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Training Camp Journal: Day Four

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My report from the fourth training camp practice, which took place on Monday, August 3rd. I covered Rex Burkhead as a receiver, Dre Kirkpatrick continuing to shine, Burfict's first public appearance at training camp, Mario Alford's big day, and Devon Still's resurgence. I also solved the mystery: is it P.J. Dawson or Paul Dawson?

So far, every day of camp has had the exact same weather - very hot and very sunny. The turnout on Monday was much lower than any of the previous three days. For me, low attendance is great because I can roam around at will and get to the front of the ropes or the back of the bleachers easily.

I've made a habit of hanging out behind the main end zone for roughly the first 45 minutes of practice. It's the closest I can get to the players. Normally, they do their stretching at the far end zone, but they switched to my side of the field yesterday. After stretching, every player goes through some ladder drills and sprints. At this point in time, there's nothing really to observe football-wise, so I'll take my camera out and take pictures or shoot video.

The Wide Receivers

In walkthroughs, I noticed that Rex Burkhead has essentially become the team's backup slot receiver now. Marvin Jones was out resting, so Burkhead manned the slot while Mohamed Sanu moved to the outside. Burkhead is operating as the team's fourth receiver right now, and rightfully so. He's incredibly quick and has great hands. There's a big drop off after the top three receivers to the rest of the backups. Unless one of these backups really starts to shine, Burkhead should be out there this season when the Bengals spread into four and five receiver sets.

Boring start

The first 30 minutes of practice were relatively boring. The players separated into their positional groups and went through typical drills. The only exciting part to me was that I got some decent video footage of Jeremy Hill and Gio Burkhead as they practiced their footwork and cuts a few feet in front of me.

At 3:30 p.m., normally there's a bit of action, whether it's 1-on-1, 7-on-7, or 11-on-11. Yesterday, there wasn't. The receivers and defensive backs got together for a blocking drill, with no tackling allowed. The smaller guys generally struggled in this drill, but I was impressed by a few corners with their consistent aggressive approaches - Adam Jones, Darqueze Dennard, and Dre Kirkpatrick. The receivers in general didn't block very well. Marvin Jones was resting, and he might be the team's best blocking receiver. You'd think Sanu would be a dominant blocker with his size and strength but he's inconsistent. A.J. Green was decent enough, and Jake Kumerow used his size well. As this drill was going on, Kirkpatrick spent about 30 seconds explaining a certain blocker-shedding concept to Josh Shaw.

Then, the boringness continued. Receivers worked on releases against the cornerbacks in press coverage, but no one was throwing passes to them. At this point, I actually turned around to check out the rehab and special teams field behind me. I saw the Director of Rehabiliation, Nick Cosgray, working one-on-one with Cedric Ogbuehi. Cosgray, an unatheltic small guy, was attempting to pass rush while Ogbuehi went through his normal pass protection slide. As this happened, I heard a burst of laughter, which turned out to be from Vontaze Burfict, making his first public appearance at camp. Burfict mockingly shouted, "I see you, Nick!".

Offense vs Defense Work

After this drill, finally, 50 minutes into practice, the action picked up a bit. Receivers worked 1-on-1 with the quarterbacks actually throwing them the ball.

Sanu got open on a curl route working against Leon Hall, but Hall then ripped the ball out and recovered the fumble. On the far side of the field, Andy Dalton hit Green in stride on a deep go route. It was about a 50-yard throw in stride. Brandon Ghee, who was covering Green, was complaining for a pass interference call after the play. Rookie Mario Alford had a nice catch on a dig route with Chris Lewis-Harris in coverage. Lewis-Harris clearly held Alford to stay close to him, but Alford sped away for a catch and decent gain. After the play, Marvin Lewis shouted, "Get your hands off them, guys! We gotta work on keeping our hands off!". I didn't catch a video of it, but Darqueze Dennard landed a big shoulder-check on Denarius Moore at the exact moment a pass hit Moore's hands. Moore and the ball fell to the ground as some defensive players praised Dennard for the hit. Kirkpatrick also made a nice interception on an overthrown ball to Jake Kumerow on a go route, but I didn't see who threw that interception.

11-on-11 play

When the team finally got into some 11-on-11 action, every single play was an inside running play. No play seemed to gain more than five yards, and it's impossible to tell what's going on with so many bodies in one big scrum. I did manage to catch a nice tackle-for-loss by P.J. Dawson. He diagnosed the run's direction quickly and knifed through the traffic to meet Rex Burkhead in the backfield for an easy stop.

There was only one change to the depth chart that I noticed during 11-on-11. Dawson had been moved up the second team linebackers while Marquis Flowers moved down to the third team. Take that with a grain of salt, though, because defensive coordinator Paul Guenther did specifically state he wanted to rotate his defenders more in camp and the preseason, especially with what happened to the linebackers corps last year. Flowers has had a good camp so far, so I think the takeaway here is just that Dawson was the first to be rotated up a group.

After a boring 11-on-11 where the offense couldn't break any runs into the secondary, they did more walkthroughs. Then, field goals, then punt coverage drills.

7-on-7 play

By now, it's 4:30 p.m. and I've barely seen much to report. Fortunately, they broke into some 7-on-7. Shortly into this session, Mario Alford made the play of the day when he snagged an Andy Dalton pass with one-hand and never broke his stride.

Alford probably would have gotten leveled by Chris Lewis-Harris if full contact were allowed, but it was still an awesome catch.

Dalton didn't get much help from his other receivers in this drill. Sanu couldn't hang onto a good pass that would have gained 30 yards down the seam. Then, Rex Burkhead let a pass slip through his fingertips on a corner route for similar yardage. I'll give Burkhead a pass on that play though; it would have been an impressive snag.

All the players headed down to the other side of the field for some full 11-on-11 to conclude practice. Before I could get my phone up to record, Dalton found Tyler Eifert on a deep dig route that gained massive yardage. I managed to record the throw and catch, but missed the beginning of the play. Then, Gio Bernard showed some nice burst as he hit the hole with speed for a 10-yard gain.

Devon Still showed up again with his second sack of camp in 11-on-11. That's pretty impressive for a third-string defensive tackle when there's not many 11-on-11 snaps to go around. Still gained this one against the first-team offensive line, which makes it more impressive. He knocked Russell Bodine backwards a few yards into Dalton's lap.

Carlos Dunlap also found himself in the backfield yesterday, earning two sacks in three plays. Dunlap breezed past Andre Smith on one play, then slid by Matthew O'Donnell even faster for his second sack in one set of downs.

Rookie tight end C.J. Uzomah got a chance to show his wheels yesterday when he ended up in man coverage with defensive end Sam Montgomery. The defensive linemen didn't jam Uzomah at the line, allowing Uzomah to turn a 7-yard catch into a long touchdown.

On the last play of practice, AJ McCarron floated a perfect pass to Tevin Reese for a 30-yard gain. Reese had slipped past the linebackers in zone coverage and McCarron had to elevate the pass over a leaping Dawson.

The team sent out an odd group to sign autographs yesterday. If I had to guess, I think it was rookies, linebackers, tight ends. I snapped a couple pictures of Dawson, who was extremely friendly with a group of kids, and asked him which name he prefers to go by, "P.J. or Paul?". He paused for a second then replied, "P.J., I guess. There's too many Pauls around here".

After that, I looked up, saw some dark clouds rolling in, and fast-walked to my car to beat the rain.