The Bengals held their second-to-last training camp session on Wednesday, highlighted by the defense. Here are our four biggest takeaways from the penultimate training camp practice.
1. Derron Smith is still ballin'
There hasn't been a bigger rookie performer in Bengals camp this year than safety Derron Smith. The former Fresno State product continues to look like a bigger and bigger sixth-round steal as the days roll on. Smith's big play of today's session was a red-zone interception of Andy Dalton, one of the NFL's best at not committing red-zone turnovers.
At this point, Smith is almost a lock to make the final 53-man roster. There's just no way he would clear waivers if the Bengals wanted to sneak him onto the practice squad. Assuming he makes the final roster, Smith could step into a starting role as early as next year when both George Iloka and Reggie Nelson hit free agency.
2. Mohamed Sanu & Marvin Jones are finally on the field together
Ever since the Bengals drafted Marvin Jones out of Cal and Mohamed Sanu out of Rutgers in the 2012 NFL Draft, the hope has been Jones could be a starting boundary receiver with Sanu manning the slot. Having Andrew Hawkins from 2012-13 prevented Sanu from doing much there, and once Hawk left last year, Jones was lost for the year with foot and ankle injuries.
Despite both being healthy and getting to practice together regularly, Sanu has often held that outside boundary spot across from A.J. Green with Jones coming off the bench. There's even been many plays with Rex Burkhead in the slot compared to the amount of reps Jones got there.
That finally changed Wednesday with Jones manning the outside with Sanu down in the slot:
For second straight 11-on-11 Marvin Jones running with the first team on outside. Sanu enters in slot at 3-wide. First time this year.— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) August 19, 2015
Along with Tyler Eifert at tight end, any formation with those four on the field at the same time is likely the most deadly combination the Bengals offense can have this year. Looking around the NFL, there may not be a defense that could consistently stop that combo, especially if Sanu can keep making these kinds of catches:
3. Brandon Tate's new role on special teams
It looks as though Brandon Tate will once again find a way to make the Bengals' final roster. However, it may not be due to his return abilities, if they can find a better option than him there.
Throughout this camp, Tate has gotten a lot of run as a gunner on special teams, something he's done ok at. He's going to have to do well there if other guys keep getting reps at the returner spots.
Josh Shaw and Brandon Tate were the first gunners. Adam Jones, Gio Bernard, Mario Alford catching punts— Brennen Warner (@BrennenWarner) August 19, 2015
Another thing helping Tate is Dennard's groin injury. With Dennard out, it looks as though Tate will be one of the primary gunners going forward. In other words, get well soon, Dennard.
4. Vance Joseph's impact continues to be felt
When the Bengals hired Vance Joseph to be the team's co-defensive backs coach in 2014, no one would have thought he'd play such a pivotal role in improving the Bengals' secondary.
In just one year though, he helped George Iloka go from an above-average starter to playing at a Pro Bowl level in 2014. He also helped Dre Kirkpatrick go from seldom-used backup to breakout performer late last season and into training camp this year.
Veteran corner Adam Jones today expressed his feelings toward Joseph and how he's helped the veteran improve his craft into his 30s.
Before co-DBs coach Vance Joseph arrived, Adam Jones felt his mental approach to football was a "C-plus." Now, it's an "A-minus," he says.— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) August 19, 2015
The likelihood of Joseph getting a promotion next year continues to increase. Expect him to be either someone's defensive coordinator or even a head coach in 2016.