One benefit of all the injuries the Cincinnati Bengals have had since October has been the opportunities those injuries have afforded some of the team's backups.
Reserve defensive tackle Brandon Thompson has quietly taken advantage of the additional playing time.
He might not have provided the biggest jolt to the Bengals' pass-rush when he was given playing time late last season in the wake of the season-ending injury to Pro Bowler Geno Atkins, but Thompson played well enough that the Bengals still enjoyed having a top-3 defense even without one of its best players.
Thompson, like other interior linemen, had his share of problems helping stop San Diego's run game in the Bengals' playoff loss. Otherwise, he hasn't been a problem. His presence has been just good enough. Now, the task before the third-year lineman is to keep building on experience he gained last season, and keep playing just good enough until Atkins and his all-pro caliber play are able to return in full capacity.
So far, it seems Thompson has been doing just that.
Asked over the weekend if he had any advice for Thompson, who continues getting first-team reps next to starting nose tackle Domata Peko in Cincinnati's 4-3 scheme, head coach Marvin Lewis said his young lineman needed to continue believing he's a first-teamer even after Atkins returns fully.
"If I were Brandon Thompson, I would think of myself as a starting player and keep going forward that way," Lewis said. "Geno will be back, and we'll have a good three-player or four-player rotation in there when it comes to Sundays. Right now, Brandon needs to keep seizing the moment."
Thompson had a career-high 23 tackles last season with nine coming after Atkins' injury. He also had a career-high 1.5 sacks. In the playoff game, he had a career-high five tackles, despite being part of a defense that allowed the Chargers to run for 196 yards en route to a 27-10 win.
Coaches have said Atkins should be ready to play by Week 1 of the regular season Sept. 7, but to this point in training camp, he has been slow to get going. Though he has been cleared medically for almost two weeks, he hasn't lined up in a single 11-on-11 drill, and has mostly limited himself to position-specific work. The always stoic, rather quiet Atkins hasn't addressed reporters about his return from the ACL tear. It is likely he won't until he feels comfortable enough in his rehab and return.
Thompson went through his own scaled-down rehab this offseason after an offseason procedure to get an ankle fully healthy. Lewis believes the lineman isn't showing any ill effects to this point in camp from the surgery.
Lewis has to hope several of his reserve offensive linemen listen to the advice he's giving Thompson. With rookie undrafted free agent Trey Hopkins and free-agent additions Marshall Newhouse and Will Svitek getting extensive action in relief of injured left guards Clint Boling and Mike Pollak, and tackles Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith, the Bengals have their share of backups on that side of the ball who are getting invaluable experience heading into the regular season. With the injured offensive line starters expected to return like Atkins, the Bengals seem to feel good about how they have been able to enhance their depth throughout the trenches this offseason.