Here are 10 takeaways from Bengals training camp on Saturday.
Andy Dalton is clearly the best quarterback on the roster.
Give AJ McCarron some credit; the man lost his entire rookie season to a shoulder injury and will need some time to adjust to the pace of the NFL, yet he still can go out there and throw some pretty looking passes to Mario Alford and lead the starting and backup offenses on decent drives. If anything, he gave backup kicker, Tom Obarski, a chance to show what he can do on a 31-yard field goal attempt in the one-minute drill. However, he's still clearly the number 2 quarterback on the roster, and MAYBE a future starter, at best, if he can improve his accuracy and consistency.
Many of the criticisms of McCarron sound a lot like the criticisms of Andy Dalton; he's inaccurate, he throws two great throws before throwing three bad ones, he throws too high. The biggest difference is, Dalton already knows what he is doing out there. At the family day scrimmage, McCarron simply didn't look like he was quite comfortable with Hue Jackson's playbook yet, whereas Dalton looked like he had been in Jackson's system for years.
The other quarterbacks on the roster? Josh Johnson is still extremely inaccurate on nearly every throw, and Keith Wenning has yet to show any reason why he should make the team's 53 man roster, or even earn a position on the practice squad. Josh Johnson displayed his ability to run well on day eight, but his throwing left much to be desired.
Mario Alford is fast.
If you've heard anything about Mario Alford up to this point, it probably has had something to do with his speed. With a 4.27 40-yard dash speed recorded at his pro day, Alford possesses the kind of world class speed the Bengals were hoping to find to add to their offensive arsenal. Alford's quickness also makes him an intriguing prospect for returning kicks and punts in place of the aging Adam Jones and the often uninspiring Brandon Tate.
At the family day exhibition, Alford got a chance to show his speed after slipping on a corner route and still managing to beat Josh Shaw for a 24-yard touchdown pass thrown by McCarron. If the Bengals can really get him going, Alford should be an extremely valuable asset to the passing game, providing the Bengals with that all important utility receiver role the team has missed since the departure of Andrew Hawkins last offseason.
Marvin Jones is still not practicing.
The general consensus on Marvin Jones seems to be the team is shooting to have him back "very soon" and in time for the first preseason game. That game happens to be this Friday the 14th, so that must mean that Marvin Jones is actually almost ready to come back. Being back for that first preseason game will be huge, because Jones will need some time back to get comfortable playing with the team again before the season starts.
However, Jones's "hamstring soreness" problems didn't keep him from practicing on the sidelines and trying to keep himself in football shape, ready to throw himself into action when he finally feels ready. The question is: can we trust him? If he does come back in time for the first preseason game, will missing all of last season and this entire offseason allow him to return to the exciting form that we saw when he had a breakout season in 2013? We will have to see, but not practicing can't be good for his chances.
Tyler Eifert is making waves.
Speaking of players who missed all of last season due to injury (well, almost), Tyler Eifert looks to be on track to finally have that breakout season he teased with an excellent build up to the 2014 season. Eifert was, by a wide margin, Dalton's favorite target on Saturday. The highlight of the entire day, by most accounts, was a leaping 26-yard touchdown catch by Eifert over Marquis Flowers that capped off a great drive with the first team offense by Dalton. Eifert essentially ended the day for the first team players with that grab; probably a result of Marvin Lewis and Hue Jackson wanting to end things on such an encouraging note.
However, it wasn't just that one play. Eifert was targeted on nearly half of all of Dalton's throws, partially due to the rest of his receiving options failing to get open or hold on to passes. If there was one player that Bengals fans can really get excited about, based on Saturday's practice, Eifert would be the one.
Jeremy Hill is looking good, too.
Many are expecting Hill to put together an excellent 2015 campaign after coming on so strong at the end of last season. With the new additions at offensive line, and the very talented Giovani Bernard being brought in to keep him fresh, how could you expect anything less? Based on his performance Saturday, he seems to be well on his way to a great sophomore campaign.
Hill didn't receive an abundance of carries at Saturday's practice, but he did manage to look extremely fluid and well-practiced with every carry he did receive. Whenever he was handed the ball, he could be seen weaving in and out of defenders, only to finally be touched after what usually amounted to a first down. Had the practice been a full-contact one, there is plenty of reason to believe many of his carries could have gone much longer, following contact.
Greg Little is looking much improved.
Remember Greg Little last season? Any Bengals fan that does is likely to groan at the name, conjuring up memories of dropped touchdowns passes and failed promises to "Make the Browns pay" for releasing him. The Bengals resigned him recently, in reaction to James Wright's season-ending placement on the Injured Reserve list, the player who many expected to solidify the #4 receiver position, often operating out of the slot.
But, wait! Before you let out that audible sigh and groan about how the signing won't produce any different results from last year; you can rest easy knowing that Little was looking much better at Saturday's practice! He doesn't look like he'll be challenging A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, or even Brandon Tate for a spot on the team. But, he did haul in an impressive 16-yard catch from McCarron and was noted for putting in a lot of extra time after practices with McCarron to work on timing. Combine that with some of the buzz he made earlier this week with an incredible catch (and terrible celebration), and you've got a guy who could have a very good argument to make the Bengals' roster.
Remember this name: DeShawn Williams.
It's always great when you get to see an undrafted rookie making plays at training camp. It's even better when that undrafted rookie is a defensive tackle being compared to Geno Atkins by defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther. Not only has he been impressing in virtually every practice so far, but on Saturday alone he managed to get behind the line to stop plays twice and had one bat down on a third down pass by Andy Dalton.
A few weeks ago, I picked Tom Obarski as the most likely undrafted rookie in training camp to make the Bengals' final roster. However, based on Williams's play in recent practices, and the Bengals' general uncertainty surrounding the defensive tackle position, it appears that Williams has a much better chance than originally thought to make the team.
Russell Bodine still needs work.
Russell Bodine did not always look completely comfortable last year in his rookie season. To be fair, not many fourth round rookies are asked to take on starting roles, and it is especially difficult to immediately adjust to taking in and executing more than 1,000 snaps in a season with no experience at that level. So, Bodine can be given a bit of a pass for his up and down 2014 campaign, since the whole process involved learning on the go.
You would hope he would be improved and ready to assume the role this season. However, at Saturday's practice, Bodine still seemed to not fully grasp the basic practice of snapping the ball. Bad snaps were a common issue in first team reps, with a pair not even managing to make it to Dalton's hands before hitting the ground. These are the kinds of mistakes you would hope a second year center would not be making anymore, but that's what training camp is for. Hopefully, he will be able to fix his snapping issues before the season starts.
Tensions are running high.
One of the most notable events that took place during Saturday's practice involved a bit of a skirmish between T.J. Johnson and Wallace Gillberry. Although it's hard to say what exactly provoked the altercation, it involved Gillberry slamming Johnson to the ground and pushing on his helmet. The issue was resolved and things went back to normal afterward, but it does raise the question: Is there a problem with team chemistry? Although fights like this at training camp are not unheard of, you'd think it would be a sign that something is off and needs to be addressed.
Most Bengals fans still love Andy Dalton.
One of the most encouraging things that happened at Family Day actually happened after the practice/mock game was over, when fans were allowed to meet players at the seat railings for post-practice autographs and pictures. As fans were cheering for various players to come to their particular area for pictures and autographs, one side of the stadium absolutely erupted in cheers for Andy Dalton to come over to their side.
It was a nice thing to see, especially after the man was booed at a charity softball game. It shows that just because the boo birds are some of the loudest fans, fans as a whole can come together and support the team and a man who has done so much for this community through his foundation.