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Training Camp Journal: Bengals & Giants First Joint Practice

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The practice fields outside Paul Brown Stadium were buzzing yesterday as the New York Giants were welcomed by the biggest crowd so far this year. Mohamed Sanu was the most consistent player of the day, while Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, and A.J. Green each had a play that gained more than 30 yards.

I normally arrive at the practice fields around 2:30 p.m., but I was so excited about yesterday's joint practice that I arrived at 2:15 p.m. As I pulled around the corner on the way to my secret parking spots, I saw the line was already longer than it's ever been.

There were some New York Giants fans there, but not that many. I'd guess they covered about 100 of the 2,200 reported attendance yesterday. The line always moves relatively quickly once the gates open at 2:30pm. I made it onto the fields and saw about 20 Giants players, but no Bengals players yet. Giants quarterback Eli Manning was using the play clock as an anchor for some resistance band exercise with his arms.

Adam Jones was the first Bengal I saw out on the field. He shouted his trademark phrase, "Hello, World!" and went over to greet Eli Manning, then some Bengals fans.

Jeremy Hill, Kevin Huber, and Clark Harris were the next Bengals players to come out. Jeremy Hill started to do some jogging warm ups and Odell Beckham Jr. came over to greet him, but Hill jokingly ignored him at first and kept jogging. They did the same warm ups side-by-side for about 10 minutes. Then, during some punt coverage drills that began at 3 p.m., Hill and Beckham Jr. hung out on the sideline together until positional drills began. Beckham Jr, by the way, has the most badass helmet visor I've ever seen.

Hill and Beckham

This punt coverage drill actually lasted about 25 minutes. During the drill, Mario Alford muffed his first punt or kickoff of camp so far. This potential problem is definitely something to keep an eye on. If Alford can properly catch all the punts and kickoffs he's going to get in the preseason, he should knock out Brandon Tate as the team's backup return man to Adam Jones.

At 3:30 the whole Bengals team huddled up to kickoff the rest of practice. I'd presume Lewis reiterated something about not getting into fights with the Giants players. No one seemed close to fighting all day yesterday.

Finally, the Bengals broke into their normal routine, which always begins with positional drills. The running backs and fullbacks headed over to their typical spot in the end zone of the main field. Practice attendance was greater than it had ever been on the PBS practice fields, so getting a prime spot took a bit of strategizing. I actually had been waiting at this spot since I came in almost an hour prior. I was sitting on the ground, next to two young kids who kept inching closer to the action. When the running backs came over, Jeremy Hill was casually flipping a football in his hands. He saw these two kids and tossed the ball to the one of these kids, who were literally two feet in front of me. It was hard not to crack up when this kid laughed in his friend's face about it. The best part for this young fan is that Hill didn't ask for the ball back.

The running backs went through their normal drills. They took handoffs from the quarterbacks and worked on hitting the hole properly while offensive coordinator Hue Jackson praised or critiqued their running.

Just before 3:45 p.m., I decided to leave my spot in the grass and head for the top of the middle section of bleachers. I knew some form of Bengals vs. Giants action was about to start. As I shuffled through the three rows of people standing behind me, my spot was immediately taken.

At this point, 1-on-1s started happening in 6 different areas of the fields simultaneously. Running backs worked on pass protection against linebackers, defensive linemen worked on pass rushing against offensive linemen, and receivers and tight ends ran routes against cornerbacks and safeties.

Directly in front of the bleachers, the Bengals' quarterbacks, receivers, and tight ends were working against the the Giants' defensive backs. A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert really went to work here. They continued to be completely uncoverable, which is nothing new. Mohamed Sanu also ran some precise routes and caught everything that came his way. Marvin Jones had an impressive catch on a ball that was behind him. In one smooth motion, he spun around, caught the ball, ripped it away from the Giants' defensive back, and pivoted back facing downfield again.

Rookie tight ends Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah got to show off their speed, route running, and catching ability in this drill. Both players repeatedly made catches for solid gains, while the other undrafted rookie tight ends really struggled. Jake Murphy, John Peters, and Matt Lengel were all bad in this drill. For Peters and Lengel, it was mostly their stiffness and predictable routes, while Murphy struggled with route running alone.

Undrafted rookie receiver Desmond Lawrence continued to play well. Lawrence has made some big plays while on the third team offense throughout camp. He's very quick and he's getting good separation from defenders. Lawrence's hands have been reliable for the most part, although he did have a drop today. Brandon Tate, an annual training camp hero, made a nice catch as he fell out of bounds on a deep go route. Meanwhile, Denarius Moore continued to be plagued with drops. Overall, his play has been very disappointing through 10 days of camp.

On the far field, the Giants' passing offense was working against the Bengals' defensive backs. It was impossible to see what happened on that field, due to the distance and the simultaneous action in front of me. However, I did see that Dre Kirkpatrick had a pick-six interception from Eli Manning on the brief ESPN2 coverage of practice.

At around 4 p.m. the Bengals and Giants gathered together for some 11-on-11 work. The Bengals' defense was matched up with the Giants' defense on the near field, and vice versa on the far field. Again, it was impossible to see what was happening on the far field.

Dalton took the field with the starting offense, who really stunk up the place. On first down, Dalton hit a short 5-yard dump off to A.J. Green. On the next play, Russell Bodine launched his shotgun snap high and to the right of Dalton, so they repeated the down. Then, Tyler Eifert had a rare drop on an out route. On third down, Bodine again launched his shotgun snap above Dalton's head. Backup interior lineman T.J. Johnson immediately came in and replaced Bodine. They repeated the down, then Dalton completed a short pass to Rex Burkhead a few yards short of the first down.

The next three plays each went for about five yards as Josh Johnson came in to led the second team. AJ McCarron was out with a minor rib injury. The third play, however, ended with a Rex Burkhead fumble that was scooped up by the Giants. On the next play, Johnson would have been sacked by two Giants simultaneously in a real game, but quarterbacks cannot be touched at all in training camp, and Johnson completed a 35 yard pass to Mario Alford running a post pattern from the slot.

After 11-on-11 and some special teams work, the players separated into a 4-on-4 drill which I don't care for. Two quarterbacks alternate on their own half of the field in rapid fire fashion as three eligible receivers (usually one receiver, one tight end, and one running back) try to get open against four defenders. Due to the pace, it's hard to keep up with who is making each throw and catch. However, the worst part is that the Bengals quarterbacks seem to love to use this drill to work on their short check downs and short throws to the flats. So, yesterday, the Bengals ran more than 30 plays in 10 minutes, and only three of them were good throws for more than five yards downfield. Sanu and Jones each ran solid dig routes for 15-yard gains, and Sanu added a 35-yard completion after he earned great separation from his defender on a corner route. I'd rather have the team do full 7-on-7, but, at the same time, I understand that this drill helps increase the number of reps for backup players.

The next session of 11-on-11 began just as poorly as the first one for the Bengals offense. First, A.J. Green false started on Dalton's hard count. Then, Dalton was sacked because Bodine let a stunting defensive end fly right by him. On the next play, Andrew Whitworth, who didn't allow a single sack in 17 games last year, was beaten for a sack when he was knocked backwards by George Selvie, who spun inside into Dalton's lap. Then, Jeremy Hill was stopped on an inside run for no gain.

Gio Bernard and Cedric Peerman found a little more running room with Josh Johnson and the second team offense. However, Peerman dropped a pass in the flats and then James Wilder Jr. was stopped for no gain. After Keith Wenning spelled Johnson for a few snaps, Johnson threw a ball well behind Tevin Reese streaking across the middle. The cornerback deflected the ball up in the air and a trailing linebacker came within inches of intercepting the pass as he dove to the ground. The crowd was pretty sullen at this point, while the Giants' sideline was hooting and hollering with excitement and enthusiasm. Johnson's next pass floated too far above the head of Terrell Watson and landed well beyond his reach.

Dalton came in for three more plays in this session of 11-on-11. He hit Sanu on a crossing route for a big gain, but he was also sacked on this play by a blitzing cornerback. On second down, Dalton and Green weren't on the same page at all. Dalton was thinking go route, but Green was thinking back shoulder. The ball landed 15 yards downfield from where Green ended up. In the last play of this 11-on-11, Dalton finally completed a pass, hitting Eifert for a medium gain on an out route.

At this point in time, practice had been a complete disappointment. With the defense playing so far away, the offense was the only thing that could be seen, and all three teams were stinking up the joint. It was almost 5 p.m. which is when practice typically ends. Monday's practice, for example, ended at 4:55 p.m.

Well, practice kept going, and the Bengals' offense finally responded. The teams lined up for some 7-on-7 action, and Dalton hit Eifert on the first play for a 32-yard gain on a corner route. Two plays later, Rex Burkhead ran an out route from the slot and was able to turn it up the sideline into a 20-yard gain.

On third down of Josh Johnson's series, he threw a perfect pass to the rookie tight end Tyler Kroft for a massive gain. Kroft had lined up in a three-point stance and he breezed by the linebacker in man coverage on him. Johnson's pass fell right into the chest of Kroft as he completed his corner route and the linebacker fell down. Kroft was basically left with a 40 yards of green grass in front of him and the deep safety a few yards behind him. They didn't complete the play because it's practice and Kroft needed to return to the huddle for the next play, but this play could have been an 80-yard touchdown in a real game.

A few plays later, Rex Burkhead made an impressive contested catch where he was bracketed by an underneath cornerback and a safety who both came within inches of knocking the ball away. It was also an accurate throw by Dalton into a tight window.

To finish off practice, the teams headed toward the other endzone for one last session of 11-on-11. Dalton immediately went to his favorite target A.J. Green. Dalton pump faked once, then launched a perfect pass into the arms of Green, who had easily run past the cornerback and the single deep safety on the play. It appeared to be some sort of blown coverage by the Giants. Take a look at Tyler Eifert streaking down the seam without anyone within 10 yards. That's as wide open as you can be in the NFL.

Two plays later, Jeremy Hill bounded through a large hole up the middle and went completely untouched for 20 yards. The deep safety was able to get an arm on him at the five-yard line, but that obviously wouldn't have stopped Hill from scoring in a real game.

Dalton and Green connected for one more touchdown before practice closed. Green lined up in the right slot, and got an outside release on the slot corner. The corner was left flat footed and trailed a few yards behind Green, who was headed straight for the back right pylon. Dalton's pass fell into Green's arms perfectly for their second touchdown in ten minutes.

Overall, it was a relieving end to an otherwise embarrassing practice for the Bengals' offense. They could barely move the ball for 90 minutes, then they couldn't be stopped for 20 minutes. At the end of the day, the majority of practice contains more than enough tape for Hue Jackson to rip these players to shreds in meetings. I'd guess the Bengals' offense will come out today with a lot to prove. Hopefully they can continue the momentum they started to build after 5 p.m. yesterday.

If you haven't watched it already, you can find most of these plays in my training camp highlight video for August 11th.