Starting outside cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is out for the year with a torn ACL, the team confirmed earlier this week. Mike Hilton, Cincinnati's top inside cornerback, will be out for this weekend's game with a finger injury.
Hilton's left pinky finger was bandaged all week as he didn't practice following Monday's loss to the Cleveland Browns. The Bengals (4-4) will have to navigate those issues starting this Sunday against the Panthers (2-6).
"The injury bug at corner is not a problem just with us," Bengals coach Zac Taylor said after Friday's practice. "We see that all around the league and it's just part of what you have to adjust to and be ready to have guys step up."
The injury to Awuzie is the first season-ending injury to one of Cincinnati's starters this season. Awuzie went down in the second quarter of the team's 32-13 loss to the Browns. He said the torn ACL was a non-contact injury.
"When I got back to the sideline I was thinking it might be something minor," Awuzie said Thursday. "Then they told me what they told me."
Awuzie has been the team's top starting cornerback since he signed with the team in free agency in 2021. He was fourth in the NFL among qualifying cornerbacks in completion percentage under expectation as the nearest defender in coverage this season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
"My whole goal was to try to do that again and try to take it to a new level," Awuzie said. "This year, I just felt like I was really solid."
Awuzie anticipates having surgery in the next couple of weeks to repair the structural damage inside the right knee. He said that the swelling must subside before the procedure can take place. Despite being injured, Awuzie said he wants to continue to watch film and participate in meetings to help facilitate the growth of the defense and the team's other cornerbacks.
Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said Awuzie's mentality despite the season-ending injury is uncommon.
"It tells you who he is as a man," Anarumo said earlier this week. "That's what's most important to me. Irreplaceable on the field and irreplaceable in the locker room. That's just who he is."
In addition to Awuzie's loss, the Bengals will have to replace Hilton for at least one week. Taylor indicated that Hilton's status will be reevaluated after Week 10, when the team will be off.
Jalen Davis is expected to start in place of Hilton. Rookie Cam Taylor-Britt is expected to start at outside cornerback alongside Eli Apple, who was benched in favor of Taylor-Britt in Week 7 and missed Week 8 with a hamstring injury. Taylor said he's excited for Apple's return.
"Eli is a veteran," Taylor said Friday. "He's got a great relationship with the guys in the locker room. He's got a great relationship with our coaches. I really like working with him."