CINCINNATI — If Tennessee Titans star Derrick Henry returns to the playing field this week, he'll be running into a Cincinnati Bengals defensive line that is already banged up.
The Bengals had been relatively healthy until last week's win over the Las Vegas Raiders in an AFC wild-card playoff game.
Stalwart defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi sustained a foot injury that will sideline him for the rest of the season. Edge rusher Trey Hendrickson, the team's sacks leader, had been in concussion protocol all week but has been cleared to play in Saturday's divisional round matchup in Nashville.
Defensive end Sam Hubbard has sore ribs, while Josh Tupou is hobbled by knee trouble and fellow defensive tackle Mike Daniels left the game against the Raiders with a groin injury — and likely will be out as the fourth-seeded Bengals visit top-seeded Tennessee.
Henry, the 6-foot-3, 247-pounder who was the NFL's back-to-back rushing leader in the 2019 and 2020 seasons, broke his right foot in an overtime road win against the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 31, had surgery two days later and hasn't played since.
He returned to practice during the final week of the regular season but remains on injured reserve, and on Wednesday — when he spoke to reporters for the first time since getting injured — Henry said "we'll see" regarding his availability on Saturday. On Thursday, Titans coach Mike Vrabel said the team would make a decision on the former 2,000-yard rusher on Friday.
Henry's size, breakaway speed and a vicious stiff-arm move all make him tough to tackle, particularly late in games as fatigue becomes a factor.
"He definitely weighs on you," Bengals defensive tackle D.J. Reader said. "He's a big back, but you've got to do your job of not letting him get going out there and put hits on him. Make sure we're wearing on him just as much as he's wearing on us."
Reader and B.J. Hill will occupy the middle of the Cincinnati line, and if Hendrickson isn't able to go, rookie Cam Sample and second-year player Khalid Kareem will need to step up. To add some depth, the Bengals this week signed defensive tackle Zach Kerr from the Arizona Cardinals' practice squad.
"I think everybody's excited about it, but it always starts with us up front," Reader said. "So we've got to always create that special moment up front and just create the game going from there. It's going to start and end up front, every game."
If Henry does return, he isn't likely to have his typically heavy load and could split time with both D'Onta Foreman and Dontrell Hilliard, the backs who kept the ground game going while he was out.
"They did a great job this whole year," Henry said of Cincinnati's defense. "Watching them against the Raiders, I feel like they did a great job. They had a couple guys go down, but overall they are physical penetrators."
Titans offensive coordinator Todd Downing doesn't expect big changes to the game plan.
"They have some versatile guys, Downing said, "so maybe, I think, you have to look more at the structure than the personnel."