Bengals’ Huber starting to kick again

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CINCINNATI (AP) - Kevin Huber has gained back the 15 pounds he lost while his jaw was wired, forcing him to drink his meals. He no longer wears a neck brace to help a cracked vertebra heal.

The Bengals punter is nearly back to normal after recovering from one of the most painful hits of the 2013 season.

Pittsburgh’s Terence Garvin blocked Huber during Antonio Brown’s 67-yard punt return for a touchdown last December, hitting the punter’s chin with the top of his helmet. Huber broke his jaw and had to have surgery to wire it in place. He also cracked a vertebra, which healed without surgery.

Huber said on Monday that he’s still limited in his weightlifting workouts, but he’s getting ready to return to a full kicking routine.

“I’ve started getting back into swinging the leg some,” he said. “I haven’t had full kicking sessions yet, but I’m going to start trying to get back into that here pretty soon.”

Huber is one of several Bengals trying to recover from significant injuries sustained last season. Cornerback Leon Hall tore his right Achilles tendon on Oct. 20. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on Oct. 31. Atkins was in the locker room on Monday when voluntary offseason workouts began, but declined to talk about his recovery.

Huber’s injury left the Bengals without a proven punter for December and the postseason. They lost at home to San Diego, the third straight season in which they’ve been eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs.

It took three months for Huber’s jaw to fully heal. The cracked vertebra isn’t expected to pose any issues long-term. Doctors are being cautious and haven’t cleared him for full workouts.

“I feel good,” Huber said. “They just want a little more time to make sure I’m fully recovered. I’m ready to get back into it. It’s been a long time with neck braces and the stuff in my mouth.”

Huber grew up in Cincinnati, attended the University of Cincinnati and follows the city’s other sports teams. When Reds closer Aroldis Chapman was hit on the forehead by a line drive during a spring training game last month, Huber tweeted: “Prayers go out to Chapman. Hope everything is ok. It sounded like it was a pretty bad shot.”

Chapman had a plate inserted in his forehead to help fractures heal. He resumed throwing from a mound last week and is expected back sometime in May.

Huber could identify with an athlete suffering a major injury to the face.

“It’s tough to see something like that happen,” Huber said. “It sounds like Chapman’s coming back pretty strong. I saw he was in the bullpen the other day. So hopefully he can come back and be pitching again soon.”

The Reds are curious to see whether Chapman is wary of getting hit again when he faces batters for the first time. Huber has thought about how he might react when he gets blocked the first time during a punt return.

“I’m not really sure,” he said. “I’ve definitely thought about that and how am I going to act in the situation? I can tell myself now, ‘Oh, I’ll be fine,’ but you don’t really know until you’re in the situation.

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