The Cincinnati Bengals were back on the field on Sunday for Day 3 of training camp.
This marked the first time the team wore shoulder pads for practice, and thus, the first session that featured any real contact.
Here’s a look our biggest takeaways from the third camp practice in Cincinnati.
1) Michael Johnson and Wallace Gilberry remain sidelined
A developing story early in training camp is both Wallace Gilberry and Michael Johnson being unable to practice. After both players took part in Friday’s non-contact session, they’ve now been sidelined for two straight days.
Michael Johnson not dressed second day in a row. Means yesterday probably wasn't just a vet day off. #Bengals— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonCMG) July 30, 2017
Gilberry in pads, but also headed to the side field for the second straight day for the #Bengals— Jim Owczarski (@JimOwczarski) July 30, 2017
Johnson is 30-years-old and has endured a dropoff in his play for two straight years. He accounted for just five sacks in 2015 before getting just 3.5 last season. He also didn’t force a single fumble in 2016 after forcing three in 2015.
Gilberry is 32 (turns 33 in December) and is fighting for a roster spot, though he figures to have a leg up on guys like Chris Smith and Will Clarke due to his ability to play both end and tackle.
Perhaps their absences are nothing serious and the Bengals are just being precautious with a minor injury for their veteran linemen. Johnson is expected to retain his starting defensive end role opposite of Carlos Dunlap, but there are incoming challengers in Jordan Willis, Carl Lawson and Chris Smith who would like to see playing time on the edge.
Johnson and Gilberry being out is obviously giving those guys more reps and chances to impress the coaching staff. Both veterans need to get back on the field sooner rather than later. Willis and Lawson figure to get most of Johnson’s snaps for the time being as the incoming rookies have a world of potential, not to mention they should both find playing time early and often.
2) George Iloka and Derron Smith get dinged up
The Bengals were holding their breaths when George Iloka went down with a lower leg injury that had him grabbing his knee as he crawled off the field. It got even scarier when the cart was brought out and Iloka was helped onto it, but after trainers examined the knee, Iloka got up and began walking around the sideline.
Scary moment for #Bengals & Iloka, but the veteran safety didn't have to go into the stadium. Sitting on the sideline w/ ice on right knee.— Jim Owczarski (@JimOwczarski) July 30, 2017
Non contact for George Iloka. Was in coverage on a pass to Alex Erickson. He sat rubbing right knee for a bit ... https://t.co/kLsAmaFxnV— Jim Owczarski (@JimOwczarski) July 30, 2017
Iloka is one of the last guys this defense can afford to lose in the regular season. He’s been an excellent safety who has helped keep everyone lined up correctly, so not having him would be a big loss for this defense.
If Iloka misses any time, expect second-year safety Clayton Fejedelem and third-year safety Derron Smith to be taking starting snaps at free safety with Shawn Williams at strong safety. That is, if Smith isn’t dealing with an injury of his own after going down Sunday:
Now safety Derron Smith is down and being looked at by trainers. #Bengals— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonCMG) July 30, 2017
Appear to be looking at right foot. https://t.co/9jRX4u6A2E— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonCMG) July 30, 2017
Smith has filled in for both Iloka and Williams at various points during the last two seasons, so the Bengals will be OK without Iloka for a few weeks of training camp and even the preseason.
But if both Smith and Iloka are out for extended time, that means cornerback Josh Shaw will be spending more time at safety, while backup safety Clayton Fejedelem will also see more playing time.
Clayton Fejedelem and Josh Shaw are at safety for @George_iloka— Nick Manchester (@TheManch93) July 30, 2017
Sixth-round rookie Brandon Wilson is still on the NFI list and has yet to be cleared for practice, so this has suddenly become a dangerously-thin position. Don’t be surprised if the Bengals sign a safety in the coming days. They are at the 90-man roster limit though, so signing a safety would require the team to cut another player.
Paul Guenther said after practice that neither injury is considered major and both Iloka and Smith should be fine!
Guenther said he thinks Iloka and Smith are fine. "Typical twists and turns, that's all."#Bengals— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonCMG) July 30, 2017
3) Jake Elliott makes his training camp debut and misses a chip shot
The debut of fifth-round rookie Jake Elliott in the kicking competition came Sunday. Elliott didn’t do anything other than individual work and kickoffs, but he finally entered the competition portion on Sunday against veteran Randy Bullock.
After Bullock made all of his kicks Saturday against Jonathan Brown, the veteran did the same against Elliott on Sunday. However, Elliott missed one of his chip-shot attempts:
Kicking competition Day 2: Bullock: 5 for 5 from 28, 38, 33 (2x), 35. Two snuck inside. Elliott: good from 28, 38, 33, 35. WL from 33.— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) July 30, 2017
Elliott miss came when they blew whistle early as distraction technique. FWIW.— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) July 30, 2017
You’d like to see Elliott not miss anything in camp, but it’s understandable for a rookie. The key will be for him to kick well in actual preseason games to win the job over Bullock.
4) Jake Fisher swimming in the dirt
Jake Fisher is expected to be the starting right tackle this year, but he’ll have a tough time keeping that job if he doesn’t become more physical. A big knock on Fisher coming out of Oregon was that he was a sound technician who didn’t have the necessary strength to play tackle at a high level in the NFL.
We’ve seen that play out on the field at times during his first two seasons, and it sounds like he’s still having trouble staying on his feet and off the ground.
Overheard at training camp: Marvin Lewis to RT Jake Fisher: "74, you're on the ground a lot!"— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) July 30, 2017
This also comes after Andre Smith was spending time at right tackle with the second team offense on Saturday, before he returned to playing right guard with the first team offense on Sunday. Smith certainly has the necessary strength to play right tackle at a high level, though we haven’t seen much of that since the 2013 season. He was brought back this year to play right guard, a position change for him, though he could end up being challenged for that role.
Fisher will ideally win the starting right tackle job and play at a good enough level as he continues his development in 2017. The Bengals can’t afford to have another weakness along their offensive line.