Friday marked Day 7 of training camp for the Bengals. That means the team now has a full week of work under their belts heading into the weekend.
On Friday night, Ryan Hewitt and Chris Lewis-Harris were two surprising players not practicing while Jake Kumerow remained sidelined as well. As expected, Tyler Kroft and Darqueze Dennard weren’t practicing nor were Tyler Eifert and Brandon Thompson who are on the PUP list.
It's been a news-filled first week of camp, not to mention there have been some surprising performances from various players thus far. Here is a look at our four takeaways from what took place Friday.
1) Brandon LaFell Stepping Up
The first few days of camp featured a lot of Tyler Boyd, Cody Core, and of course, A.J. Green stepping up and making a lot of noise at wide receiver. Jake Kumerow, Alex Erickson and Alonzo Russell even drew praise at various points, but for the most part, Brandon LaFell was quietly not getting much attention.
Dalton to LaFell seems like it'll be a solid combo for the upcoming season #bengals https://t.co/U3JrJC8l2P— sarah (@sarahpamerica) August 5, 2016
The veteran receiver was signed to be the starting boundary receiver, but he'd been getting overshadowed by other receivers for much of the first five practices. That's changed over the past two days as LaFell is starting to make some noise and remind everyone he's still here.
LaFell with the catch and roll #bengals https://t.co/MZIMhc5SmJ— sarah (@sarahpamerica) August 5, 2016
LaFell is going to have a big role in this offense, especially if both tight ends Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft are out to start the year. The hope is that Kroft will be back by Week 1 and that Eifert will follow soon after That’s going to put more pressure on the receivers in general, so a starter like LaFell will be relied upon heavily.
2) But Tyler Boyd Still Impressing
While LaFell is starting to impress, Tyler Boyd has been doing that since Day 1 of camp. He's arguably been the second-best pass-catcher to only Green thus far into camp.
Tyler Boyd continues his strong showing at camp #bengals https://t.co/3dvUoELvka— sarah (@sarahpamerica) August 5, 2016
The rookie has been so good that the offense already has designed plays out of the backfield for him:
Boyd with the reception #bengals https://t.co/cIe88a6YAO— sarah (@sarahpamerica) August 5, 2016
Those type of plays where it's essentially a dump off to the running back, Boyd in this case, are a great way to utilize both his abilities as a receiver and a back. Remember, he played a lot of running back his final year at Pitt, so he may very well line up in the backfield and run routes from there.
The thought of both Boyd and Giovani Bernard coming out of the backfield is a scary look for opposing defenses. Speaking of...
Gio takes it in for a TD #bengals https://t.co/h32nKqjWoG— sarah (@sarahpamerica) August 5, 2016
However the Bengals decide to use him, Boyd already looks like he's ready to make up for the loss of previous slot man Mohamed Sanu, which isn't hard since Sanu averaged just 45 grabs per season since 2013.
That should be the absolute minimum Boyd gets if he plays in all 16 games. That's how impressive he's been in his first NFL training camp.
It’s really going to be fun to see Boyd in game action next week vs the Vikings and in the rest of the preseason.
3) Andy Dalton Having Solid Camp
Now in the midst of his sixth NFL training camp, Andy Dalton is looking as accurate as ever tossing the rock around. After committing too many turnovers over the first several days of camp, Dalton has cut down on the mistakes while continuing to look like the 66-percent passer he was in 2015.
He may be even better than that in 2016 after improving in all but one year in that area since coming to the NFL. It also helps that the guys running with Dalton and the starters aren't putting the ball on the ground, but he's been very sharp since cutting down on the turnovers.
Even without both of his top tight ends while breaking in a host of new receivers, seeing Dalton remain sharp is a great sign his great 2015 will be replicated this year.
4) Mario Alford Getting His Chance
The NFL career of Mario Alford may very well come down to how well he does in this training camp. After all, this may be the only camp Alford ever gets as much time as the primary kickoff returner as he has through one week of camp.
Though Brandon Tate has gotten reps too, Alford has consistently been getting lots of reps as the Bengals are trying to figure out what they have in the 2015 seventh-round pick. Friday featured a lot of special teams work, so we got a chance to see Alford with the ball in his hands as much as any single session thus far.
Alford gets his turn with kickoff returns #bengals https://t.co/8d71t4UeaD— sarah (@sarahpamerica) August 5, 2016
Alford getting more experience with returns #bengals https://t.co/I4B1HE0qiI— sarah (@sarahpamerica) August 5, 2016
Alford hasn't done much as a receiver in this camp. Drops are still something he's struggling to get out of one practice without committing. That's why his ability as a returner is critical to his chances of making the final roster.
Right now, it's safe to assume Green, Boyd, Core, LaFell and Tate are ahead of Alford in the receiver pecking order. Alex Erickson has been having a good camp, too. Granted, there isn't going to be a great evaluation on Alford's special teams impact until preseason games take place, so it's still possible for him to secure his roster spot there.