The third day of Bengals training camp was the hottest yet. Temperatures climbed into the lower 90s. The line was a bit shorter than the first two days, so my friend and I were able to get a nice spot behind the center of the end zone on the main field.
I was especially thankful for my new bucket hat as we baked in the sun and waited for practice to start. My cellphone became hot after only a minute of exposure to the direct sunlight. Even my feet felt very hot, but that's probably my fault for wearing black tennis shoes.
We watched Russell Bodine, Trey Hopkins, and T.J. Johnson take snaps at center before practice. In walkthroughs, the second team offensive line switched back to what it was on the first day - Johnson at center and Hopkins at guard. Those two will probably continue to rotate as they battle for the top interior backup spot.
The normal guys returned punts again - Adam Jones, Brandon Tate, Gio Bernard, Mario Alford, and Denarius Moore.
I noticed a heavy camera crew presence on the sideline because NFL Network was doing some live coverage. I watched it later in the day. Jamie Dukes and Heath Evans were egregiously bad as analysts. If you DVR'd it, feel free to skip every single second when these two airheads bloviated. Fortunately, they passed off the live coverage to two people who actually know what they are talking about - Dan Hoard and Dave Lapham.
After the team finished stretching, the running backs headed over to do their drills right in front of us. They did some footwork drills and worked on hitting their proper gaps. I filmed Jeremy Hill going through his footwork drills and do some jump cuts. To be honest, it looked like Hill was saving his energy for the rest of the practice. I've seen his footwork be much more crisp. I don't blame him though, he's 238 pounds. Meanwhile, Gio Bernard looked particularly bouncy and explosive with his footwork and jump cuts.
The running backs moved over to practice hitting their gaps with the actual offensive line, so we watched the quarterbacks and receivers work on some sideline routes. Andy Dalton was pretty accurate here, but AJ McCarron was surprisingly bad. His passes were consistently sailing high and out of bounds.
A little bit after 3:30 p.m., the team finally got into some 1-on-1s. Mohamed Sanu and A.J. Green did some real damage in these drills. Sanu had a nice curl route which he took for decent yardage with Leon Hall in coverage. Green had an incredible catch on a back shoulder play with Adam Jones in coverage. Green's ability to track the ball, contort his body in mid-air, extend his lanky arms, AND touch both feet in bounds were all on display on this catch. It's seriously freaky. No cornerback in the world could stop this play. A local reporter, Brandon Saho of Fox19, managed to get an excellent video of this catch, which I've posted below.
I wish I could get that close to the action!
Later, I took a slow-motion video from the NFL Network coverage of that catch. Watch Green levitate through the air. He literally floats sideways. I think he's an alien.
I love how AJ Green's body floats through the air on this backshoulder catch. Unreal ball tracking and body control pic.twitter.com/9tKCTvRGtd— Brennen Warner (@BrennenWarner) August 3, 2015
Sanu also had a nice back shoulder catch where he ripped the ball up and away from Leon Hall.
Sanu nice back shoulder working on Leon Hall https://t.co/1aj0gvM3nA— Brennen Warner (@BrennenWarner) August 2, 2015
Green beat Jones again on the last play of 1-on-1s. This was the first day that the players wore full pads and cornerbacks were allowed to use press coverage. Jones tried to jam Green hard at the line, but Green deflected it and ran by Jones easily. With Jones trailing in desperation mode, the ball was a bit under thrown and Green had to spin away from Jones after the catch. Green jumped playfully across the goal line right as the air horn blew to conclude the session of 1-on-1s.
AJ Green long TD to conclude 1on1s. Beat Adam Jones press at the line. Spun away after the catch for a walk... https://t.co/FLw7GVbiGk— Brennen Warner (@BrennenWarner) August 2, 2015
Jake Kumerow stood out again today, although he did have his first drops of camp. The undrafted receiver out of Wisconsin-Whitewater made an incredible one-handed catch on a 50-yard go route for a touchdown. I just missed filming it live, but I found the catch on the NFL Network coverage later. He does a good job getting past the hand-fighting of fellow rookie Josh Shaw and uses only his left arm to trap the ball against his shoulder pads as he crosses the plane of the goal line. It was also a nice 55-yard throw by McCarron.
Here's that one-handed catch by Jake Kumerow. TD on a 50yd go route. Great throw by McCarron too. https://t.co/UKF46dyfo0— Brennen Warner (@BrennenWarner) August 3, 2015
Denarius Moore also had a very impressive route when he shook Chris Lewis-Harris off of him completely. Moore got by Lewis-Harris initially and then used a nice head fake before he cut across the middle wide open for a huge gain.
Also in that session, Dre Kirkpatrick made a couple solid pass deflections. He's definitely looked like the team's number one corner through three days of camp.
As these 1-on-1s were occurring in front of me, most of the team was engaged in a run-blocking and run-defending scrimmage near the end zone. Apparently, defensive end Michael Johnson went down with a knee injury that most people did not see live because they were watching the receiver-cornerback battles to the left. I didn't see the injury, but I saw Johnson hobble onto the golf cart, which took him inside for further evaluation.
Once people became aware of this, a somber mood swept over the stands. Geoff Hobson tweeted that they did an initial ACL check and my panic meter went into the red zone. I was in a bad mood for most of the rest of that practice, just crossing my fingers that he wasn't done for the season. Fortunately, it was confirmed to be just an MCL sprain, which has a normal recovery timetable of about 4-6 weeks, but it can vary. With it being August 2nd, that gives Johnson time to recover. He might not miss a game.
11-on-11 started up shortly thereafter, and we got to see Johnson's potential replacement in with the ones. It was nickel defense, so Wallace Gilberry had kicked inside to rush from the three-technique spot. With Margus Hunt out rehabbing a back injury, that left Will Clarke to take Johnson's vacated defensive end spot. Now, this guy didn't do anything last year as a rookie, but I've actually been pleasantly surprised with his play so far in camp. He's disrupted a few runs and he's had a couple pass rush pressures as well. Today, he cut across the face of second-round pick Jake Fisher for a sack.
One of the things that stuck with me from last year's camp was how often I heard defensive line coach Jay Hayes shouting Will's name. Hayes has a very deep voice and it carries across the field easily. After almost every play, I remember, "WILL!" echoing across the field, followed by some loud coaching advice. If you've ever coached or played sports, you know that certain players just get raked across the coals repeatedly by their coach. It looks bad, but, to me, it actually signifies that the coach expects better out that certain player and it's imperative to the coach and the team that this player improves. Fast forward to this year, Clarke has put on 20 pounds and is making more plays on the field. In three days, I've only heard that classic "WILL!" once.
I covered the starting defense in yesterday's article, so today I noted the second and third team defense, which is easier said than done. The defense does most of their work on the far field, so I can only pick up the depth chart during live 11-on-11. I would take this list with a grain of salt, but here's what I have for the second team nickel defense:
Defensive Ends: Sam Montgomery, Chris Carter
Defensive Tackles: Marcus Hardison, Devon Still
Linebackers: Marquis Flowers, A.J. Hawk, Nico Johnson (rotated)
Cornerbacks: Darqueze Dennard (slot), Josh Shaw, Brandon Ghee
Safeties: Shawn Williams, Shiloh Keo
The defensive line seems out of whack to me. They may have been rotating on a different schedule than the linebackers and defensive backs. I'd expect Brandon Thompson and Will Clarke to be on the second team defensive line, but they were with the third team. That being said, the linebackers and defensive backs on these lists appear to be correct.
Also, this was a 3-3-5 look where the strong side linebacker put his hand in the dirt and rushed. That's why you have Chris Carter, a linebacker rushing. Jayson DiManche was in this role with the third team, but again, that doesn't seem right to me. He should be ahead of Carter on the depth chart. Here's the third team nickel defense:
Defensive Ends: Will Clarke, Jayson DiManche
Defensive Tackles: Brandon Thompson, DeShawn Williams
Linebackers: Paul Dawson, Trevor Roach
Cornerbacks: Josh Shaw (slot), Troy Hill, Brandon Ghee rotated with Chris Lewis-Harris
Safeties: Derron Smith, Erick Dargan rotated with Floyd Raven Sr.
Pat Sims is also notably absent on either squad, but this is the pass rushing unit and Sims provides next-to-nothing as a pass rusher.
P.J. Dawson had a good day today, but he still has a long way to go to climb into getting some playing time. He's on the third team unit for both nickel and base defense. He was more noticeable at practice today with players wearing pads. On one Gio Bernard run, Dawson met Bernard at the line of scrimmage and seems to stop him completely with one arm. He then tossed Gio backwards effortlessly. It definitely reminded me of Vontaze Burfict going after Gio Bernard when Gio was a rookie. Later, in 11-on-11, Dawson read a delayed screen to Tyler Eifert very well, slipped past the blockers, and would have made the tackle if tackling was allowed at this point. As offensive lineman Eric Winston throws his hands up in frustration for letting Dawson past him, Eifert actually fumbles the ball backwards and Dawson picks it up for an easy touchdown.
Flowers has moved up the depth chart a bit, taking advantage of the injuries to two starting linebackers. Flowers even rotated in with the first team nickel defense today. He also had some decent coverage when he was asked to cover Eifert out wide.
Later in the day, Sanu caught a pass across the middle for a 30-yard gain. Hue Jackson had worked in a natural rub concept where another receiver's route disrupted Darqueze Dennard's coverage on Sanu and created a lot of separation.
Practice concluded with some punt coverage drills and I headed over to see some of the NFL Network crew and equipment up close in person. Green did a live interview shortly thereafter and even juggled some apples for the cameras. While Dalton was waiting for his interview, he was kind enough to sign autographs and take pictures with the fans. The team sent out the defensive guys to sign autographs to wrap up the day.