Bengals try to move on without top CB Leon Hall

The Bengals are learning to get along without a cornerback who

is also one of their cornerstones.

Leon Hall tore his left Achilles tendon in a loss to Pittsburgh

on Sunday, ending his season. The Bengals (6-3) will try to stay in

contention in the AFC North without one of their most indispensable

players.

How indispensable? When they gave contract extensions to their

most important players before the season, Hall was a priority,

getting his deal rewritten through 2015.

”If you would ask me, I’d say we built this defense around Leon

and that’s the honest-to-God truth,” safety Chris Crocker said.

”You can’t do a lot without having a shutdown corner. We still

have guys who are talented and we’ll do what we do – we’re not

going to change anything, because we can’t – but it’s hard to lose

somebody.”

The first-round draft pick from Michigan in 2007 teamed with

Johnathan Joseph to form one of the league’s top tandems. Joseph

left for Houston as a free agent after last season and was replaced

by free agent Nate Clements.

The secondary is in flux heading into a pivotal game in

Baltimore (6-3) on Sunday. The winner will move into a first-place

tie with idle Pittsburgh (7-3) atop the AFC North. One of the

deciding factors will be how the defense handles Hall’s loss while

facing Joe Flacco and a diversified offense that can challenge

cornerbacks.

”You do what you keep doing,” said Crocker, who also plays

cornerback in passing situations. ”We’re already playing good up

front, the front seven. They just have to play better. The guys who

come in, there can’t be any letdowns or any slack.”

Three relative newcomers will find themselves in big roles.

The Bengals traded for Kelly Jennings last August to provide

depth. Jennings, a first-round draft pick by Seattle in 2006,

started 14 games for the Seahawks last season. Jennings has missed

three games early in the season because of a sore hamstring and his

unfamiliarity with coordinator Mike Zimmer’s system.

Now, he moves into a starting spot.

”I finally got a chance to play three games back-to-back,”

Jennings said. ”With the injuries, I played two games and then I

was out another two games. So I’m starting to settle down, calm

down.

”It’s a chance for me to play more, a chance for me to get in

the groove. I believe this is what they brought me in for – if

something like this were to happen – so I’ll be ready to

play.”

Adam ”Pacman” Jones also becomes more important with Hall

gone. The Bengals gave Jones another chance at the NFL last season,

and he won the No. 3 cornerback spot before a neck injury at

midseason prompted him to have surgery.

Jones missed the first six games this season while completing

his recovery from the neck problem. He pulled his right hamstring

in his first game back and pulled groin muscles during practice

last week, leaving him inactive for the last two games.

”I hate it for Leon, but someone has to step up,” Jones said.

”Hopefully, I will be ready for Sunday. I’ve been dying for this

opportunity.

”They’ve been waiting on me patiently. I’ve had some nicks and

knacks. I might have to play through a little pain to do what we

have to do. I’m prepared, and we’ll see how it goes.”

Then there’s Clements, a 31-year-old playing well so far. He

becomes their top cornerback.

”One thing that I’ve learned: You don’t really force it,”

Clements said. ”Just continue to do your job and your

responsibility and everything will take care of itself.”

One thing won’t change: Cincinnati’s style. The Bengals play

tight man-to-man coverage, something they won’t abandon with a

different cast.

”You can’t play a lot of zone because it’s easy to make

completions,” Crocker said. ”The thing about us in this

secondary: We like to play tight coverage and we like to contest

balls, contest throws. We’re not a zone team, so we’re not going to

change what we’ve done. We’re going to keep going.”