Cincinnati's opening two practices were conducted without any pads, save for the helmets, as part of the collective bargaining agreement reducing unnecessary wear on players. Even shoulder pads took an extended vacation until Sunday, when Bengals players locked their shells for the first session where contact will ratchet up, giving fans a preview for full contact scheduled to take place on Monday. Oklahoma isn't expected to make an appearance this year after taking a break last season - which was primarily due to poor conditions (aka, rain). Contact was plentiful with cornerbacks applying press coverage against receivers and linebackers challenging tight ends - perhaps even proving Tyler Eifert can be stopped?
Unfortunately, injury hit the Bengals on Sunday when Michael Johnson collapsed during 9-on-7 drills. Trainers immediately attended to Johnson, checking on his right knee and putting him through a battery of tests. According to reports, the injury occurred when running back Terrell Watson collided with Johnson, who collapsed during the drill.
If optimism could be mustered from this, Johnson walked under his own power to the cart, albeit cautiously. Head coach Marvin Lewis expressed a positive postmortem after practice and thinks Johnson will be alright, adding that "preliminary exams showed no major damage." After being exiled to Tampa Bay for one season, Johnson returned to Cincinnati on a four-year deal worth $20 million; the Bengals are heavily relying on Johnson to help boost their poor pass rush from last season.
Defensive end Wallace Gilberry also sat toward the end of practice with a tweaked hamstring, but believes some time in the tub will fix that right up.
Despite the collective pause in breath, practice continued.
One interesting drill had Bengals quarterbacks flipping five passes in quick succession to an assistant 15 yards toward the sidelines. When Andy Dalton wasn't zipping accurate passes, he became an intermediary from the assistants to quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese. Eventually Josh Johnson and Keith Wenning broke off to another field to work with the offensive line while Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron worked with receivers on their routes. McCarron notably struggled on his quick out drills, not helped by guys like Onterio McCalebb dropping passes. Regardless, McCarron was a little off, compared to previous individual sessions on Friday and Saturday.
Jake Kumerow made a fantastic reception down the left sidelines during passing drills against the secondary. A.J. Green made another amazing reception, falling out of bounds with Adam Jones' playing tight coverage and later glided under a rainbow pass with a confused Jones trailing behind. On the other hand, Dre Kirkpatrick defeated Marvin Jones and Mario Alford while George Iloka won another one of his many battles. Chris Lewis-Harris intercepted an Andy Dalton pass towards the end of practice.
An otherwise typical session with stretches, calisthenics, seven-on-seven, 11-on-11 and several individual drills, with several modifications to presumably allow for fans at home to watch an abridged, though live, version on the NFL Network, highlighted by quarterback work.
Despite Hue Jackson's determination in labeling Rex Burkhead as a running back, the third-year player continues expanding his role into a utility man. And the results have been positive. "I'm mixing it up," Burkhead said via the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I think that's kind of where my role has gone is being in the backfield and split out. That's something I'm getting used to. When I get out there now I am not thinking as much. I am more comfortable with the route I am running and the looks I am getting."
Andrew Whitworth, after enjoying a veteran day off on Saturday, returned Sunday. Defensive end Margus Hunt remained on the team's Physically Unable to Perform list, along with linebackers Rey Maualuga, Sean Porter and Vontaze Burfict. Offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi joined his injured teammates on the side field, training under Chip Morton's tutelage.
Cincinnati continues practice on Monday with a 3 p.m. start (gates open at 2:30 p.m) and in full pads.