Bengals Notes: Hubbard's role likely to expand, evolve; five don't practice

Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard (94) returns a fumble by Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) for touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game in Cincinnati, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Bengals rookie safety Jessie Bates opened plenty of eyes with his performance in the first half of the season and played so well he was selected to the ProFootballFocus.com Midseason All-Pro team, but another Bengals rookie defensive player is also coming off a good first half and is likely going to have his role expand and evolve in the second half.

Defensive lineman Sam Hubbard is in line to get more defensive snaps over the final eight games than the 42.4 percent of the team's defensive snap he got in the first eight games thanks in part to the season-ending injury suffered by end Carl Lawson, but also because of how much he continued to improve.

The Bengals (5-3) open the second half of their season on Sunday when they host the New Orleans Saints (7-1) at 1 p.m. in Paul Brown Stadium.

Hubbard, a Moeller High School graduate and Ohio State University product, saw his most action of the season in the team's most recent game on Oct. 28 against Tampa Bay when he played 54 snaps (61.4 percent of the overall defensive snaps) and finished with five tackles, which tied his career high, a quarterback sack (his second of the season) and a pass defended.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said the one thing that has allowed Hubbard and Bates to thrive early in their careers is their maturity.

"They're still young guys with exuberance who also make errors that need correction, but yet, they're good football players who understand football," said Lewis. "So when the game gets fast, they're able to stay up to speed, and that's one of the things we feel best about. You don't necessarily know that, because you aren't in the trenches or the heat of the fire with them until after you draft them. That's been one of the pleasant surprises with both of them."

Hubbard said he started to believe he could have success in the NFL during the team's second game of the season against Baltimore when he had five tackles and his first career sack.

"That was really my jumping off point of saying, 'All right, I can really be successful in this league if I keep working, " said Hubbard. "I think as the first half of the season progressed I was getting more comfortable, the game slowed down, kind of found a role and earned the trust of my coaches to put me out on the field."

That role included him playing out of position at defensive tackle in nickel situations, but with Lawson now out he will likely see many more snaps at defensive end as a rotational player in the base defense and with the first nickel pass rush group.

"I was kind of out of position," said Hubbard, who played defensive end at Ohio State. "I was getting better and better inside, but it's hard being 60 pounds lighter than the guys you are going against and going against two of them a lot of times.

Back on the edge any opportunity I get I'm going to make the most of it. I'm excited for getting out and seeing what we can do this week. I've been playing on the edge my whole career, so I'm definitely more comfortable."

Hubbard said he believes he and the rest of his defensive line mates will be a major factor in determining the Bengals' fate this season.

"I think we're a big part, because affecting the quarterback is a huge part of the game," said Hubbard, who also returned a fumble for a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins. "We've got a lot of guys down in a lot of positions, including our own (Lawson), but we also have a lot of veteran guys and a lot of talented guys on the defensive line and it's up to us as a unit to lead this team where we want to go."

FIVE DON'T PRACTICE, FOUR OTHERS LIMITED: There were four players in addition to wide receiver A.J. Green (toe) who did not participate in Thursday's practice: linebacker Vontaze Burfict (hip), cornerback Darqueze Dennard (sternoclavicular), tight end Tyler Kroft (foot) and linebacker Nick Vigil (knee).

Burfict, Dennard, Kroft and Vigil worked on a side rehab field for a second straight day.

Dennard also worked out on the rehab field during Monday's practice, while Wednesday was the first time Burfict, Kroft and Vigil worked out on the rehab field since suffering their injuries.

Burfict did not play against Tampa Bay after injuring his hip against Kansas City and hasn't practiced since.

Kroft hasn't practiced since suffering his injury against Miami, while Vigil hasn't practiced since suffering his injury against Pittsburgh.

Running back Giovani Bernard and tight end C.J. Uzomah were both limited participants in for a second straight practice.

Bernard also participated in Monday's practice, which marked the first one he participated since suffering a sprained knee in the Atlanta game. He missed each of the last four games because of it.

It's questionable at this point whether Bernard plays or not against the Saints.

Uzomah has been dealing with the shoulder issue for a few weeks and re-injured it against Tampa Bay, although he played 97 percent of the offensive snaps in that game.

He said on Monday he will be able to play against New Orleans and that the coaching staff was likely going to take it easy with him during practice leading up to the game.

Guard Alex Redmond (hamstring) was a limited participant in Thursday's practice after not practicing on Wednesday.

Wide receiver Josh Malone was listed as a limited participant due to a hamstring issue. He was a full participant on Wednesday.

SAINTS INJURY/PRACTICE PARTICIPATION REPORT: Here is the Saints injury/practice participation report for Thursday that for a second straight day included all five members of their starting offensive line:

  • Did Not Participate: DE Marcus Davenport (toe); WR Cameron Meredith (knee, placed on injured reserve).
  • Limited Participants: OT Terron Armstead (knee); G Andrus Peat (hip); T Ryan Ramczyk; C Max Unger (knee); G Larry Warford (non-injury related) and CB P.J. Williams (hamstring).
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