The Cincinnati Bengals concluded training camp on Thursday, pocketing another season of Oklahoma Drills, mid-afternoon practices, and a constant stream of updates to pacify our starving minds. It's great to have football back. That same euphoria that you felt in late July, carries the same impact today with the sweet smell of a new car. Beautiful introductions are made through the guidance of soft winds transforming into explosive soundbites with pads, helmets, and grunts echoing through the unseasonably cool Cincinnati summer. That's football; the polar opposite of the poetry that saturates the spring-like beauty that introduces baseball. Newsflash: Our football will de-lace your sissy baseball with its mind.
Now training camp is over.
The introductions are made.
And we've learned some things.
+ MARVIN LEWIS MAY HAVE SINGLE-HANDEDLY CHANGED EVERYTHING
Though not necessarily as something that happened during practice, Marvin Lewis gave a startling interview around the start of training camp with Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel that described January of '11.
At the same time, plenty of Marvin Lewis' friends in football were calling him and telling him he needed to get out of Cincinnati. The franchise was lousy – too many bad apples on the roster, too much terrible history for it to be a coincidence. The script was written. He'd get another chance to do it right somewhere else.
Owner and coach had a meeting. They decided rather than separate, they'd reunite and apply the lessons they've learned in creating a losing team. And together, they'd change. Everything.
Real change happened. The Bengals are 19-13 in the past two seasons with postseason appearances in consecutive years for the first time since 1981-82. And now the Bengals are being viewed as "favorites", with powerhouses like the New England Patriots, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Denver Broncos.
+ ANDREW WHITWORTH AND HIS LEADERSHIP IS BOUNDLESS
We've known that Andrew Whitworth is the type of player that you want. Not only does he excel at his craft, his leadership, loyalty and even his nature to give is endless. He allows a rookie tight end to use a spare bedroom at his home while Tyler Eifert is having his condo prepared. When Carson Palmer decided to retire from the NFL rather than playing another down in Cincinnati two years ago, things got tense. Players were on the verge of dividing. It was Whitworth that pulled everyone's head out of their collective asses with the speech of speeches.
"We just kind of said, 'you can sit around and complain about the situation we are in or we can say, we have no excuses, no reason to doubt, everyone thinks we can't do it anyway so let's go out and win football games,'" Whitworth told Wetzel. "We said, 'the truth is we have a young kid who knows what he's doing and if we play well around him, we'll have success.'"
It was Whitworth that fronted the bill for a fallen high school kid. It was Whitworth, with extreme prejudice, who defended Andy Dalton when Raiders defensive lineman Lamarr Houston tackled his quarterback when the play was called dead. It was Whitworth that staged player-only practices during the NFL lockout.
Yet we keep hearing stories about who Whitworth is as a teammate with his unwavering loyalty and powerful leadership. If you've followed the Bengals, most of this you've already concluded on your own. Sometimes it just needs to be refreshed.
+ THE CAMP BATTLES AREN'T REALLY THAT CLEAR
If we generated our 53-man projection prior to training camp, there's a certain confidence we'd accurately select the entire team. Perhaps that's true even today. But clarity doesn't offer much certainty.
When the Bengals signed Alex Smith and drafted Tyler Eifert, Orson Charles was in trouble. Cincinnati experimented with Charles in the backfield during the offseason training program, finally describing him as an H-Back when training camp opened. Now Charles is battling John Conner, who came to Cincinnati as an established fullback but without any of the buzz to consider him as a challenge. All the while incumbent fullback Chris Pressley remains on the team's physically unable to perform list.
George Iloka was a fifth-round pick from the 2012 NFL draft that seldom played on defense last year. Now he's the first-team safety opposite of Reggie Nelson. Suddenly the once coveted safety Taylor Mays, who projected as a player vying for the starting job with Shawn Williams and even Jeromy Miles, doesn't have a firm grip on job security.
Even injured players are making dramatic points. Specifically Dre Kirkpatrick, who turned in a strong training camp with a handful of plays against the Atlanta Falcons during the team's preseason opener last Thursday. Not only does he figure to be a vital defensive back on a roster loaded with talent, if he continues to make a showing of consistency without any affects of his injuries, there's a chance he could rival Terence Newman by the team's bye week in November.
+ HELLO JONES
It was Mohamed Sanu originally. How could it be anyone else? Sanu was a key architect during Cincinnati's four-game winning streak last season that thrusted a 3-5 team into a winning record and an eventual run to win seven of the final eight games in 2012.
By no means is Sanu losing any offensive snaps when the Bengals open the season in Chicago, but Marvin Jones made one of hell of a case during training camp for increased participation. If the Bengals use a three-wide formation (without Tyler "Mr. Everywhere" Eifert on the field), Jones will have his spot opposite of A.J. Green with Sanu firmly planted in the slot -- replacing Andrew Hawkins who could be placed on Injured Reserve with a designation to return later this year.
Jones became obsessed with watching film during the offseason when he wasn't playing catch with Dalton in Dallas. In all reality, Jones was leaving an impression during his rookie season last year.
"It was great to see Marvin," said Jay Gruden said last year before Jones hurt his knee against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week seven. "He was coming on like gangbusters there before he got injured."
When he was at camp earlier this year, ESPN AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley wrote about Jones:
Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu is running very well, and you wouldn't know he had a season-ending foot injury in late November. But the wide receiver who stood out the most was Marvin Jones. A fifth-round pick from a year ago, he has a knack for getting open and can take off after making the catch.