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Tackle's absence will hurt Bengals



Published: Tue, October 17, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



From injuries to arrests, the offense has a lot to overcome.

CINCINNATI (AP) -- The Bengals' sputtering offense took another hit Monday when left tackle Levi Jones learned he likely will need arthroscopic knee surgery, sidelining him for a rough stretch of Cincinnati's schedule.

Jones hurt his left knee during the first half of a 14-13 loss in Tampa that stripped the luster off of the defending AFC North champions.

The offense hasn't played to expectations since center Rich Braham suffered a significant knee injury during the second game of the season.

Bad timing

Now, the player who protects Carson Palmer's blind side will be out for several weeks, with some of the league's top defenses lined up to take their best shot.

"It is going to be a tough month," Jones said.

Rookie Andrew Whitworth, a second-round pick who ended the game at left tackle, is expected to fill in while Jones recovers. Cincinnati has second-year center Eric Ghiaciuc filling in for Braham, who will be sidelined for several more weeks.

"A lot of weight is going to be put on their shoulders in the next few weeks," Jones said.

In the next four weeks, the Bengals play Carolina, Atlanta, Baltimore and San Diego, which rank in the top half of the NFL in defense.

All of the offseason arrests left the Bengals (3-2) with less margin for error. The injuries have pushed them over the edge, taking the bite out of one of the league's top offenses last season.

No. 2 receiver Chris Henry will miss one more game as part of a two-game suspension for violating the league's conduct and substance abuse policies. Henry has been arrested four times since last December, and has two criminal cases pending.

More missing

Backup receiver Tab Perry is sidelined with a hip injury, and Kelley Washington left Sunday's game with a hamstring injury. The Bengals aren't sure how long Washington will be out.

Add the rust that Palmer is working off from his knee rehabilitation, and the offense has a lot to try to overcome. Cincinnati has scored 13 points in each of its last two games.

"We just don't have that consistency that we had last year," said Eric Steinbach, who started at center but moved back to left guard during the loss to Tampa Bay. "If anyone knows about football X's and O's, you know you need to be able to play together week-in and week-out. If you don't have that, it's tough to get into that rhythm."

The biggest problems are up front.

The Bengals have spent a lot of money to keep their offensive line intact for the last three years. The line is anchored by Braham, who has been with the Bengals since 1994, and features one of the league's top tackle tandems with Jones and Pro Bowler Willie Anderson.

Braham went down during a 34-17 win over Cleveland on Sept. 17, and Jones has been playing despite a severely sprained right ankle. His latest injury occurred when he planted awkwardly on the other leg.

"With all the stuff I was playing with on my right leg, something was bound to happen," Jones said. "And it did."

Jones stayed in the game for a few more plays, but the knee started feeling worse, forcing the Bengals to make changes at three spots on the line.




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