With summer here, the Cincinnati Bengals are on the field (though about to break for vacation) and have been enjoying OTAs and minicamp during the last month. This is a time when players learn the playbook, build chemistry and work on fundamentals. So far, the young players seem to be adjusting well, and are impressing head coach Marvin Lewis.
“There was freshness — it’s been since Wednesday (June 7) since we’ve practiced football,” Lewis said at Tuesday’s minicamp press conference. “We came back, and I was pleased with it today. It was a hot, humid day. It was a preview for the new and young players of training camp and what July and August bring.”
One player whom everyone is excited to see is rookie running back Joe Mixon. Although he possesses first-round talent, the Bengals picked him up in the second round as a result of his controversial past. Initially, it was reported he showed up to camp overweight, but he has since slimmed down and given the Bengals and their fans every reason to be excited about what he will bring to the team.
“He’s worked hard,” Lewis said. “Since the initial rookie camp, from that point on, he’s done a nice job. When you don’t practice and play football, you’ve got to do that to get into that kind of conditioning and shape, particularly as a runner, when so much of what he does is reaction.”
In addition to Mixon, Lewis has also been impressed by second-year wide receiver, Cody Core. And he’s not the only one; Andy Dalton and Adam Jones have both called out Core’s impressiveness this offseason. There is a lot of new competition for his job and it seems like he’s rising the occasion. He won a spot last year in the wake of multiple departures at wide receiver and a lack of top-end talent with which to compete. This year, he will be up against much stiffer competition for a roster spot, but Lewis believes he has it in him.
“The playing experience Cody got last year has been very beneficial to him and everyone on the football team to be able to see his abilities,” Lewis said. “It gives him the confidence to come out and work in the offseason and know that he can achieve higher goals. He’s got higher level of plays out there for him. He’s got the physical tools, and I’m sure in his own mind he always believes that, but until you get your opportunity on an NFL field that you can go out there and play winning football in a game, it probably stays in the back of your mind. So it was good for him. And it’s good for Andy (Dalton) to get a trust level with him. Everybody benefitted from it.”
Unfortunately, Core suffered an injury on Wednesday during practice. And though it initially looked bad, Core is expected to be ready to participate in training camp. He was seen on Wednesday night at Paul Brown Stadium using a scooter to get around.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bengals are working to train a pair of very talented front-seven prospects. Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson, both players drafted in the mid-rounds this year, are expected to develop into very solid, potential starters of the future.
“You’re looking for the burst, the ability, the flexibility, how they’re using their hands and their extension against blocks,” Lewis said. “All those things. Carl has done fine — tremendous all the way through. With Jordan Willis, the light is on now, which is great. Jordan’s biggest thing is that he wants to do right. Now he’s got a good understanding of what to do, and you can see him applying it over the last three or four practices. He’s playing with what we need him to do, as far as playing with speed and playing faster.”
Lawson’s biggest hindrance comes in his lack of experience. His talent and love for rushing the passer were enough to make him the No. 1 defensive end recruit in the nation out of high school. Unfortunately, injuries derailed much of his college career and he didn’t had a chance to showcase and develop his talent until his senior season. Still, he flashed enough to convince the Bengals he was worth a fourth round flier and, so far, seems to be showing he is ready to become a contributor in the Bengals’ defense.
“He’s played on his feet in the defense at Auburn. It’s not anything that foreign to him that we’re asking him to do,’ Lewis said of Lawson’s switch to linebacker after playing mostly defensive end in college. “He’s a smart guy, he’s conscientious. He needs an every-down position. I don’t think right now that he has quite the frame to be an every-down defensive end in the NFL. He’s got a great opportunity to affect the game in the positions we’re playing him.”
Ultimately, gauging the impact the young Bengals players will have is mostly speculation at this point. Even with a second-year player like Core, his impact in 2016 was minimal, so it is tough to predict how he will perform going forward. However, hearing positive updates from the head coach is always encouraging. Hopefully, that signals good things for the team’s continued development.
The Bengals hold their final minicamp practice on Thursday before breaking for five weeks of vacation. The team returns to Cincinnati on July 27 for the start of training camp.