When the Cincinnati Bengals signed veteran safety Ricardo Allen in free agency during the 2021 offseason, Allen knew he wouldn’t be a starter on the Bengals.
He still signed with the Bengals, knowing that Cincinnati’s defensive scheme often used three-safety looks. Allen played in 25% of the Bengals defensive snaps in the season opener, but now the Bengals will need to fill his role on the defense.
Allen injured his hamstring and his hand in the Bengals win over the Minnesota Vikings, and Allen will miss at least three weeks.
“The hamstring might not have been a three-week deal, but the hand will be,” head coach Zac Taylor said. “We are hopeful it’s just three weeks and (he will) be able to come back. It gives us time to work the hamstring as well.”
Before he signed with the Bengals, Allen had started in 76 of his 77 NFL games since the Atlanta Falcons drafted him in 2015. Over the previous six seasons, Allen picked up 345 tackles, 26 pass deflections and 11 interceptions.
Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo mostly played Allen in passing situations, and Allen picked up three tackles against Minnesota. Anarumo used him as the third safety on the field on Sunday, and the coverage scheme worked in passing situations against the Vikings.
The Bengals signed Allen to be their third safety, and without him they’ll look to another player to step into that role on passing downs.
“If it’s an aware player like Ricardo, who has played in this league a long time, (a third safety) is just another weapon that you can put out there,” Taylor said. “We’ve got a lot of different personnel that we can utilize.
“We feel really good about our (line)backers in coverage. We feel really good about our safeties in coverage. We feel great about our corners in coverage. So we feel like there’s some depth there that you can package around and get the right guys on the field.”
With Allen on the short-term injured reserve, the Bengals signed a veteran safety with a similar profile as Allen to the practice squad. On Wednesday, the Bengals added Sean Davis, who played a significant role with the Pittsburgh Steelers between 2016 and 2019.
Davis started 42 of his 65 games and recorded 259 career tackles, 21 pass deflections and five interceptions. Davis’ role took on a limited role in 2020, and he signed with the Indianapolis Colts this offseason.
Davis only played on special teams in the Colts season opener, and Indianapolis released him on Tuesday.
In addition to Davis, the Bengals have Brandon Wilson as the lone backup safety on the 53-man roster and Trayvon Henderson on the practice squad. Defensive back Darius Phillips also has experience playing in some of the coverage schemes that the Bengals used with Allen.
“(Allen) brings (a lot) to the table, but we still feel good with a lot of our other packages” Taylor said. “We can get to some different looks that we want to go to.”
QUICK START: On Aug. 30, the Bengals traded for defensive tackle B.J. Hill in a deal with the New York Giants. Less than two weeks later, Hill recorded two sacks in his debut with the Bengals.
Hill had 5.5 sacks as a rookie in 2018, but he only picked up two total sacks in 32 games in 2019 and 2020. He received more opportunities with the Bengals to rush the passer, and Hill’s two-week crash course of the Bengals defense paid off with one of the best games of his career.
"It was a relief," Hill said. "The last two weeks there was a lot studying the playbook . Every day, hours on hours. Trying to help the team anyway I can. And me studying the playbook helped my team win."
BACKUP TACKLE: Even though Fred Johnson was the most experienced backup offensive lineman on the Bengals roster, he was inactive for the Bengals season opener.
Johnson competed in training camp for the backup swing tackle spot with Isaiah Prince, a 2019 sixth round pick who entered the season with 70 career NFL snaps. Prince, who opted out of the 2020 season, won that position battle and was ready against the Vikings if Jonah Williams or Riley Reiff had to leave the game.
“We evaluate these guys in practice a lot, and the scout team reps they get,” Taylor said. “We thought Isaiah had a really good training camp, and he has taken steps in the right direction. It’s not perfect, but we felt like he was making a lot of strides. He earned the opportunity.”