CINCINNATI — When La’el Collins went down with a torn ACL and MCL Saturday in Foxboro, Hakeem Adeniji figured it was his time to step forward and look to a higher power.
After all, Adeniji has always looked to his faith in God as a source of strength. Now, the Bengals need the 6-foot-4, 300-pound offensive lineman from the University of Kansas to be a tower of power right tackle.
Let the dreamers who want to think Andrew Whitworth can go from Thursday Night Football sideline set to starting in the playoffs keep dreaming. The Bengals have to be practical and realistic. In steps Adeniji.
On Saturday, Adeniji played a very solid right tackle, handling Matthew Judon and Josh Uche throughout the final three quarters and giving Joe Burrow enough time to maneuver in the pocket. Burrow completed 28-of-36 passes for 284 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, in part because Adeniji was able to hold up the right edge.
Alright let's watch Hakeem Adeniji
Starting with a very nice rep. Looks like he flashes his hands to bait Judon into using his move. Then after Judon misses the cross chop, he tries to turn it into a bull rush. Adeniji handles that as well. pic.twitter.com/BobJRofKUQ
— Mike (@bengals_sans) December 27, 2022
Bengals fans are very familiar with Adeniji, who was a sixth round pick of the Bengals in the 2020 draft.
In week 8 of the 2020 season, he recorded his first career start at left tackle. The Bengals allowed 28 sacks through seven games. In his first NFL start, the Bengals didn’t allow a single sack of Joe Burrow for the first time as the Bengals beat the Titans, 31-20. He finished his rookie season with five starts and played in fifteen games.
Adeniji was on his way to bigger and better things in 2021 when he tore his pectoral muscle during offseason workouts. He had was was thought to be season ending surgery to repair it in June and was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list following the preseason.
But he showed his intense competitiveness and was activated on Nov. 4, 2021. In his first game back from injury, he made his sixth career start against the Browns at right guard in a 41-16 loss. He finished the season starting and playing in nine games. Right guard would be a spot he would anchor for the Bengals through the postseason run to Super Bowl LVI.
Adenji was on the field holding off defensive tackle Greg Gaines as Quinton Spain and Trey Hopkins could not contain Aaron Donald on the decisive fourth down snap that ended Cincinnati’s dreams of a Super Bowl victory in Los Angeles.
We all knew if Joe Burrow didn't throw at the top each drop on the final drive, Aaron Donald would capitalize.
Darious Williams and David Long both jump Higgins' slant to take away the 1st read, which was all Donald needed to reach the QB pic.twitter.com/SHPgC4EdJH
— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) February 14, 2022
Adeniji didn’t go seeking advice on how to handle that disappointment after coming so close to victory.
“No, I just always looked to God. I pray a lot,” Adeniji said Tuesday. “I go to Him when I need Him, when I don’t need Him. All the time.”
Adeniji knew going in that Donald would be a handful. It’s that kind of trial by fire that Adeniji believes makes him ready for the next challenge in his professional life, starting right tackle for a team with aspirations and expectations of getting back to the Super Bowl.
“Obviously he’s a great player, but you put in so much work to get into this position, this is the thing you dreamed of,” Adeniji said of Donald. “As great as those guys are on the other side of the ball, the work that you put in and the ambitions you have to get there and to be where you want to be, you’re going to have to overcome those. You’re going to have to outperform those highly-touted guys.”
This year has been a year of growth and maturity, as he has grown comfortably into the role of Collins’ backup at right tackle.
“Honestly, just being in year 3, knowing how volatile things can be, I just put in my work and stayed prepared and take whatever information I can,” Adeniji said. “I try to be whatever help I can be to the team, whether that’s tackle, guard, helping a younger guy, whatever my role is.”
Collins was given Wednesdays off this year as he managed the health of his back. It served two purposes: Keeping Collins fresh and keeping Adeniji prepared. Thanks to those Wednesday reps, he now has a working chemistry with right guard Alex Cappa, with whom he’ll be playing for the final two regular season games and into the playoffs.
“A hundred percent. A hundred percent,” Adeniji said. “It’s a natural transition. I get that work with Cap and we kind of develop that chemistry. There’s been no doubt that’s been helpful throughout the course of the year.”
It’s clear that Zac Taylor has confidence in the third year offensive lineman.
“He’s played a really good role for us this year. He’s been the backup swing tackle. He’s played in those those big tight end packages for us,” Taylor said Tuesday. “I think that just the more he’s played in this league the more he’s seen and understands what the expectations are and so again, he’s continued to grow for us.
“That’s the life of a guy who’s hasn’t won the starting job. You’ve gotta be able to play multiple positions, and you got to be able to practice multiple positions on the scout team. Take advantage of every opportunity you have gotten. Obviously, he’s he’s been a starter for us at guard. Previously, he started tackle for us. So he’s been able to play a couple different positions for us.”
It sounded like Zac Taylor was acknowledging that La’el Collins was done for the season after multiple reports had the right tackle suffering a torn ACL and MCL when Davon Godchaux rolled into his left knee late in the first quarter Saturday at Gillette Stadium.
“With LC, not optimistic that it’s going to turn out well for this season but we’re still gathering information on that one,” Taylor said.
As for Sam Hubbard and his strained left calf suffered against Tampa Bay on Dec. 18, the news seemed a bit more encouraging as the defensive edge entered “day to day” status.
“Sam Hubbard this week in what’s a long week so we’ll see where he’s at day to day,” Taylor said.
Tight end Hayden Hurst was downgraded to out on Friday for Saturday’s game but Taylor said that was more of a precaution than anything else.
“He had a good week. Ultimately that that just came down to coaching decision to give it one more week instead of putting him out there in the cold when he was feeling really good,” Taylor said. “But I thought if we could give it another nine days, he’d be in great shape going in this week. So very optimistic about him. I think he’s got a great mindset right now health wise of how he feels and so excited to get him back in the mix and feel good about this week.”
Taylor said Trey Hendrickson and Tyler Boyd came out “clean” from Saturday’s win and are looking ready for Monday night against the Bills.
There was plenty of concern after the game from Who Dey Nation about the three missed kicks by Evan McPherson, one of which didn’t officially count because of a Patriots penalty. But he did miss extra points on Cincinnati’s first two TDs and he missed a 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter as the Bengals were trying to put the game away.
“I don’t think it’s solely that. I think a lot of that was the conditions, especially when you compare it to someone like Nick Folk who’s very good and has kicked in those conditions for a long time had exactly the same problem in the same end missed in the same spot,” said Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons. “I thought Evan was OK in pre-game warmup. Obviously that’s the first time that we’ve played there or that I’ve played there that late in the season.
“I think the last time I was in New England that late was in 2004. So I wasn’t all that familiar with the wind conditions and patterns in there either. I do know that when it is cold outside, it is more difficult for those guys to get through the ball. Your muscles just don’t respond the same, everything is slower. Everything is tighter so I certainly think that had an affect on him.”
McPherson has already shown to be clutch in the postseason, drilling all 14 field goal attempts and all six extra points in four playoff games last year.
“He’s got to learn to develop and maintain his timing,” Simmons said. “I think it’s got to be a bigger focus to him that he’s got to go a little faster and he’s got to pull harder. It’s a fine balance that you walk. I think the field goal that he hit down there he tried to pull, the two PATs he missed he pushed were both right. The field goal he pulled left.
“We talked about on the sideline, he’s got to fire through it. He’s got to pull hard to get through and he was pulling a little too hard. It’s a very delicate balance that you have deal with that. I think he’ll pull through it. We’ve played in some cold games, it was cold in Tennessee. It wasn’t as cold in KC a year ago, I’m talking the divisional round. It was cold then. Not quite like it was yesterday. Saturday was a top 2 or 3 game for me in terms of being cold. It was cold. But it’s certainly something he’s got to learn from and comeback from, we’ll try and get it fixed.”
As for Drue Chrisman, his 48-yard punt to Marcus Jones was almost a big mistake. Jones returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown to beat the Jets, 10-3, at Gillette Stadium on Nov. 20. Fortunately, Jones muffed Chrisman’s punt after the Bengals went three-and-out on the Vonn Bell forced fumble. He muffed the ball out of bounds, leaving the Patriots to start from their 24.
“It wasn’t exactly angled the way I wanted it,” Simmons said. “It was supposed to be out of bounds. If you remember back earlier in the year against the Jets, the Jets were in the same situation and he returned it 70-some yards for a touchdown. Drue was trying to do all he could to get it out of bounds, believe me. And that’s the first thing I told him when he got to the sideline is ‘You’re damn lucky.’
“It was close enough to the sideline the guy had to run far enough to get to it. I think that’s part of the reason he mishandled it. But you saw it. When you play in conditions like that, it’s hard. I mean it’s hard to do anything right. Hell, you saw the punter. The punter dropped a snap. The returner, he had to run far to get to the one he did have to get to, plus he’s playing a lot of plays on defense — Jones — and even playing on offense. So they’re getting a lot of mileage out of him. He’s a good player. He was the top-rated punt returner I had coming out. Really the top-rated returner I had evaluated last year. So he’s a damn good player. But it was a critical punt at a critical time that kept them out of striking distance.”
Was that Jets game on Simmons’ mind?
“Absolutely it was. Trust me, we’ve practiced that exact situation,” he said. “That’s where the punter from the Jets screwed up. He didn’t get the ball out of bounds. That’s all we talked about was getting the ball out of bounds.”