Bengals sign Powell; NFL says hit on Huber illegal

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Terence Garvin (57) tackles Cincinnati Bengals punter Kevin Huber (10) during the first quarter at Heinz Field. 

Jason Bridge/Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals placed punter Kevin Huber on injured reserve Tuesday and signed second-year player Shawn Powell to take his place.

Huber suffered a fractured jaw in Sunday’s 30-20 loss at Pittsburgh when hit by Steelers linebacker Terence Garvin during a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown by Antonio Brown in the first quarter. Huber is expected to undergo surgery on Friday to repair the jaw. He also suffered a cracked vertebra, which will not require surgery and is expected to heal on its own, he told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

Powell was released by the Bills after a disastrous Week 5 game at Cleveland in which Browns returner Travis Benjamin set a single-game franchise record with 179 yards in punt returns, including a 79-yard touchdown. Powell averaged 46.1 yards on 35 punts for the Bills this season but had just a 35.2-yard net average. He had 10 punts land inside the opponents’ 20-yard line but also had five touchbacks.

Powell had a successful rookie season with the Bills in 2012. He averaged 44.0 yards (38.1 net) in 13 games. He had 23 punts inside the 20 and just two touchbacks in 65 punts. He lost out to veteran Brian Moorman in a training camp battle but was called back a month later when the Bills cut Moorman. Buffalo re-signed Moorman when it cut Powell.

“The Cleveland game, I couldn’t even really tell you what happened. They decided they wanted to go a different way and it was very humbling experience,” said Powell. “I can tell you the NFL will humble you really quick. It helped me mature very much knowing how
the league works and understanding that if I have a bad punt, I don’t need to let it ruin a whole game for me. If I had a bad punt I let it all get to me.”

The Bengals held tryouts on Tuesday. Robert Malone, Drew Butler, T.J. Conley and former Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe were also at the tryout. Powell said he has worked out for Pittsburgh and New England since being released by Buffalo. He was scheduled for a workout with Washington, he said, before Huber’s injury. He got a call from his agent telling him to scrap those plans and get on a plane to Cincinnati instead.

Powell drove from Buffalo to Knoxville, Tenn., where he has a house, after his release from the Bills.

“When I drove down from Buffalo to go home, you go into Cleveland,” said Powell. “It was just like (lowers and shakes head) ‘dad-gummit.” But I watched that game. I looked at what I did wrong. I’ve been working on what I was doing wrong.”

The drive south also gave him a chance to catch up with his former college special teams coach at Florida State, current UC offensive coordinator Eddie Gran.

“He said, you know what, don’t worry about it,” said Powell. “You are good enough to play at that level. Stick with it and stay positive. There’s always a plan. Everything happens for a reason. I am a firm believer everything happens for a reason that is the way I was grown up.”

Huber was fifth in the NFL in net average (41.6) before the Pittsburgh game and had a plus-20 ratio of boots inside the 20 compared to touchbacks (24-4). The Bengals signed him to a five-year contract last offseason. The Bengals want their punters to do a lot of directional kicking, utilizing the sideline, emphasizing the field position battles and not concerning themselves much with how long their kicks are traveling. Huber has excelled at those factors.

“He’s done a great job since we’ve drafted him,” said Lewis. “So it’s a shame that he misses out on the rest of the season and so forth. But he’ll be back and recover and go. Kevin doesn’t have much else going on, so he’ll be around.”

No penalty was called against Garvin for his hit on Huber, but Tuesday night Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice-president of officiating told the NFL Network that was a mistake. Punters and place kickers are deemed “defenseless players” at all times when they are on the field, just like a wide receiver who finds himself in a vulnerable position going up to catch a pass. Even if a punter or kicker is involved in attempting to make a tackle on the play, as Huber was, he is afforded added protections.

“You can’t hit him in the head or neck, and you can’t use the crown or forehead parts of the helmet to the body,” said Blandino on the show ‘NFL Total Access’. “This is an illegal block. It should have been a flag for a 15-yard penalty… So this will certainly be a point of emphasis this week, especially with our referees who are responsible for the punter on plays like this.

“We have to watch the punter, he’s defenseless. And we want to flag hits like that.”

Which means that Garvin will be receiving a hefty fine, at the least.

During press conferences earlier on Tuesday, neither Lewis nor Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin was willing to speculate on exactly what punishment the NFL would levy against Garvin.

“It doesn’t really matter what I think,” said Lewis. “The powers that be will take care of what they’ll take care of. So I think there’s been enough talk about it. There’s nothing I can do that transpires any differently now, so we just need to move on.”

Tomlin told reporters Garvin was in the right spot to handle his blocking duties but went overboard.

“What he’s coached to do and what transpired on that play are two different things,” said Tomlin. “Obviously, from a structure of a call standpoint, the position that he was in to be a final block, if you will, is what he’s coached to do. The nature in which the block unfolded, obviously, is not what we’re looking for. It’s not what we coach. It’s not what he wants, but that play hit pretty quickly. It was right back up the field at him and it transpired the way it transpired.”

So it’s a shame that he misses out on the rest of the season and so forth. But he’ll be back and recover and go.

-Marvin Lewis

We have to watch the punter, he’s defenseless. And we want to flag hits like that.

-Dean Blandino