Finally, football is back in our lives.
Sure, some will scoff at the notion that training camp practices are considered real American football, but this is the time when NFL teams are built. This is the time when regular-season games are won through hard work, dedication, blood, sweat and tears under the hot summer sun on an NFL field.
Here comes that #Bengals D @WLWT pic.twitter.com/DL8tzXCJEY— Mark Slaughter (@MarkVSlaughter) July 28, 2017
For the Cincinnati Bengals, Friday’s start of camp hopes to begin a redemption from last year’s 6-9-1 disaster. It’s actually a slump that dates back to the 2015 season, when the Bengals finished 2-3 (including playoffs) and still have yet to fully cleanse out that postseason debacle with Pittsburgh.
An 8-12-1 mark since the end of the 2015 season has led to the Bengals losing just about every ounce of respect from the national media and talkings heads, most of whom think the Bengals are one of the bottom-10 NFL teams this year.
Friday brought about the first opportunity for the Bengals to dispel that notion and show this roster has the potential to grow into a Super Bowl contender. It also brought about the much-anticipated return of a player who was integral to Cincinnati’s three playoff berths and 33-14-1 record.
1. The return of Giovani Bernard
Ever since the Bengals spent a second-round pick on Giovani Bernard in the 2013 NFL Draft, he’s become one of the best dual-threat backs in football. However, an ACL tear ended his season prematurely and put his status for 2017 in jeopardy.
One important observation, Gio Bernard with a couple of impressive jump cuts. Looks great on ACL torn 8 months ago. #Bengals— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) July 28, 2017
An ACL tear is very hard to come back from, especially for a running back, but Bernard has a had a recovery that rivals Adrian Peterson’s bounceback in 2013. As the first day of camp opened Friday, Bernard was fully cleared to practice and was doing just that with his teammates.
Seeing the veteran back already taking part in an NFL practice, albeit a padd-less one, was easily the best sight of Friday and may be the best in all of Bengals training camp.
Seeing Bernard as a returner just continues to reinforce the belief that he’s fully healed from his injury, which is fantastic news.
I think one of the biggest things you want to see is confidence from the RB that the knee will hold up. Sure don't see any hesitation.— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) July 28, 2017
Going to repeat again how good Giovani Bernard looks today.— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) July 28, 2017
2) Tyler Eifert a full participant, too
The good news got better with other injured Bengals making their long-awaited return, the biggest of which being Tyler Eifert. The star tight end was back on the field catching passes after injuries ruined 2016 for Eifert.
Tyler Eifert wasn't lying when he said he felt 100%. Practically decleated Clayton Fejedelem with a nice double move in 1x1 drills— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) July 28, 2017
He’s now entering a contract year while looking to put together a full-time 16-game season for the first time in his career. Being healthy for the start of training camp will certainly aid those efforts. Eifert has also been recovering from offseason back surgery that he looks to be fully healed from.
Not having a healthy Eifert was a big reason why the Bengals endured a losing record in 2016, so he’ll be integral in Cincinnati’s push to get back in the postseason.
Sweet WR drill @WLWT #Bengals pic.twitter.com/zD8b61hcvQ— Mark Slaughter (@MarkVSlaughter) July 28, 2017
3) John Ross quickly gets involved
Making his highly-anticipated debut was rookie receiver John Ross. The No. 9 overall pick of this year’s draft was cleared to practice after spending most of the offseason recovering from shoulder surgery.
Dalton is going to like having John Ross pic.twitter.com/0gTXU12VaA— Kyle Phelps (@KylePhelps92) July 28, 2017
First look at first-round pick John Ross. #Bengals pic.twitter.com/jjIgv9Zu50— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonCMG) July 28, 2017
He looked good for the most part with a few drops. But like Eifert and Bernard, just seeing Ross on the field was great sight for the opening day of camp. The rookie did sit out for most of the drills that involved going against defensive backs as he is being brought along slowly.
Ross just doing individuals. Not running routes vs DBs— Geoff Hobson (@GeoffHobsonCin) July 28, 2017
It’s unclear how much work Ross will get in once all of the pads come on and in the preseason games begin, but he’s at least working on the field for the time being.
Even though Friday’s practice was without pads, we did see a heavy dose of run plays called in 11-on-11 drills.
First set of 11s features 12 runs, no passes. Pretty sure I saw a @GeoffHobsonCin fist pump#Bengals— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonCMG) July 28, 2017
Tra Carson pic.twitter.com/PkUM3CD1Vl— Kyle Phelps (@KylePhelps92) July 28, 2017
Jeremy Hill still has the patience and the stutter step. Can he bounce back this year? pic.twitter.com/rKi9lmMjRq— Kyle Phelps (@KylePhelps92) July 28, 2017
4) Kick return action
When it came time for special teams, some of the usual camp suspects were back to return kicks.
Bengals working on kick returns. Back deep: Adam Jones, Giovani Bernard, John Ross, Tyler Boyd, Karel Hamilton— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) July 28, 2017
Adam Jones and Alex Erickson account for nearly every kickoff and punt return, so it was odd not seeing Erickson take part here. Perhaps the Bengals are happy with what he can do and wanted to give more reps to others on Friday.
Or, perhaps the Bengals were upset with Erickson for failing to secure a water bottle tossed in his direction:
@ericksona86 fumble @Bengals pic.twitter.com/nYkdCrY4Dg— Alex Erickson Fan (@AEricksonFan) July 28, 2017
For the most part, Friday was a relatively news-free practice outside of the injury updates, as well as Jake Kumerow suffering what looks like a minor leg injury. It was still nonetheless thrilling to see the Bengals back on the field, as well as nearly all of the injured guys able to practice. That was the big takeaway from this session since Eifert, Bernard and Ross were all iffy for the start of camp (before news broke this week of their returns).
We didn’t see Cedric Peerman, Jarveon Williams, Brandon Wilson and Monty Madaris as they sit out while recovering from injuries, and it’s unclear when any of them will return.
Be sure to keep checking back at Cincy Jungle for the latest news and updates on Bengals training camp.