The Cincinnati Bengals hit the practice field on Sunday afternoon for a beautiful Day 3 of training camp. The weather was nice, the shoulder pads were on, and football was in full focus.
That’s right, folks. There are now only five Sundays remaining until the Bengals take on the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium to kick off the team’s 50th season.
How did preparations go for the regular season on Day 3 of training camp? Let’s take a look by position group.
Andy Dalton looked solid, as usual. After throwing a pick-six to Dre Kirkpatrick on Saturday, he was almost perfect on Sunday. He was able to make all kinds of throws without any interceptions. AJ McCarron threw one interception to Bene Benwikere, but had a decent day, too.
The one surprise that came out of this group was from third string quarterback, Jeff Driskel. He played some snaps with the punting team during the first part of practice as a personal protector. He did not practice at this position during the second session of punting practice, which may indicate he was only out there as a stand in. He is 6’4” and 231 pounds, so there may be a chance he could play there if the Bengals keep him on the 53-man roster this year. He played on special teams with the San Francisco 49ers last year in the preseason.
With shoulder pads on, the running game was much more intense on Sunday and the intensity is sure to increase on Monday when the players are wearing their full pads. Just like the previous two days of training camp, there was no clear frontrunner in the running back competition. Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Joe Mixon, and even Tra Carson all rotated between the three offensive teams. Mixon dazzled again, scoring yet another long touchdown. As far as performances go, he looked the best while Hill had least to write home about. In terms of opportunity, there was nothing to separate anyone from the pack.
Once again, A.J. Green looked astounding.
It is clear his talent far surpasses anyone else’s on the field. William Jackson, who is fighting for a starting spot in Week 1, had the bad fortune to be lined up against him several times. Green got the better of Jackson most of those times, as he did with pretty much everyone he was matched up against.
After Green, the depth chart appears to be rounding out with Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd as the clear WR2 and WR3, respectively, based on the reps they received during drills. John Ross looked good during the non-contact drills, but once again recused himself during the more intense parts of practice. We may not get a good look at him until the preseason. With that said, we don’t yet know where Ross will end up on the depth chart.
Cody Core and Josh Malone looked as well as was to be expected. These two receivers and Alex Erickson will most likely be competing for the final receiver spots on the 53-man roster. Erickson received more receptions on Sunday than he did on Saturday and the Bengals appear to be adding him to the mix more and more each day. This is another scenario that will play out more in the preseason.
Levonte “Kermit” Whitfield suited up on Sunday after being signed on Saturday. His involvement was minimal, however. Along with Whitfield, Alonzo Russell and Karel Hamilton practiced, but are unlikely to be contending for anything more than a practice squad spot.
Just like with the running backs and wide receivers, the tight ends rotated teams, playing with all three units. Just like last year, the three tight ends are probably going to be Tyler Eifert, C.J. Uzomah, and Tyler Kroft. Halfback Ryan Hewitt also practiced many drills with the tight ends. Behind Eifert, the Bengals didn’t have a tight end last year who served as both a capable blocker and pass catcher. Perhaps they were trying out Hewitt there to see if he could be used more in that type of role. Or, maybe they just needed him for numbers for the sake of the drill, since he did not line up at tight end for any of the seven-on-seven or 11-on-11 drills. During those parts of practice, Kroft and Uzomah received most of the reps.
The return of Andre Smith has been a big storyline this offseason. On Saturday, he played his natural position of right tackle on the second team’s line. On Sunday however, he played on the first team’s line at his expected position of right guard.
Andre Smith has played RG for the 1st team, Trey Hopkins is playing RG on the 2nd team #bengalstraingcamp2017— Nick Manchester (@TheManch93) July 30, 2017
Saturday’s starting right guard, Trey Hopkins, played the same position on the second team’s line on Sunday. This is most likely the arrangement the Bengals will go with for the regular season, though Hopkins will be given a chance to beat out Smith as training camp continues and the preseason gets underway.
With pads on, the line play was more telling on Sunday, though Jake Fisher’s inexperience showed several times and Marvin Lewis even yelled at him about being on the ground too often.
While the Bengals’ offensive line looks nothing like that of the Cowboys, the addition of Smith has given the line more strength than last year. Cedric Ogbuehi’s much anticipated improvement showed as well and he held his own on Sunday. Hopefully by the regular season, this line will have practiced enough to eliminate many of the anticipated kinks.
On Saturday, Michael Johnson and Wallace Gilberry sat out on a presumed veteran’s day. Once again, the were absent from most of practice on Sunday. It seems both are experiencing injuries, though they are currently undisclosed.
The first team’s defensive line consisted of veterans defensive end Carlos Dunlap and defensive tackle Geno Atkins, joined by nose tackle Pat Sims and defensive end Will Clarke. Rookie Carl Lawson received some first team snaps at defensive end, in addition to second team linebacker snaps.
Rookie defensive end Ryan Glasgow was pleasantly surprising on Sunday. He pressured AJ McCarron several times, although it was against the second team line. Nonetheless, he might be a sleeper at the defensive tackle position this year, which would be a great development for the fourth round pick.
The usual suspects were back at it again. Vontaze Burfict, Kevin Minter, and Nick Vigil were once again the starters. Burfict, known for his aggressiveness, did get a little too intense.
Marvin has chat with Burfict after he threw shoulder into Gio on 2nd play of 11s. #Bengals— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonCMG) July 30, 2017
After his aggressive hit against Bernard, Burfict headed to the sideline while Marquis Flowers filled in for him temporarily.
Sunday was a bad day to be a safety. Both George Iloka and Derron Smith left due to injury. While Iloka’s injury seemed to be minor, he still took the cart off the practice field with Smith, whose injury may be more of something to monitor.
Due to the injuries, Clayton Fejedelem and Josh Shaw both saw snaps with the first team safeties, taking turns playing alongside Shawn Williams.
Clayton Fejedelem played safety with the second team until Iloka’s injury, while Shaw played a mixture of cover corner, slot corner, and safety for all three defenses throughout the day.
While Adam Jones started with the first team at cornerback, alongside Dre Kirkpatrick, he will not start in Week 1 due to suspension. The battle to fill his position has fallen to Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson III. On Sunday, Dennard began to emerge as the primary candidate for the job. He was the third cornerback during defensive drills, and played many snaps at slot corner toward the end of practice. While he split the first team slot duties with Shaw, he played opposite Jackson on the second team as well.
Unfortunately, William Jackson fared poorly on Sunday. He gave up many deep balls, including one to Alonzo Russell, who will probably not even make the roster. Though some of his deep balls given up were to A.J. Green, and it is difficult to find fault with that. Still, he had more negative moments than positive ones on Sunday. There’s still plenty of time before Week 1, but it wasn’t an encouraging practice for Jackson.
A pleasant surprise came from veteran cornerback Bene Benwikere, who the team signed this offseason from the free agent market. He had two interceptions, one against McCarron and one on Driskell, despite giving up a long play to A.J. Green. Though he mostly played with the third team, Benwikere’s veteran presence will be a great asset to have backing up the defensive backfield.
The kicking competition on Sunday was between Randy Bullock and Jake Elliott, as the team rotates two kickers per day. While Bullock was perfect from 28, 38, 33 (twice), and 35 yards, Elliott missed his first 33 yard attempt, though it came while the coaching staff attempted to ice him with a whistle. According to Bengals.com, Elliott won’t be penalized for the miss and special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons is considering him perfect on the day.
The punt return crew consisted of Jones, Erickson, Boyd and Ross. Each player had equal opportunities to return punts at the beginning of practice and then Erickson and Ross received the majority of the returns during the final punting practice of the day.
Toward the end of the day, punter Kevin Huber finally kicked a football during practice. During kickoff and punting drills until that point, the coaching staff used a machine to launch the ball to the returner. This was the first time a kickoff specialist or punter made contact with the ball, and it didn’t come until the end of the third day.
As the defense spread out to sign autographs at the end of practice, the Bengals concluded another successful practice session. Injuries on defense were the low point of the day, while there was some dazzling play on both sides of the ball to inspire optimism. Training camp continues tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. ET, with gates opening at 2:30.
Be there, be loud, and Who Dey!