The Cincinnati Bengals might return from the bye week significantly closer to full strength.

That’s at least judging by Zac Taylor’s welcome-back press conference, where the return of a key starter was suggested to come as soon as this weekend against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Bengals activated D.J. Reader’s practice window, which means he’s eligible to practice and has 21 days to be activated to the 53-man roster. When asked if Reader was playing this weekend, Taylor replied:

“Optimistic. We’ll take it day-to-day once we actually see him practice. I think he’s in a healthy mindset right now.”

Reader has been badly missed by Cincinnati. His presence in the defensive line goes a long way in both defending the pass and the run. He still leads the team in stop percentage as measured by PFF. With only three games under his belt this season, he’s fourth in the team in total QB pressures.

“He’s one of the best D-tackles in the NFL,” said Taylor on Monday. “And it’s not just the pass rush, it’s the run downs as well. Freeing up those around him on the line of scrimmage and the backers behind him.”

And top of it all, he is the owner of the best defensive PFF grade on the team. Subjective or not, that alongside the stats pointed out above is enough testament to prove how important he is.

Reader being on the field opens up more opportunities for others like Trey Hendrickson and B.J. Hill, too, as offensive lines focus their efforts on him.

“It all ties together. Those defensive tackles and defensive ends feed off of each other,” added Taylor. “Just getting him back in the mix elevates the whole team.”

Taylor also recognized the Bengals will benefit from the leadership side of things as Reader brings a lot of that to the table.

Despite some struggles and key injuries, the Bengals’ defense still ranks 10th in the NFL per Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Even the run defense is a Top 12 unit in the league as it has allowed the fifth-fewest yards per rush attempt over the last three games.

Getting Reader back just in time for the Pittsburgh Steelers would take the unit to another level. This team has been thinking about what happened in Week 1 every step of the way.

It should be a fun one next Sunday.

Featured image via Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

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