Everyone should treat themselves to a training camp practice. Aside from the uncharacteristic weather disregarding "dog days of summer" with the gentlest of mother nature's flick, practice becomes a mental exercise for fans. You know the jersey numbers of the team's best players; but do you know numbers of backups, or even the undrafted rookie receiver Cincinnati secretly coveted? No, it's not a nine-route... it's a screen pass. An injured Rey Maualuga carried heavy sandbags around the perimeter on the side field. It was brutal. For a few minutes, he squatted to collect enough energy for the stretch run and then labored to his teammates on the defensive field (furthest away from the fans).
Practice, for fans, provides a calming atmosphere with unlikely folk gathering for a common reason; satiate overzealous appetites for football. Even an admitted Green Bay Packers fan, who stood in line prior to the gates opening at 2:30 p.m., attended. "You know what the Bengals should do more of?" Tell me. They should throw more, he said, oblivious to the confusing looks that tracked his progress to the back of the line. He's not with me. A single mother, unsure where to go, if you needed tickets or if there was a maximum capacity, was clearly out of her element. She loved Luke Bryan; there were conversations. A young woman walked up the unforgiving metal bleachers, grinning with the responses she received sporting a Hines Ward jersey; or the drunk porn-stache shifting his faded Steelers shirt that should only be worn by eight-year-olds... on their birthday.
It doesn't mean you should attend every practice. In fact, if you've seen one, you've seen a significant majority of them. Cincinnati opens with simple concepts, reviewing plays and items taught in the classroom. Some players begin hitting the shed 15 minutes before the start. You hear players crushing the sled, causing metal casings to violently crashed into earth. There's seven-on-one (no linemen), then individual drills, group drills (like quarterbacks and receivers or running backs), then 11-on-11, then more drills, some special teams work, 11-on-11, and then more special teams work.
It all starts with stretches and calisthenics. There were no jumping jacks, making me wonder why my high school coach demanded 10 of those. Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, didn't practice, rather going through stretches like a five-year disinterested in gym class. He joined Maualuga, linebacker Sean Porter, and defensive end Margus Hunt on the side field. Vontaze Burfict continues being in hiding, as the state's greatest secret, convinced a trench-coat wearing KGB agent is peering around the shrubbery that hides Cincinnati's practice field from view outside the fence.
Quarterback Andy Dalton had another strong outing, connecting with A.J. Green on most passes beyond 10 yards. Marvin Jones played snaps from the slot, mostly running slants while tied down to hooks and curls on the outside. Green usually runs the same routes: slants, slant-and-fade, vertical, intermediate square-in. Needless to say, he conducts the route flawlessly but one criticism remains. Cornerback Adam Jones has been matched on Green all weekend, and watched a choreographed slant develop. Rather than allow Green to generate momentum, Jones cut off his route and intercepted the football after a momentary bobble. Darqueze Dennard, who leads the defense with multiple training camp interceptions, timed a beautiful shot on Marvin Jones, completely impeding his route. He later intercepted AJ McCarron, who clearly has an arm but, as we pointed out yesterday, there's a feeling out period going on with the receivers. Considering he didn't get many repetitions last year, McCarron is getting his first true look this season.
"He made a hell of a play," Guenther said of Dennard via ESPN. "He's a smart player. He understands route concepts and he's really good with his techniques. He's going to have a chance (to start)."
Dennard looks great, yet he's stationed as the fourth corner behind first teamers Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick and Leon Hall, who feel two inches shy of tipping a Dalton slant to Green. Joining Dennard as primary second-teamers in the secondary are Chris Lewis-Harris, Josh Shaw, with Shawn Williams, Derron Smith, Shiloh Keo and Erick Dargan rotating at safety. Troy Hill disrupted a Josh Johnson pass targeting Brandon Tate.
Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard weren't as visible Saturday; it seemed Cincinnati went heavy with passes on Saturday, especially with Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert. It's mind boggling how Eifert sprints across the field completely unchallenged. If his season is a fraction of what he's doing in camp, Eifert may cause such a shockwave breaking through as a premiere player this year. Disclaimer: Everyone looks good in training camp, without any contract so consider that into your developing perspective.
It's also easy to forget we're two practices into training camp, and Cincinnati is still working on concepts, individual development and virtual tryouts for bubble players. The Bengals still haven't worn shoulder pads (that's expected on Sunday) and full gear is coming on Monday.
Cincinnati will conduct practice on Sunday and, if you have time, take the kids and wife. Enjoy beautiful Ohio weather, meet the interesting personalities attending with you. Kids are free to roam, and stamp, stomp and clank the insanely uncomfortable metal benches. It's just Bengals football; a calming effect during a comfortable atmosphere regarding a recreation that brings serenity (save for 16-17 dates out of the year).