CINCINNATI -- When will Cincinnati Bengals rookie receiver John Ross finally get a chance to showcase his world-class speed in an NFL game? Will Ross be a part of the Bengals' game plan when they play at the Tennessee Titans on Sunday?
"You guys ask this same question every week," head coach Marvin Lewis said on Monday.
The Bengals used the ninth overall pick in this year's draft to select Ross out of the University of Washington, intending to use his speed to stretch defenses, give quarterback Andy Dalton a true deep threat, and take some of the attention away from wide receiver A.J. Green.
The Ross pick came with much fanfare, mostly due to his record-breaking 4.22-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine. But, he also came with some risk. Ross was coming off labrum surgery and arrived late to OTAs due to a rule that prohibits rookies from participating until the last day of their school's final exams.
Just as he was ready to contribute, Ross suffered a knee injury that kept him inactive for four weeks.
"John has had three weeks of practice now," Lewis said. "Let's let him practice and let's get him comfortable playing football again before we put him back in there. When he knows what to do and how to do it all the time ... then he'll play fast, he'll play with confidence."
The 5-foot-11 Ross has touched the ball once, a 12-yard end-around at the end of which he fumbled in a 13-9 loss to the Houston Texans in Week 2. He hasn't seen the ball since.
"He hasn't played or practiced a lot of football at all," Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. "From rookie minicamp, he couldn't do anything. He would walk behind the formation and line up behind the guys doing the routes, wanting to learn. There's nothing negative on what John is doing. I think his future is bright."
Ross had five scoring plays of 90 yards or longer at Washington. Over the past 10 seasons, the Bengals have had 10. But, this isn't college.
While Ross' speed is something defenses would need to account for, it's fair to wonder what impact he could have at the moment. The Bengals' offensive line has struggled to protect Dalton, who has been sacked 24 times already this season. He has had little help from a running game that has been stagnant all season, averaging barely three yards per attempt.
"The more reps and time (Ross) has against the defense every day in practice and the more he's part of the offense, those are good things, because he has to gain that confidence," Lewis said. "It was three weeks ago that every time he went on the ground everybody held their breath. You're going to get knocked down in football, and you've got to get up, go back to the huddle and do it again. He's not made of glass. He's not going to break every time he falls down. Yet he's got to practice football and continue to do it."
Ross was a healthy scratch for last week's 23-7 loss at Jacksonville when Cody Core came back from a concussion. The Bengals dodged a bullet this week when Green wasn't suspended by the league for throwing punches during a fight with Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey last Sunday.
Cincinnati (3-5) could use a spark. Any spark. The Bengals have two straight road games at Tennessee and Denver with their playoff hopes already teetering on the brink.
Lewis said Ross is healthy; it's just a matter of practice time. Ross is moving at one speed and everyone else is moving at another, the head coach said.
So, will Ross contribute this season?
"Oh, I hope so," Lewis said.
SERIES HISTORY: 74th regular-season meeting. Titans lead series 39-33-1. The teams met 62 times when the Titans were located in Houston and called the Oilers. The Bengals won the lone postseason meeting, a 41-14 victory in a wild-card game in 1990, which also is the Bengals' last playoff victory. The Titans are 5-3 at home against the Bengals since moving to Tennessee.
--With starting right tackle Jake Fisher out for the season with an unspecified illness, the Bengals signed veteran tackle Eric Winston on Wednesday. Winston is a familiar face in Cincinnati, having played three seasons with the Bengals.
Winston knows the Bengals' blocking schemes and should be able to contribute right away for a line that has struggled. Dalton has been sacked 24 times and the running game hasn't gotten going.
"Far be it from me to come in here and start telling who's the problem," said Winston on Wednesday. "I think anytime you're having problems, whether it's running the ball, protecting, you've got to look inside yourself and find a little bit more and if everybody does that, you'll probably get over the hump. Again, I'm just going to be here doing whatever they ask me to do and whatever that role might be."
Fisher, a third-year player, played in all eight of the Bengals' games this season, with seven starts, all at right tackle. Lewis wouldn't divulge the nature of Fisher's illness.
"After the procedure and medication and so forth, he needs to not be playing a contact sport for a period of time," Lewis said.
Winston, 6-foot-7, 310 pounds, played with the Bengals the past three seasons before they terminated his contract in cuts on Sept. 2.
Originally the Houston Texans' third-round draft pick out of Miami (Fla.) in the 2006 draft, Winston played with the Texans from 2006 to 2011, and later with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012 and the Arizona Cardinals in 2013. He has played in 157 games with 125 starts in his career, including 33 games and six starts with the Bengals.
"He comes in being able to line up and understand what to do and how to do it right away," said Lewis.
--RT Jake Fisher (illness) was placed on the reserve/non-football illness list on Wednesday. Fisher, a third-year player, played in all eight of the Bengals' games this season, with seven starts, all at right tackle. That ends his 2017 season. ... -RT Eric Winston was signed as a free agent on Wednesday. Winston (6-foot-7, 310), an 11th-year player, returns to Cincinnati after playing with the Bengals the past three seasons from 2014-16. ... S Derron Smith was signed to the practice squad this week. Smith, a third-year player, was waived by the Bengals on Saturday and cleared waivers on Monday. He was a sixth-round Bengals draft choice in 2015. ... TE Scott Orndoff was released from the practice squad. Orndoff, a rookie from the University of Pittsburgh, had signed to the Bengals' practice squad on Oct. 16. He had originally signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a college free agent and spent time in the preseason with both the Steelers and the Detroit Lions.