A little more than 2,000 fans gathered on a slightly windy afternoon under a cloudless sky next to Paul Brown Stadium as Day 2 of the 2017 Cincinnati Bengals training camp commenced. On Day 1, it was half robot-full Haitian running back Giovani Bernard who stole the show as he shined on the practice field for the first time since he had surgery on his torn ACL 8 months prior. Bernard was back on Saturday, making cuts and doing the Gio-like things he typically does. Friday wasn’t a fluke, he’s back folks.
Gio screen >>> pic.twitter.com/J1gXv8YLaw— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) July 29, 2017
Bernard took second team reps behind Jeremy Hill, with rookie Joe Mixon taking third team reps. As camp progresses closer to the preseason opener, it’ll be interesting to see how the coaches distribute these three guys into the rotation. According to head coach Marvin Lewis’ press conference earlier in the day, he claims he wasn’t surprised by how quickly Bernard came back from his surgery. If that’s to be believed, and Bernard is actually right on schedule, then Hill is under a lot more pressure than once thought with a fresh second-round pick in Mixon staring at his back.
Speaking of Mixon, this was my first time seeing him in person, as it was for probably most of the other spectators there, and they absolutely gravitated toward him. After he would finish a play with the ball in his hands, constant words of encouragement came from the crowd, more so than for any other player. He would look over and give a wave, and go back with his teammates, who he’s also gelling with well. You can sense who feels the most comfortable out there in between plays, and Mixon gives off that sentiment and then some.
Mixon looked good carrying the ball between the tackles, even breaking off for a long touchdown, and was taking kickoff returns as the third man behind Alex Erickson and John Ross.
Ross was said to be rusty and the culprit of a few drops in Friday’s practice. That was not the case Saturday. Going through wide receiver drills, Ross was the last guy in the rotation, but his movement on the field is undeniable. Every route he ran was crisp and concise, and his hands weren’t bad either:
First-round pick pic.twitter.com/F3ALhtMHbU— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) July 29, 2017
Ross double move pic.twitter.com/bwubA6MugQ— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) July 29, 2017
Ross comeback pic.twitter.com/3lxFrWQsO8— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) July 29, 2017
Unfortunately we didn’t get to see Ross going up against any coverage as they’re easing him into practice with his shoulder injury still lingering. But you wouldn’t think his shoulder was hurt with the way he moved and caught.
The receivers as a whole were the biggest positive I took away from the practice, as they achieved ample separation in one-on-one drills against the secondary. This practice was non-contact and there were no pads, but there was still hand fighting going on. Adam Jones in particular was the victim of a few big plays from superstar A.J. Green, and second year hopeful Cody Core:
Green putting Jones in his place pic.twitter.com/c5JgrBcNOl— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) July 29, 2017
Cody Core beats Adam Jones "I SEE YA CC" - Dalton afterwards pic.twitter.com/ANIDloCkEw— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) July 29, 2017
One of the biggest questions that’s been looming over the team ever since the draft is how many receivers will end up making the team. The top six consist of Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, Ross, Core and Josh Malone all are presumed to be locks for the roster, with the biggest question being if Alex Erickson is still needed to be the main return-man. If Ross or Mixon step up and overtake that role, and both Core and Malone live up to their hype, a solid preseason may not be enough for Erickson to make the team.
On the other side of the ball, cornerback William Jackson went behind Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick in terms of going up against the offense’s No. 1 WR on the play, and he looked a bit hesitant in coverage. False steps and late reactions were consistent themes in his time on the field and he allowed a good amount of separation:
William Jackson in coverage v Cody Core pic.twitter.com/xmsEsdEjdo— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) July 29, 2017
Lafell v Jackson in off man pic.twitter.com/pfLhEmZXr3— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) July 29, 2017
Missing your entire rookie season due to injury is never a good thing, and rust should be expected from Jackson. But he was a clear first-round talent for a reason, as he ended his practice on a high note, getting an interception on backup quarterback AJ McCarron after getting a pick-six on Dalton the day before. It’s imperative Jackson get as much playing time as possible this preseason if he hopes to do well possibly starting at cornerback in Week 1 while Jones is serving his suspension.
Kirkpatrick was also beaten a few times over the middle, but also recorded a pick-six on Andy Dalton (the only interception on Dalton on Saturday) as well as getting his hands on a couple other passes.
Finally, in the trenches, not much can be taken away without pads on, but the disparity between the quickness of the defensive line and the offensive line off the snap was very noticeable. Be it a stretch run, or an edge rush from linebacker Carl Lawson, both the first and second team defensive line looked very juiced with defensive ends Michael Johnson and Wallace Gilberry taking veteran days off.
Lawson took second team snaps with Chris Smith at right defensive end and Lawson also got in some off-ball linebacker reps, he’s being used as advertised as a hybrid player.
Geno Atkins (orange shorts) pic.twitter.com/tZfuuqMAzw— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) July 29, 2017
Lawson a gap blitz as an off ball LB pic.twitter.com/ZfCzdI7lv4— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) July 29, 2017
Possible nickel front of Dunlap-Clarke-Geno-Lawson pic.twitter.com/8vrSyJj5oG— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) July 29, 2017
And finally, the offensive line itself looked a little different as Trey Hopkins took reps as the first team right guard, while Andre Smith took reps as the second team right tackle. This early in camp, experiments with the offensive line are pretty standard for a unit with noticeable turnover. If Smith looks underwhelming at his new position at right guard, having their contingency plan in Hopkins familiarizing himself with the first team unit is preferable, which is basically what went down. In this slight shake up, Alex Redmond took second team reps at right guard and Christian Westerman was at left guard in the second team unit.
The Bengals continue training camp practice today, Monday and Thursday starting at 3:00 p.m. ET with the gates opening at 2:30 p.m. each day. The offense has looked as fast as advertised up to this point, but with shoulder pads coming on for practice number three today and full pads coming on Monday, look for the physicality to rise. As always, follow everything Bengals training camp right here.