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Preseason Power Rankings No. 18: Chicago Bears

Chicago Bears Introduce Marc Trestman Getty Images

After missing the playoffs in five of the last six seasons, the Bears showed Lovie Smith the door and decided to start a new era with a new head coach, Marc Trestman. Now it’s time to see how the team Trestman inherited fits with the system he plans to implement.

The good news for the Bears is that there’s abundant talent on both sides of the ball, and on special teams. There are a whole lot of Pro Bowl-caliber players on this roster.

The bad news is that the talent was assembled for a different coaching staff, and the Bears may have some growing pains under Trestman.

Our six-person PFT panel voted the Bears in the bottom half of the league, at No. 18. We explore the reasons below.

Strengths.

Say this for Lovie Smith: The guy knew how to build a good defense. Chicago’s defense was excellent last season, and although Smith and Brian Urlacher are gone, most of the personnel remains.

Cornerback Charles Tillman was one of the best defensive players in the NFL in 2012. He routinely took on the opposing team’s best wide receiver, and almost always got the better end of the matchup. It’s telling that in Calvin Johnson’s record-setting season with the Lions, two of his worst games came against the Bears, when Tillman led the way in holding Johnson to 34 and 72 yards. (Johnson averaged 133 yards a game in the other 14 games of the season.) With Tillman at cornerback, the Bears are in good shape against any wide receiver who comes their way.

The Bears’ defensive front seven is also strong. Julius Peppers is 33, but he doesn’t appear to be slowing down and is still one of the league’s top pass rushers. Chicago should be able to count on Peppers for double-digit sacks. Like Peppers, Lance Briggs will turn 33 this season but remains in fine form. Briggs started all 16 games and had another strong season in 2012.

Henry Melton has emerged as one of the league’s best defensive tackles, with six sacks last year and seven the year before. A former college running back who tips the scales at 300 pounds, Melton has a rare burst for a guy who’s big enough to play defensive tackle in the NFL, and at age 26 he’s in the prime of his career.

The Bears have a very good pair of offensive skill position players in wide receiver Brandon Marshall and running back Matt Forte, both of whom are among the best in the league at what they do. Marshall is a tough and physical receiver who has long been Jay Cutler’s favorite target, and Forte is versatile enough to be both the Bears’ No. 1 running back and their No. 2 receiver.

Weaknesses.

After Marshall, the Bears don’t have any proven commodities at wide receiver. They’d love to see last year’s second-round pick, Alshon Jeffery, become a solid No. 2 receiver. They’d also love to see Earl Bennett, who plays very well at times but also disappears at times, become a more consistent part of the passing game. But until someone steps up, No. 2 receiver has to be considered one of the Bears’ weaknesses.

Tight end has been a weakness for the Bears the last couple of years, when Kellen Davis averaged barely more than one catch a game. The arrival of Martellus Bennett should make Chicago better there, but Bennett is a long way from elite.

The Bears’ offensive line has long been a weakness, and the No. 1 priority of the offseason was shoring that up. That’s why guard Kyle Long was Chicago’s first-round draft pick, and why left tackle Jermon Bushrod was Chicago’s first priority in free agency. The biggest issue with the offensive line being a weakness has been that it has exposed Jay Cutler to injuries, and backup quarterback has been a major weakness for the Bears. That remains the case this year: If Cutler goes down, Josh McCown will step in, and that’s a significant drop-off.

Changes.

By far the biggest change is the arrival of head coach Marc Trestman, who’s been coaching the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League for the last five years. Trestman has plenty of experience on NFL coaching staffs, but he hasn’t been with an NFL team since he was on the Dolphins’ staff in 2004. It’s not often that NFL teams reach into the CFL ranks for their head coaches, and it will be fascinating to see whether Trestman — who has a reputation as an innovative offensive mind — comes in with fresh ideas that take NFL defenses off guard.

The changes to the coaching staff are also significant, particularly on defense, where Lovie Smith and his Tampa 2 disciples are giving way to Trestman’s new defensive coordinator, Mel Tucker. But Tucker and Trestman have both said that they plan to run very similar schemes to what the Bears have been running during Smith’s time with the team.

The retirement of longtime middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is a major change in the appearance of the defense, but it’s not a change that will have a huge effect on the field. Urlacher was once among the NFL’s best defensive players, but he was noticeably slower last season and didn’t have a lot left. The unfortunate thing about Urlacher’s departure is the way it happened: The Bears decided early in the offseason that they didn’t want him back, while Urlacher didn’t determine until later in the offseason that he was ready to walk away from the game. Urlacher was a great player who deserved the opportunity to say goodbye to the Bears on his own terms, and it was disappointing that it didn’t quite work out that way, as it did for Ray Lewis in Baltimore.

Camp Battles.

Replacing Urlacher at middle linebacker will fall to either D.J. Williams, the former Bronco signed in free agency, or rookie Jon Bostic, the second-round draft pick from Florida. Neither one of them is going to step right in and be the kind of player Urlacher was at his best, of course, but it’s easy to picture either player being an upgrade over the 2012 version of Urlacher.

As a first-round draft pick, Kyle Long is penciled in as a starting guard, but he’ll have to compete to earn the job. Derek Dennis, Edwin Williams and James Brown will all get an opportunity to beat out Long. Matt Slauson, who started all 16 games at guard each of the last three years for the Jets, is expected to be the other starting guard.

Prospects.

How well does Jay Cutler fit in Marc Trestman’s offense? And can Chicago’s offensive line keep Cutler healthy for 16 games? Those are the biggest questions facing the Bears this season.

Defensively, the Bears should look much like they looked last year, and that’s a very good sign. And the special teams, with punter Adam Podlesh, kicker Robbie Gould and returner Devin Hester, should be solid. There’s a lot of reason for optimism there.

But last year the strong defense and special teams weren’t enough to get the Bears into the playoffs thanks to a disappointing offense, and unless Trestman can make significant progress offensively, the Bears will probably fall just a bit short of the playoffs again this year.

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Report: Dez Bryant missed meetings and MRI, was fined by team

Dallas Cowboys' Dez Bryant smiles as he jogs back to the sideline after catching a pass for a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins in the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Friday, Aug. 19, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins) AP

Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant has been fined by the team for missing an MRI and team meetings on Tuesday, the Dallas Morning News reported.

Bryant missing the MRI explains why the hairline fracture Bryant has in his right knee wasn’t diagnosed until Wednesday. The report said Bryant showed up at the team’s facility Tuesday too late for an MRI to be performed.

Bryant was injured Sunday night vs. the Bears, and Cowboys players had Monday off. After the diagnosis, his status for Sunday’s game at the 49ers is uncertain.

The report did not state the amount of Bryant’s fine.

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President Obama elaborates on NFL anthem protests

President Barack Obama pauses during a break in taping of a CNN town hall meeting with CNN news anchor Jake Tapper, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, in Fort Lee, Va., with members of the military community. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) AP

During a Presidential Town Hall that aired Wednesday night on CNN, President Barack Obama faced a variety of questions from service members and their families. One member of the armed services asked a pointed question about the ongoing anthem protests happening during football games.

“Mr. President,” said First Lieutenant James Sutter, “we honor those who have given deep meaning to the phrase ‘home of the brave’ by making the ultimate sacrifice for the land of the free.  Lately, some players in the NFL have been choosing to take a knee during the national anthem, a time which I believe should be reserved to respect our service members.  As Commander-in-Chief, how do you feel about those NFL players choosing this typically respected time to voice their opinions?”

“As I’ve said before, I believe that us honoring our flag and our anthem is part of what binds us together as a nation,” President Obama said. “And I think that for me, for my family, for those who work in the White House, we recognize what it means to us, but also what it means to the men and women who are fighting on our behalf. But I’m also always trying to remind folks that part of what makes this country special is that we respect people’s rights to have a different opinion and to make different decisions about how they want to express their concerns. And the test of our fidelity to our Constitution, to freedom of speech, to our Bill of Rights is not when it’s easy, but when it’s hard. We fight sometimes so that people can do things that we disagree with, but that’s what freedom means in this country.

“My hope would be that as this debate surfaces, we’re always reminding ourselves that in a democracy like ours, there are gonna be a lot of folks who do stuff that we just don’t agree with. But as long as they’re doing it within the law, then we can voice our opinion objecting to it, but it’s also their right.

“And I think that it’s also important for us to recognize that sometimes out of these controversies we start getting into a conversation, and I want everybody to listen to each other. So I want Mr. Kaepernick and others who are on a knee, I want them to listen to the pain that that may cause somebody who for example had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing. But I also want people to think about the pain that he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot.

“And one of the things I always say about American democracy is that it can be frustrating but it’s the best system we got. The only way that we make it work is to see each other, listen to each other, try to be respectful of each other, not just go into separate corners. And I do hope that anybody who’s trying to express any political view of any sort understands that they do so under the blanket of protection of our men and women in uniform, and that that appreciation of that sacrifice is never lost.”

It sounds good in theory, but it’s hardly an accurate reflection of modern political discourse, where middle grounds are never acknowledged, and where so many people have a hardened belief that their view is correct and anyone who disagrees with them is stupid, corrupt, and/or un-American.

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Who has the best defense?

NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Devonta Freeman #24 of the Atlanta Falcons reacts after scoring a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 26, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) Getty Images

On Wednesday’s PFT Live, Broncos safety T.J. Ward made the case for his team having the best defense in the NFL. So we’ve decided to put it out to a vote on Thursday’s PFT Live.

Cast a ballot below, and then add a comment below that — including any and all complaints about teams included and excluded from the list of finalists.

Then tune in at 6:00 a.m. ET for the three-hour tour of the National Football League. The first hour airs only on NBC Sports Radio. The next two are simulcast on NBCSN.

Guests include Falcons running back Devonta Freeman, who’ll face the Panthers on Sunday.

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Palmer tells Goff to be patient, prepare diligently

OXNARD, CA - MAY 06:  Jared Goff #16 of the Los Angeles Rams and quarterback coach Chris Weinke discuss a play during a Los Angeles Rams rookie camp on May 06, 2016 in Oxnard, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Getty Images

As a former No. 1 overall pick who didn’t play immediately, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer has been where Rams rookie quarterback Jared Goff is.

Palmer’s advice for Goff includes maximizing his time on the sideline and studying for Sundays knowing he won’t be a backup or a spectator for long.

“You have a chance to watch how you prepare as a starter, how you go about your business as a starter, especially if you’re coming from a very non pro-style offense,” Palmer said Wednesday. “Seeing how offenses prepare, seeing the different pressures you’re going to see and the different defenses you’re going to see…it’s tough if you’re not ready and you get thrown in there. If you struggle it can linger, so I think it’s important.”

The Bengals made Palmer the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 draft. He spent his entire rookie season watching from the sideline before taking over in 2004. Goff, the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, is currently waiting behind Case Keenum.

Palmer said he understands every situation is different and said that while Goff waits, he needs to make sure he’s improving and mastering the offense.

“There’s such a fine line between throwing a guy in there, making him play…and he knows he’s going to go in and struggle because the team is not good like some guys have been,” Palmer said. “The Rams are different. That’s a very good team. They don’t need to throw a rookie in there and him learn on the run and the team suffer.”

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Russell Wilson fully participates in practice

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks rushes against the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field on September 25, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks defeated the 49ers 37-18.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

High ankle sprain? Big deal. MCL sprain in the other leg? So what?

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has shrugged off both injuries to fully participate in practice on Wednesday.

The development is an encouraging sign regarding Wilson’s potential availability for Sunday’s game at the Jets.

Running back Thomas Rawls (fibula) didn’t practice. Limited were tight end Jimmy Graham (knee), tight end Nick Vannett (ankle), guard Germain Ifedi (ankle), receiver Tyler Lockett (knee), and linebacker Mike Morgan (hip).

Running back CJ Prosise (wrist) and defensive end Cliff Avril (hamstring) fully participated.

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Brian Cushing returns to practice, could play Sunday

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 09:  Brian Cushing #56 of the Houston Texans leaves the field after their 30-0 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at NRG Stadium on January 9, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The good news for the Texans, if there can be any on the day three-time defensive player of the year J.J. Watt landed on IR, is that linebacker Brian Cushing could be back in the lineup, as soon as Sunday.

Cushing has returned to practice, two weeks and three days after injuring his MCL.

“It’s really good to get him back,” coach Bill O’Brien told reporters. “He looked good today. Moving around and looks like he’s ramping it up to be able to play in the game.”

O’Brien was noncommittal regarding whether Cushing will play against the Titans.

“The expectation is that he’s going to practice tomorrow and we’re going to see where that is,” O’Brien said. “Then he’ll practice Friday and we’ll see where that is.”

“[J]ust a lot of hard work,” Cushing said when explaining his ability to return so quickly. “I didn’t want to believe it would be four to six [weeks]. I’m not saying I’m all the way back yet. I’m not saying for sure what I’m doing, but I know I practiced today. I know I felt good. I’m happy about the progress, that’s for sure. I’ve been hurt too much in my career, in my opinion. It’s something that I don’t want to do anymore, or want to be, so anything I can do to get back and get out there as soon as I possibly can and be healthy and be effective, I’ll do. Just excited to be back out there with the guys.”

Cushing said there’s a “possibility” he’ll play Sunday, but that they’re “taking it day by day.”

The Texans may be a little hesitant to put Cushing back on the field so quickly, after what happened to Watt. But Cushing said that, structurally, his knee is “great.” If so, there’s no reason for Cushing to not play.

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Spiller plans to sign with Seahawks

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 13: Running back C.J. Spiller #28 of the New Orleans Saints runs with the ball in the first quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Cliff McBride/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** C.J. Spiller Getty Images

Veteran running back C.J. Spiller will sign with the Seahawks, per multiple reports.

The Saints cut Spiller earlier this month. The Seahawks have been hit hard by injury at the running back position, so taking a flyer on Spiller makes sense.

Spiller, 29, played for the Saints last season after five seasons in Buffalo. He has 12 rushing touchdowns and eight receiving touchdowns in his career.

The Seahawks are planning to be without injured starter Thomas Rawls for a few weeks, so Spiller will probably get a chance to play on third downs behind Christine Michael while he catches up with the offense.

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Dolphins cut Justin Hunter

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 23: Justin Hunter #15 of the Tennessee Titans runs for a touchdown after making a catch in the second quarter of the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on November 23, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Dolphins released wide receiver Justin Hunter on Wednesday.

The Dolphins play in Cincinnati Thursday night. The timing of Hunter’s release indicates the Dolphins need a roster spot due to injury or other circumstances and could promote someone from their practice squad.

Hunter was released by the Titans in early September and claimed by the Dolphins. He played in one game this season and did not record a reception.

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Jets waive Dee Milliner from injured reserve

New York Jets v San Diego Chargers Getty Images

The disappointing Jets tenure of Dee Milliner has now officially come to an end.

Milliner, the former No. 9 overall pick in the draft, was waived/injured before the start of the regular season, and when he cleared waivers he went to the Jets’ injured reserve list. Now the Jets have waived him off their injured reserve.

That means if any team wants Milliner, he can be claimed on waivers. If he goes unclaimed he’ll become an unrestricted free agent and can play this season, assuming he’s healthy enough to do so. If he had stayed on the Jets’ injured reserve he wouldn’t have been able to play this year.

An excellent cornerback at Alabama, Milliner was a big disappointment in the NFL. He may still have a chance to catch on somewhere else, but he’s now officially done as a Jet.

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Rams claim Marqui Christian off waivers from Cardinals

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 01:  Defensive back Marqui Christian #25 of the Arizona Cardinals in action during the preseaon NFL game against the Denver Broncos aat the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Broncos 38-17.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Cardinals and Rams will square off this Sunday and the Rams have added a former member of the Arizona secondary to their roster ahead of the game.

Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports that the Rams claimed safety Marqui Christian off of waivers on Wednesday, a day after the Cardinals dropped him as part of a series of transactions. The Cardinals said the move was due to the need to bring in another punter while Drew Butler is recovering from ankle and Achilles injuries.

Christian was a fifth-round pick by the Cardinals in April. He starred at Division II Midwestern State and was named the top small college defensive player last year, but hasn’t played in the regular season as it appears the leap in levels to the NFL has been a big one.

He may have some insight into the Cardinals that the Rams could find useful over the next couple of days, however.

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Chargers list Bosa as limited again

San Diego Chargers rookie defensive end Joey Bosa trains during an NFL football rookie training camp Friday, May 13, 2016, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) AP

Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa was listed as a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice due to a hamstring injury.

That means it’s a new week but the same story for Bosa, who’s still trying to get healthy enough to make his NFL debut.

The No. 3 pick in last year’s draft participated his first practice in pads last week but was ultimately held out of last weekend’s game. Bosa missed almost all of training camp and the preseason due to a contract dispute, then was injured in his first practice back.

Veteran tight end Antonio Gates remained out of practice with a hamstring injury. Offensive tackle King Dunlap missed practice due to migraines, coach Mike McCoy told reporters.

The Chargers host the Saints on Sunday.

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Hue Jackson won’t say whether Alvin Bailey will play on Sunday

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Tackle Alvin Bailey #78 of the Seattle Seahawks looks on during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at CenturyLink Field on September 22, 2013 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Two days after offensive lineman Alvin Bailey was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated, it’s unclear whether the Browns will take action against him for it.

“We will see,” coach Hue Jackson told reporters on Wednesday. “Obviously, this is a league matter. Those kind of things that happen, I’m not very excited about it at all. There will be consequences for it, but we have to follow league protocol as far as that is concerned. We will do what we feel is right.”

Alcohol offenses fall under the NFL’s exclusive jurisdiction, via the substance-abuse policy. A first offense generally results in a two-game suspension.

While teams can’t fine players accused of DUI or suspend them without pay, players can be released for arrests (like the Bucs did last week with tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins), they can make them inactive on game day, and they can choose not to play them, even if they are active.

So will Bailey play on Sunday against Washington?

“You will find that out on Sunday,” Jackson said.

The Browns may have a separate problem in this case. Bailey reportedly told police he drank on the team flight back from Miami. Nine years ago, however, the NFL banned teams from providing alcohol on team flights.

There’s currently no evidence the team provided alcohol to Bailey or any other player. However, there’s also no evidence that Bailey or any other player snuck a bottle of booze or a six-pack of beer onto the charter, either.

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NFL, Tom Coughlin’s agent deny meeting with Pegulas occurred

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 03:  Head coach Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants reacts in the first half against the Philadelphia Eagles during their game at MetLife Stadium on January 3, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

If Tom Coughlin eventually will be getting back into coaching in 2017 (or sooner), there’s no current effort in Buffalo to make that happen.

Both Coughlin’s current employer (the NFL) and Coughlin’s agent (Sandy Montag) have denied a report that emerged over the weekend indicating that Coughlin had met with Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula.

“This meeting did not happen,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told PFT via email on Wednesday.

“I do confirm that a meeting did not occur,” Montag told PFT via email.

The Bills opted to say nothing, citing a “longstanding practice not to respond to media posts based on rumors.” While accounts of the Coughlin-Pegula meeting may have begun as rumor, Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reported that a meeting occurred.

The fact that the Bills scored an unlikely win over the Cardinals likely contributed to the fizzling of the rumor/report. But if the Bills struggle again, talk of Coughlin could resurface. Regardless of what happens in the future, the NFL and Coughlin’s agent have been unequivocal: No meeting happened.

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Pete Carroll would be surprised if Russell Wilson doesn’t play

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 25: Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks runs out of the grasp of outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks #55 of the San Francisco 49ers the first quarter of the game at CenturyLink Field on September 25, 2016 in Seattle,Washington. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) Getty Images

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said on Monday that quarterback Russell Wilson would be on the practice field Wednesday to kick off the on-field preparation for Sunday’s game against the Jets.

Nothing changed on that front over the last two days and Carroll confirmed Wednesday that Wilson will be working with the rest of the team after going through a morning walkthrough. The quarterback added a sprained MCL to an ankle injury during last Sunday’s victory over the 49ers, but, as reported by Sheil Kapadia of ESPN.com, he has been working with a physical therapist who has been living in his house this week.

Carroll said Wilson is feeling well at this point in the week.

“He’s upbeat and feeling good,” Carroll said, via Curtis Crabtree of PFT and 950 KJR. “We’ll know more after today.”

Carroll went on to say that he would be surprised if Wilson doesn’t play, something that’s supported by the fact that the team opted against working out any quarterbacks who could join Trevone Boykin as options in the event Wilson isn’t in the lineup.

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Foster, Cameron, Pouncey, Misi out for Miami

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 18:  Arian Foster #29 of the Miami Dolphins carries the ball during the first half against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

When the Dolphins face the Bengals in Cincinnati on Thursday night, four players will definitely not be playing.

Running back Arian Foster (hamstring), tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion), linebacker Koa Misi (neck), and center Mike Pouncey (hip) officially are out for the first game of Week Four.

Linebacker Jelani Jenkins (groin) is doubtful, as is guard Anthony Steen (ankle).

Ten other Dolphins are listed as questionable, including receivers Jarvis Landry (shoulder) and DeVante Parker (hamstring), safety Reshad Jones (knee), tight end Dion Sims (ankle), and tackle Branden Albert (ankle).

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