Yesterday, training camp opened at the Paul Brown Stadium practice fields, and as many as 1,500 fans showed up to watch this young squad take the field.
For the past sixteen years, training camp has been held about an hour away from Cincinnati at Georgetown College, Kentucky. This year, it was moved to downtown Cincinnati, within Paul Brown Stadium and on the adjacent practice fields. Head Coach Marvin Lewis noted that the biggest difference is there is more field space at these practice fields, and they are all right next to each other.
The walkway from the entrance to the bleachers is very close to the field, which is how I was able to get so close in the picture above. You actually aren't supposed to stand there, since it's a walkway (as a security guy told me), but about a hundred people did anyway. It's a much better vantage point for the second field, which is too far away from the bleachers to be able to see anything. All the 11-on-11 drills happen on the closer field, so it's not much of a problem.
+ The Setup
There's a mini pro shop with some pictures and other memorabilia that you can buy for the autograph session after practice. There's also a small concessions shop, which sells hot dogs, nachos, and drinks. There's also a vendor walking around selling water and gatorade.
They have a lot of bleacher space. Each section is about ten rows deep, and it's all one side of the field. I didn't see the 5/3rd special bleacher, which supposedly 53 random fans who show their 5/3rd credit cards can sit in. Probably wasn't set up yet. Or I'm blind. The reported attendance for the first day was about 1,500 fans. The capacity for the practice fields is about 1,600, and I expect it to be full on the weekend.
+ How To Get Tickets And Where To Park
First of all, it's free. You don't need tickets when practice is inside Paul Brown Stadium. However, most of the practices are out on the practice field, which require tickets since there's limited seating.
Tickets start being handed out at 10 a.m. at the Paul Brown Stadium ticket office. There was a long line of a few hundred people waiting this morning, but the line moves pretty quickly since there's no exchange of money at the front. All you have to do is go up to the counter and tell the employee how many tickets you want. I believe the maximum is
four eight tickets per person.
At some point, they close down the ticket office at Paul Brown Stadium. Two hours before practice starts, they start giving out the leftovers outside the practice field gates. Today, they still had enough leftovers by the time practice even started. That might not be the case this weekend, with more people off work. Don't risk showing up when practice starts, and expect a ticket to be handed to you.
There are three big parking lots around the practice fields. I just made a handy little google map, which you can view here. Shows the parking areas and entrance. They have guys standing in the lots collecting $10. That's only during practice time though. You won't get charged for parking when you go to get your ticket at 10 a.m. That would be miserable.
+ Player Highlights And Notes
Now that we got all the boring stuff out of the way, here's a few things I noticed at practice on day one.
The quarterbacks were very rusty. A lot of errant, high, inaccurate passes today. Even Andy Dalton (14) wasn't his normal, accurate self. He was picked off by Reggie Nelson (20) on a deep ball to Armon Binns (85). That play drew the loudest cheering the whole day.
The offensive line wasn't doing well either. It was a no contact day, so today's performance doesn't really matter. There didn't seem like a lot of holes being created for the running backs, and Jamaal Anderson (92) had a free shot at Andy Dalton on one play. Kevin Zeitler (68) was in at right guard, and Travelle Wharton (70) at left, though they mixed it around a bunch with the backups. Wharton was one of the players who left practice early with heat problems. It was 92 degrees today. There's no shade out there, so put on some sunscreen and prepare to sweat. You can bring a soft cooler and unopened drinks and food. I wasn't stopped with my half-drank bottle of water though.
Brandon Tate (19) is currently the guy starting opposite A.J. Green (18) in 11-on-11 drills. That could change at any time though. I'm sure they will rotate other players in too. Armon Binns and Ryan Whalen (88) took the second team. The rookies Marvin Jones (82) and Mohamed Sanu (12) were third team. Andrew Hawkins (16) and the others were worked in on other plays.
Over the course of the day, both Armon Binns and Brandon Tate made some tough, contested catches. The offense ran a deep ball drill for a while, and no one was bringing down any catches. The passes were inaccurate and the coverage was generally pretty good. Undrafted receiver Justin Hilton (15) was the first guy to break the dry spell, with a long touchdown catch. If you don't know Hilton, big, downfield plays are what he does best.
Jermaine Gresham (84) probably had the best day of anyone. I think he caught every ball thrown to him. Most of his success came on intermediate routes. Orson Charles (80) and the other tight ends weren't used much in 11-on-11 today. Charles is much shorter than I expected as well. Gresham looks like he has a few inches on him.
Other guys in that 'shorter than I expected' category are Brandon Tate and Vontaze Burfict (55). Tate runs very low to the ground, and I guess I was expecting Burfict to be more of a huge physical guy. Burfict is somehow only 6'1", and apparently he's lost a lot of weight since college.
On the other hand, Armon Binns runs much taller than Tate. His height is his biggest asset. Very hard to defend when he sticks those long arms out to catch an accurate throw. Green and Binns look like trees out there on the field when they are next to each other.
There's nothing really big to say about the running backs, since there's no tackling. Aaron Brown (33) looked pretty fast getting outside. He's very thin though, which is concerning. The running backs were met by Rey Maualuga (58) a lot today, who gave them a nice 265-pound hug before letting them pass. Vontaze Burfict generally filled the holes well too. If there was contact, you could tell that he would have had a huge hit on a running back today. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (42) looked good in a Bengals uniform. Definitely a grinder. Patient running style, elusive enough to get the job done. Won't make your jaw drop or anything.
There's not a whole lot to say about the defense since you can't judge tackles. With Nate Clements (22) still nursing an abdominal injury, Terence Newman (23) was on first team with Leon Hall (29), who is full-go after suffering an achilles injury halfway through the 2011 season. That's really great news, especially with Dre Kirkpatrick (27) out for most of training camp. Kirkpatrick walked around the field for the most part without a very slight limp. He had a soft brace around his left knee. A lot of people shouted his name as he walked by and he seemed to wave to every single shout.
Taylor Mays (26) was in at first string strong safety, which he held in the spring and summer practices. He had a pass breakup on a slow pass intended for Jermaine Gresham deep down the middle of the field.
You really can't say anything about the defensive line. Again, no contact. Incumbent starting left end Robert Geathers (91) left the field after apparently twisting his knee. That gave Carlos Dunlap (96) the chance to play on first team. Pat Sims (90) is out with an ankle injury right now. That doesn't bode well for his chance at making the team, with two early draft picks spent on defensive tackles this year.
The new cornerback, Chris Lewis-Harris (37) slammed into one of the equipment carts when Dalton lofted a deep pass to Armon Binns down the sideline. Binns actually hauled in the pass, and slid all the way under the yellow roping that separated the fans from the field. Lewis-Harris wasn't so lucky, having his momentum halted by the parked cart. Everyone gasped, but the young cornerback popped back up pretty quickly. Throughout the rest of the day, Lewis-Harris actually ended up winning many battles today in drills. Meanwhile Leon Hall allowed a lot of receptions today. He admitted after practice that his technique was very rusty. Defensive Coordinator Mike ZImmer was with the cornerbacks almost all day today. With a new defensive backs coach, Zimmer is the guy that has to teach the players his own system and technique.
The group of punt returners today was different than Marvin Lewis said they would be a last week. Today, Brandon Tate, Marvin Jones, Leon Hall, Terence Newman, and Jordan Shipley (just watching - still isn't full go after suffering an ACL injury last year) were returning punts. Hall, Newman, and Shipley weren't listed by Marvin Lewis last week. Andrew Hawkins and Adam Jones (24) were listed last week. Maybe it's a day-to-day type of thing. I can't imagine that Adam Jones and Hawkins aren't serious candidates to be returning punts week one. In fact, with Brandon Tate perhaps moving onto a large role in the offense, I'd say that Jones and Hawkins are the favorites. Everyone looked decent catching the ball, but Marvin Jones bobbled and dropped the first one punted to him. Probably just nerves.
+ First Team, Second Team and Whatnot
First team: Manny Lawson (99), Rey Maualuga, Thomas Howard (53)
Second team: Vincent Rey (57), Roddrick Muckelroy (56), Dan Skuta (51)
Third team: Emmanuel Lamur (49), Vontaze Burfict, Micah Johnson (50)
Fourth team: Dontay Moch (52), Grant Hunter (47), Micah Johnson (again)
First team: Leon Hall, Terence Newman
Second team: Adam Jones, Jason Allen (25)
Third team: Brandon Ghee (21), Shaun Prater (38)
(Nate Clements, Dre Kirkpatrick injured)
First team: Reggie Nelson, Taylor Mays
Second team: Robert Sands (31), Jeromy Miles (45)
Third team: George Iloka (43), Tony Dye (44)
First team: A.J. Green, Brandon Tate
Second team: Armon Binns, Ryan Whalen
Third team: Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu
For about ten or fifteen minutes after practice ends, most players go over to the yellow rope in front of the bleachers and sign autographs. A lot of the veterans just head to the locker room, but all the rookies came over and signed stuff today. I believe they were all told to on the first day.
The rookies made themselves available. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Terence Newman made the rounds. Rey Maualuga always stays forever and signs things. Even Marvin Lewis signed for a few minutes today.
If you want A.J. Green or Andy Dalton though, good luck. Green is the number one guy people scream for and crowd in front of. Dalton was a close second in screams, but he didn't even sign autographs today. He went over and worked with Green and the rest of the receivers on routes and back-shoulder throws once Green wrapped up signing things.
If you want to get autographs, bring something to get signed and a pen or sharpie. With about fifteen minutes left in practice, or even earlier, you should find a spot on the yellow rope.
All in all, it's nicer than Georgetown college since it's so close. Definitely go, but make sure you have the free ticket situation figured out beforehand. And it's going to be hot without any shade. This is training camp, be ready to sweat. In my opinion, you should make an effort to learn a lot of players' numbers beforehand. Makes the experience far more enjoyable. Then you aren't looking up and down at your roster sheet the whole time.
I've posted a few picture that I took with my phone below. I took a some more pictures with my camera too. I've posted them all on my flickr account (I hope that link works). Feel free to scroll through them. There's not a lot right now, but I'll be posting more every practice. And follow me on twitter for live updates as practice goes on!
Obviously I won't be writing this many words in every journal post. This piece had a lot of introductions and things. Anyway, thanks for reading. See you at camp!
A huge crowd gathers as BenJarvus Green-Ellis stopped to sign a few things by the exit. Only player to do so.
A.J. Green gets mobbed. Very tough to get his autograph. Biggest crowd on the sideline.
The skyline and clouds are pretty great too! What a backdrop!