On Friday, 556 days after cornerback Trae Waynes signed with the Cincinnati Bengals, he participated in his most extensive game-week practice with the team.
Waynes missed the entire 2020 season with a pectoral injury. Then he injured his hamstring near the end of the preseason this year, which caused him to miss the first two games of the season.
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said Waynes is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But this week, Waynes has looked ready to contribute as a starter in the Bengals secondary.
“It looks like (Waynes) is going way faster than he should in terms of recovery time,” Bengals cornerback Chidobe Awuzie said. “We’ll be excited to see what he does because Trae is known to be a top corner in this game. So I know he’s going to come out all guns blazing, making plays, making tackles, doing all the things he usually does.”
According to Spotrac, Waynes is the 10th highest paid cornerback in the NFL. Waynes was one of the best tackling cornerbacks in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings in 2019, and the Bengals signed him in 2020 to help stabilize the secondary.
Without Waynes, backup cornerback Eli Apple has struggled filling in for the Bengals. In Week 1, Apple missed a tackle down the right sideline and allowed a touchdown catch. In Week 2, he committed defensive pass interference on a deep pass and cost the Bengals field position on the Chicago Bears only touchdown drive.
Even if Waynes makes his Bengals debut on Sunday, Apple will still play a role. Since Waynes is still working back from his hamstring injury, he likely wouldn’t play every snap.
“If he’s ready to go on Sunday, it’d be a limited snap count where you just see how he plays,” Taylor said. “With receivers and corners, with those soft tissue things, you’ve got to be smart with how you use them.”
Taylor also listed wide receiver Tee Higgins (shoulder) and Xavier Su’a-Filo (knee) as doubtful. Su’a-Filo hasn’t practiced all week, and rookie Jackson Carman will start at right guard if Su’a-Filo is inactive.
“You’ve got to balance things,” Taylor said. “Sometimes with some of the players and their injuries, if they feel that they can do this and it’s not at a level that’s not manageable, then you listen to them.”
Tee Higgins availability a game day decision against Steelers
Higgins appeared to play through the shoulder injury in Week 2 after heading to the medical tent during the second half. He finished the game with six receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown. This week, Higgins missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday but returned to the field on Friday.
Taylor said Higgins’ availability will likely be decided on Sunday depending on the soreness of Higgins’ shoulder.
If Higgins can’t play, Taylor said the Bengals would rely on their depth at wide receiver.
“That’s where we’ve got a lot of guys that can fill in that we have confidence in,” Taylor said. “It starts with Auden (Tate).”
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