Bengals rookie C Trevor Robinson could lose his starting spot if veteran Kyle Cook returns from injury. (US Presswire)

Cincinnati veteran C Kyle Cook returned to practice Wednesday. He was placed on the injured reserve-designated to return list following a foot injury that required surgery the final week of preseason. 

The Bengals finally settled on a replacement for Cook when undrafted rookie Trevor Robinson took over the starting job three weeks ago. He's played well and Cincinnati has won three in a row.

A three-week roster exemption will allow the Bengals up to three weeks where Cook can practice before the team must either make a decision to move him permanently to IR or activate him to the 53-man roster.

Cook signed a four-year contact extension in 2011 and was viewed as a centerpiece of the franchise. The question becomes, do the Bengals break up what's working to insert Cook back into the lineup for a critical stretch?

For now, the answer appears to be to proceed with caution.

“We'll see how he goes,” Marvin Lewis said. “He's got to feel right about it and I’ve got to see what I’ve got to see as time goes on. We really have no timeframe of if and when he would be brought to the roster.”

Lewis wants to see how Cook reacts pushing against 300-pound linemen in practice. If he holds up, the team would likely release veteran center Jeff Faine, who was displaced by Robinson as starter after the bye week.

The advantage for Cook would be familiarity with complex defensive systems particularly on the road. The concept of sending Robinson into Heinz Field for a playoff atmosphere against the exotic looks of a Dick LeBeau defense sounds daunting. Whereas Cook has been the Bengals starting center since 2009.

Cincinnati would love to have that option, but Cook hasn't passed any rigorous tests just yet.

“Do I feel like I could play tomorrow? Yeah. But can I really? I don’t know yet,” Cook said. “I haven’t really done much. It will be one of those things where obviously I probably won’t play until coaches feel like I can or make sure I’m healthy enough and if there’s an opportunity for me to play.”

If Cook returns to health it would be difficult to imagine a scenario where he doesn't retake the starting job. Though Robinson's done well for a rookie, there's no replacing experience, particularly setting up all the protections for the line.

Don't expect Cook to take a strong stance either way.

“Yeah, I think I could (play),” he said. “But like I said, I’m not a selfish guy where it’s like, 'Oh, I have to be back.' It’s whatever’s best for the team. They’ll make that decision and I’ll go with it.”

Follow Paul Dehner Jr. for Bengals updates on Twitter at @CBSBengals.