Kyle Cook stood in front of his locker Tuesday wearing a T-shirt with a message emblazoned that echoed not only by the Bengals starting center but all the coaches inside Paul Brown Stadium: Unfair.
The Cincinnati Bengals feel that way as the news swirling about Cook's injured right ankle takes on an ominous feel. Cook wouldn't spill the details, but he expected to show up Monday and practice but was met with a different diagnosis upon meeting with the doctors. The small injury was more serious than originally thought. Judging by what's being said, Cook will be out for an extended period of time if not the entire season.
This comes form a team that already lost starting left guard Travelle Wharton for the year in the first preseason game and starts a rookie (Kevin Zeitler) at right guard.
Cook has given up one sack every 12 games and became the nerve center of this offensive line. CBSSports.com's Pat Kirwan ranked him No. 1 among centers who may deserve Pro Bowl shots this year.
Losing others on the line would be considered tolerable because of depth, but without a legitimate backup center on the roster, the Bengals are scrambling.
"We will know the severity of it soon," Marvin Lewis said. "We've got to explore all options."
What are those options? Here's what they are weighing:
1. Sign veteran C Jeff Faine. The Bengals brought the 2003 first-round pick with 117 career starts in for a tryout. He was on the street after being waived by Tampa Bay earlier this year. He's a veteran and knows offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's system from his time in Tampa Bay. He would provide a veteran stop-gap between two unproven players as the team searches elsewhere. A similar solution occurred in 2004 when Cincinnati acquired veteran Jerry Fontenot days before the opener to fill in for injured starter Rich Braham. Fontenot started six games that year.
2. Trade/sign waiver claim for guard or center. Clint Boling was the backup center before taking over for Wharton at left guard. He could conceivably play either (though Lewis said he plans to leave Boling at LG). That would open up the possibility to trade for a center or guard, depending on who is available. As was written Monday, they own tradeable pieces -- including two second round picks in 2013. They could land an answer.
Because the Bengals' waiver order is back at 21, making a trade is more viable because the best available options could be claimed in front of them.
"It's harder," Lewis said. "I don't know where Baltimore was last year, but I know they claimed a couple of the guys we did that we got. That's the thing, when you're down a little ways, that's the difference. (Trading) is what you may have to do -- because we are further down -- to ensure you get what you want."
3. Go with UFA Trevor Robinson. The undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame comes in highly regarded from Brian Kelly and performed well in camp. He's undersized and physically probably a year away from hanging with the likes of Haloti Ngata on Monday Night Football. Mentally, however, he's quick and can handle the heavy mental workload placed on the middle. That would leave the interior line at second-year pro with three starts and two rookies. Yikes.
4. Move from the outside in. The Bengals could go three-ring circus style and shift Boling to center where he trained as a backup all last season, LT Andrew Whitworth in to LG where he would shine and backup tackle Anthony Collins in as starter at LT where he's played well in a reserve role the previous two years. It would shore the line up with veterans, but then the team is moving three players for one position all while moving a Pro-Bowl caliber player out of one of the most important positions on the field. Also, all-important continuity would be thrown for a loop. Most importantly, with Lewis insisting Boling stays at guard, the other lineman will stay put.
Which options sounds best? Likely landing a starting center or guard through a trade would be the best way to solidify this year, but this team has not shown much of a propensity to sacrifice the future for the current situation, so it's a longer shot than logic would indicate. Regardless of the move, none would be considered confidence-inducing. And that's a major problem for a team hoping to invigorate a running game that finished last season in the bottom quarter of the NFL.
Follow Paul Dehner Jr. for Bengals updates on Twitter at @CBSSportsNFLCIN.