The Bengals offensive line underwent its most massive renovation of the season for Sunday's game against the Chargers when center Trey Hopkins and right tackle Riley Reiff were inactive with ankle injuries.
When head coach Zac Taylor unveiled his inactives 90 minutes before the game at Paul Brown Stadium, it pointed to the Bengals debuts of veteran cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and rookie wide receiver Pooka Williams Jr.
With punt and kick returner Darius Phillips inactive, there are going to be some new faces in both spots. Since wide receiver Trenton Irwin is active, he figures to return punts and Williams could get a chance for his first NFL touch returning kicks.
Hopkins, the nerve center of the offensive line, and Reiff, the decade-long veteran who has been a calming influence for new right guard Hakeem Adeniji, haven't missed a game all season. It's also the only time the O-line has a change in starters other than at right guard, where Adeniji is establishing himself in his fourth straight start.
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Sunday's projected line has second-year man Isaiah Prince at right tackle and rookie Trey Hill. The coaches liked the way Prince filled in for Reiff in the second half of last week's 41-10 victory over the Steelers when Reiff injured the ankle in the first half. Hill worked the final 15 snaps for Hopkins, his most work at NFL center.
Prince logged a season-high 31 plays last week and he has a total of 85 this season, primarily as the extra tackle in six-man lines. If he gets the third start of his career Sunday and the first since his rookie year in Miami after opting out last season, he figures to be matched up with a familiar figure from Ohio State practices in Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa and his 7.5 sacks.
During the week offensive coordinator Brian Callahan pumped up the 6-7, 305-pound Prince after a preseason he impressed them with his lean athleticism in new line coach Frank Pollack's system. Irony of all ironies, Sunday is one day shy of two years since the Bengals claimed him on waivers from Miami.
"Just took a flyer on a guy that had some traits. He's long and he's strong and he's athletic," Callahan recalled. "So we were just seeing what we had. Then he opted out. We really didn't know much about him and then he really had a good training camp. He battled hard, played well, really took to Frank's instructions and techniques and then played well in the preseason games."
Prince is one of those battled-tested Buckeyes who started the final 41 games of his career right tackle. The Bengals also liked his traits in that 2019 draft the Dolphins selected him in the sixth round.
"He had a good camp and a good preseason and as he's getting roles in our heavy packages and things like that as the extra tight end, he's done a nice job," Callahan said. "He dumped a guy that last game on the perimeter once and he's been steady in that role. When he gets a chance at some point to play here or where ever his career takes him, I think he'll be very solid tackle."
Hill, a fourth-round pick this past draft, was pulled after two series and two penalties in his one lone NFL start on Oct. 17 in Detroit. But that was at right guard. He's got a longer history at center, where he started the previous two seasons at Georgia.
Also inactive were backups, running back Chris Evans, defensive end Khalid Kareem, wide receiver Mike Thomas and defensive end Tyler Shelvin.
The Cause Under Joe Burrow's Cleats How To Watch, Listen & Follow Bengals Versus Chargers In Week 13 Matchup Of The Game: AFC Arms Race Hits PBS As Bengals Try To Defuse Chargers' Air Defenses