it feels with full contact. But [Monday], I didn't have any problems with it."
Still said he will be wearing a padded brace for the foreseeable future as the training staff works on avoiding further injury with him.
"It stops me from straightening my arm all the way," Still said of the brace. "But other than that, I'm able to move my arm with no problems."
With Still back in the mix at defensive tackle, the Bengals will get a big lift to their line depth. Since his departure last month, the Bengals have also been without Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins, who went down with an ACL tear two weeks later at Miami. In an attempt to absorb their injuries, the Bengals have had to get creative with their free-agent signings and their rotations with Domata Peko and Brandon Thompson.
"D.P. and Brandon have been taking most of the reps," Still said. "So I know they're tired out there. It's good to have somewhat of a rotation back in place."
Along with Still's and Crocker's returns, the Bengals also practiced fullback Chris Pressley for the first time since the regular season began.
Pressley and quarterback Zac Robinson have been on the physically unable to perform list since the preseason. He now is able to practice the next three weeks with a shot of being added to the active roster at any point within that timeframe. If he does not get added to the active roster in the window that began Monday, he will have to remain on the PUP list for the remainder of the season. The same goes for Robinson when he practices for the first time. He has not yet done so.
"This is Step 1," Pressley said. "I want to help with the run game and it's one step at a time."
If activated, Pressley would be the only true fullback on the roster. Orson Charles, a tight end by background, has been playing in some H-back scenarios this season as an extra backfield blocker. Pressley knows the Bengals could have very easily let him go earlier this year, and he said he was very impressed with them for sticking with him.
"I see a lot of guys looking around the league, and any minute they could be like, 'Chris, injury settlement, maybe,'" Pressley said. "They could be done with me. At least they had the patience to see what you can do, get better. We are going to be with you through it. That says a lot about the Browns [owner Mike Brown's family]. I could have been gone a long time ago, but give me an opportunity, I am not going to let them down."