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
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
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
”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
”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
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
”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
”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.”