The Cincinnati Bengals could not have picked a better day hold the team’s second day of training camp. The weather was in the upper 70s with a nice, cool breeze blowing and not a cloud could be found in the sky. The Cincinnati skyline added a beautiful addition to the football scenery, just west of Paul Brown Stadium.
What better backdrops to football than downtown Cincinnati? pic.twitter.com/dY6Cuahgif— Nick Manchester (@TheManch93) July 29, 2017
The best part of the day was knowing football season is getting closer and closer. Training camp gives us a little glimpse of what the season will look like. In what is now only a matter of weeks, all of our offseason questions will be answered.
Some of the position groups have had more offseason turmoil than others, inviting us to ask different questions. While we won’t know the full extent of how the 2017 season will play out, we will get some clues so we can piece together the puzzle. Here’s a breakdown of how each position group performed on Day 2 of training camp.
The quarterback group is the unit with the least amount of drama. Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron and Jeff Driskel are set in their positions on the depth chart. Dalton and McCarron saw most of the action on Saturday and both made some good throws, both threw one interception, and both look every bit as good as we have seen in the past. There is nothing new here, which is what the Bengals want out of the quarterback position.
Since bringing in Joe Mixon, there has not been a clear frontrunner out of the backfield. Jeremy Hill started with the first team, but Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon also got their fair share of first team reps. If you haven’t heard the news, Bernard looks back to normal following ACL surgery in November 2016.
Mixon also dazzled the crowd with his speed and had a few big runs with the first team, including what would have been a touchdown.
Side note on Mixon: he looked more like a Bengal than anyone else out there. From congratulation celebrations with Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd on some great catches to chatting with Vincent Rey on the sidelines, he was one of the most entertaining parts of camp.
So what will the running back corps look like once the season starts? It’s still too early to tell. If the season started today, Hill would probably get the starting nod by committee. But Mixon will work his way into a more serious role sooner rather than later.
Man, was it good to see A.J. Green again. Brandon LaFell took first team snaps with Green and they are the clear WR1 and WR2 heading into the season. After that, it’s anyone’s guess how the depth chart will shape out. Tyler Boyd and Cody Core had some nice action, but neither emerged as a clear WR3. John Ross looked great in the drills in which he participated, but was uninvolved in any drills with a risk of contact.
Even Alex Erickson played a snap with the first team, alongside Green and LaFell. Yesterday, Jason Marcum speculated Erickson might be getting more involved on offense, and it seems safe to add some fuel to that speculatory fire.
Once again, there’s few surprises here. Tyler Eifert took the first team snaps and he looked back to 100 percent. Even though he had another offseason of recovery, he looked great on Saturday. C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Kroft, and even Ryan Hewitt all got involved as well, but other than Eifert’s health, there is nothing exceptional that stood out here.
Andrew Whitworth was a huge loss for the Bengals this offseason, so one of the biggest question marks surrounding the team this offseason has naturally been about the offensive line. Cedric Ogbuehi is filling in for his role at left tackle while Jake Fisher starts opposite him at right tackle. Clint Boling and Trey Hopkins started at left and right guard, respectively, with Russell Bodine anchoring the line at center. It’s hard to gauge the line without pads, but given the long runs and lack of sacks, things are looking good, so far. As one of the more inconsistent units on the team last year, Bengals fans are hoping to see a better group than expected come Week 1. We will see more tomorrow when they put on shoulder pads, and on Monday when practice is upgraded to full-contact.
One surprise did come when Andre Smith, the former Bengals right tackle acquired from the Vikings this offseason, played on the second team’s line as the right tackle.
This is the only position in which he has NFL experience, so it makes sense to backup the right tackle. The surprise is that he is not on the starting line at right guard, the position he was expected to move to this year. But there are worse backups to have on the bench, especially with so many young lineman on the team. We’ll learn more about the team’s plans for Smith as camp continues.
Michael Johnson and Wallace Gilberry took veteran’s rest days on Saturday, so they were not involved in any activities. As a result, Will Clarke and Andrew Billings took over their respective starting duties alongside Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, the starting mainstays. The biggest takeaway from this is that the Bengals have great depth at the defensive line. This is an area where Bengals fans shouldn’t need to worry once the regular season kicks off.
With Rey Maualuga out and Kevin Minter in, the Bengals look like they are significantly stronger at linebacker than they were a year ago. Vontaze Burfict is healthy and suspension-free, so he was able to start at weakside linebacker. Minter, who was imported from Arizona, started in the middle. Nick Vigil seems to be making the jump from special teams last year to starting at strongside linebacker this season. Vincent Rey is anchoring the second-team defense, providing some veteran leadership to a young set of backup linebackers in Marquis Flowers, Carl Lawson and Jordan Evans.
Lawson played not only linebacker, which is what he is listed under on the roster, but also some run at defensive end. In college, he played on the defensive line, so the Bengals might be looking to use him in pass rushing scenarios. He might even play multiple positions. This is something to continue to look for in preseason.
Starting cornerback Adam Jones will have to miss the first game of the season due to a suspension. This has opened up opportunity for a young player to make a start at the position in Week 1 against the Baltimore Ravens. Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson are presumed to be the ones fighting for the position.
Jackson was first in line between the two during the one-on-one drills. Does this mean anything? We don’t know yet. For all we know, they could have just picked Jackson’s name out of a hat. But once again, this adds momentum to speculation.
For what it's worth, in a WR vs DB drill, WJ3 took the third CB rep, after Adam Jones and Kirkpatrick #bengals— Nick Manchester (@TheManch93) July 29, 2017
Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones started with the first team on opposite corners, with Shawn Williams and George Iloka starting at safety, as expected. Jackson and Dennard started on the second team, but Denard received some first team reps in the slot. This might suggest he is the next man up, but there’s still plenty of time before Week 1.
One player who did stick out on defense because of his play on all three defensive teams was Josh Shaw. He played mostly backup and slot cornerback and began the day as the third team’s safety. But as the day wore on, he had more and more reps on the first two teams in the slot. While many believe the competition to start at cornerback in Week 1 was solely between Jackson and Dennard, Shaw just might be a dark horse in this race.
Randy Bullock and Jonathan Brown were the two kickers that were working out on Saturday. Bullock made all three of his kicks from 23, 30 and 34 yards. Brown took the same kicks, but missed the 30-yarder.
Jake Elliott had the day off, even though he is the most likely to win the kicking job for the regular season.
On Friday, Erickson did not return any kicks, despite having the most kickoff returns last year. On Saturday, however, he was the first one to run back a kickoff and he took it pretty far.
Other players who practiced returning kicks included Ross, Mixon, and even Tra Carson. Ross and Mixon, with their speed, make obvious kick return candidates and both handled this responsibility last year in college. Adam Jones didn’t take any returns on Saturday, so this is one other development to track during the rest of camp. He wasn’t great on special teams last year and as he’s aging, the Bengals may be phasing him out of the kick return game.
While many questions are closer to being answered, new questions have come up. Who will be the team’s leading rusher? Where will Ross fit into the offense? Who will fill in for Adam Jones? As camp continues, these answers should become more clear. Or, they may become more confusing. Keep an eye on the news, or, better yet, attend camp yourself! Gates open at 2:30 p.m. ET, and practice starts at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, Monday and Thursday. Come on out, cheer on your Bengals, and enjoy the return of football.