Burfict, Ogbuehi Working Towards Return

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Aug 29, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi (70) against the Chicago Bears in a preseason NFL football game at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 21-10. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 12, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict (55) against the Carolina Panthers at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals and the Panthers tie in overtime 37-37. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals have yet to activate superstar linebacker Vontaze Burfict or 2015 first-round draft selection Cedric Ogbuehi. Burfict is on the Bengals’ physically unable to perform (PUP) list, while Ogbuehi is designated to the reserve/non-football injury list (Ogbuehi suffered a torn ACL in Texas A&M’s bowl game before he was drafted by the Bengals).

As Cincinnati takes time off on its bye during Week 7 of the regular season, the Bengals’ medical staff, players and coaches are having conversations about which decisions to make and which decision is the most beneficial for both the team and its players.

Cincinnati’s defense has been leaps and bounds better in 2015 than the dreadful 2014 unit, but Burfict’s return could re-energize the team in a new way. The 2014 tackles leader brings an energy to the Bengals that his teammates simply don’t bring.

To add to the chaos, Cincinnati’s linebackers have still drastically struggled thus far this season. Behind Rey Maualuga, there hasn’t been much for Bengals fans to look forward to. While they’ve made a few nice plays, A.J. Hawk, Vincent Rey and Emmanuel Lamur have all been liabilities in coverage; in addition, they have all struggled in tackling.

The addition of Burfict would significantly bolster Cincinnati’s linebacking play, but whether preemptively bringing Burfict back could re-aggrivate his injury is a serious concern for the Bengals’ staff. And even if Burfict returns to action, his play could be hampered by the fact that he’s not 100 percent healthy.

Apr 30, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Cedric Ogbuehi (Texas A&M) poses for a photo after being selected as the number 21st overall pick to the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Cedric Ogbuehi seems to be much healthier than Burfict; he was on the rehab field before Cincinnati’s Week 7 bye (Burfict wasn’t there). But while bringing Ogbuehi into the mix could be nice for Cincinnati, the fact that its offensive line is already playing like the league’s best puts the team in a tough position. Signing Ogbuehi to the 53-man roster would force Cincinnati to get rid of another player–Eric Winston would be the likely victim–and disrupt the team’s already solid chemistry among the offensive line.

Cutting Winston would put the Bengals in a bad position; the offensive line would lose a veteran leader down the stretch of the season, and Winston would likely latch onto another team’s roster. If anyone on the offensive line were to suffer an injury late in the season, the Bengals would only have Ogbuehi, rookie Jake Fisher and backup center T.J. Johnson to fill in for an injured player.

And if Cincinnati were to both keep Winston and bring Ogbuehi up to the 53-man roster, it would have to sacrifice depth at another position in order to bring Ogbuehi up. While Ogbuehi may be healthy later on in the season, Cincinnati would be safer just keeping him on I.R. The Bengals could essentially redshirt the rookie, planning to bring him back in the 2016 season and saving the space on the roster.

Marvin Lewis has expressed optimism about Burfict and Ogbuehi’s respective returns. “We’re impressed with where they are in the process,” Lewis said in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio on Thursday morning.

The Bengals have until December 1 to make the decision, so they’ll likely take their time in the decision-making process. “We’re not going to rush into anything until we feel like they’re ready,” Lewis said in the same interview. That’s good news for Bengals fans, as the deadline is cut until three weeks after either player begins to practice as soon as either player takes the field.

Cincinnati currently sits atop the AFC North with a 6-0 record and will travel to Heinz Field and take on the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday.

Next: Cincinnati Bengals: 1988 and Now

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