Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis announced on Monday that third-year wide receiver Marvin Jones would be out "a few weeks" after suffering a broken foot on Saturday that required a pin to be placed in it, according to ESPN's Coley Harvey.
It's the latest injury for Jones, who has been sidelined for most of camp with a bothersome ankle, for which he didn't receive the medical all clear until last week.
Jones was the Bengals' second-leading receiver last year, with 51 catches on 80 targets for 712 yards and 10 touchdowns. On his career, he has 69 receptions for 913 yards and 11 scores. Now, it appears the Bengals could be without his services until well into the 2014 season.
According to head coach Marvin Lewis (via CBS Sports' Josh Katzowitz), Jones broke the fifth metatarsal in his foot, the same injury suffered by Julio Jones and Hakeem Nicks. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Tuesday that the Bengals expect Jones to miss the first three games of the season and to return after the bye week.
Bengals believe WR Marvin Jones, after weekend foot surgery, will miss first three games and should return Oct. 5 after bye vs. New England.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 12, 2014
In the interim, the Bengals will need to find another receiver to replace Jones' production alongside A.J. Green. Jones has proved to be reliable, fast and able to score touchdowns. But the Bengals offense is not in peril without him. It has enough weapons in the receiving game to make up for his absence.
That starts with Mohamed Sanu. Sanu, another third-year receiver, had a relatively down 2013 season. Though targeted nearly as many times as Jones, and with nearly as many receptions—78 and 47, respectively—he had only 455 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
However, Sanu has had a very strong training camp. Harvey notes that Sanu can be used not just as a receiver, but also a gadget quarterback and running back and he's been showing off all of these skills this summer. He's already connected to Green on a deep passing play and has been showing off his one-handed catch skills throughout camp.
Marvin Jones: Broken fifth metatarsal and screw placement usually means Jones fracture. If that's case, 8 wks optimistic, likely 10-12 wks.— Jene Bramel (@JeneBramel) August 11, 2014
A strong training camp is a good sign that Sanu is ready to have a breakout season this year, much as Jones did last year. And with Jones injured, Sanu can truly seize this opportunity.
Another player who could step up in Jones' absence is second-year tight end Tyler Eifert. Eifert played just 681 snaps due to fellow tight end Jermaine Gresham last year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), but their roles could flip this year.
Gresham wasn't activated off of the physically unable to perform list until August 4th, after recovering from hernia surgery and dealing with a bad back. While Gresham was sidelined, Eifert has been impressive.
Mohamed Sanu with an AMAZING one handed TD catch working on Darqueze Dennard https://t.co/KUwtHEVrIu— Brennen Warner (@JustBeWarned) July 28, 2014
Cincy Jungle's Jason Marcum, who has been at Bengals camp, notes that, "Eifert has been nearly unstoppable in practice. He's beating corners deep for bombs, snagging contested passes over the middle and becoming a favorite target for Andy Dalton." He had two touchdown passes in the team's scrimmage earlier this month and, according to Marcum, "simply cannot be contained by Bengals defenders."
With Eifert now in his second year with Dalton, he's clearly becoming more comfortable. And the team's new offensive scheme under coordinator Hue Jackson will also result in increasing targets for Eifert. When Jackson was the offensive coordinator and head coach of the Oakland Raiders, tight ends and fullbacks were a large part of the passing game.
Tight end Zach Miller was the team's leading receiver in 2010, with 60 catches on 91 targets for 685 yards and five touchdowns. In 2011, Kevin Boss and Marcel Reece combined for 669 yards and five scores. Jackson is not adverse to tight ends getting a high number of receptions—they are more than blockers in his system.
Further, Jackson's system is a run-heavy one. In 2010 in Oakland, the Raiders ranked second in average rushing yards per game and fourth in attempts. They ranked sixth in rushing yards in 2011 and seventh in attempts. With the Bengals featuring backs like Gio Bernard, Jeremy Hill and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, it's safe to say that the run-heavy Jackson offense is on its return in Cincinnati.
With Eifert and Sanu appearing to turn a corner in the receiving game and Jackson's offense more run-friendly than Jay Gruden's a year ago, Jones' absence for the first three games or longer won't doom the Bengals offense. It would certainly be better with a healthy Jones, but it appears the offense will be just fine while he recovers.