After a much-needed rest day, the Cincinnati Bengals were back on the practice field Thursday in one of the hotter training camp sessions thus far.
Thankfully, it wasn’t the temperature of players’ emotions boiling over like they were Tuesday, a practice that saw multiple skirmishes. Thursday brought about a more positive environment, though it included both good and bad news on the injury front.
Here is a look at our biggest takeaways from Thursday’s session:
1. Michael Johnson Returns, P.J. Dawson Sidelined
Starting defensive end Michael Johnson returned to practice after a four-day absence. It’s unclear was his injury or ailment was, but it’s hopefully a moot point now as he’s back on the field.
With so many serious injuries happening in the NFL, particularly with AFC North-rival Baltimore, it’s good to see Johnson is fine and the Bengals have avoided any major injuries thus far.
One new notable injury development was linebacker P.J. Dawson being unable to practice as his arm was in a sling and cast, though he took the sling off eventually.
To clarify on Dawson: he took the sling off, has cast on right wrist/hand. #Bengals— Jim Owczarski (@JimOwczarski) August 3, 2017
This still doesn’t look good for Dawson getting back on the field quickly, which certainly hurts his chances of making the final roster. He’s already facing some stiff odds of making it with so many quality linebackers on the roster.
Assuming Vontaze Burfict, Kevin Minter, Vincent Rey, Nick Vigil and Carl Lawson are locked into their spots, the Bengals may keep 1-2 more linebackers, leaving Dawson to battle Marquis Flowers and sixth-round rookie Jordan Evans for the final spots.
2. Iloka Upgraded to Rehab Field
Elsewhere, offensive lineman T.J. Johnson joined safeties George Iloka and Derron Smith on the rehab field.
Group of 7 #Bengals on the side field today, most notably T.J. Johnson, Derron Smith & George Iloka.— Jim Owczarski (@JimOwczarski) August 3, 2017
#Bengals starting the day out of practice: McRae, D. Smith, C. Thompson, Iloka, Dawson, T. Johnson, Dean, Kumerow, C. Brown.— Jim Owczarski (@JimOwczarski) August 3, 2017
Iloka is recovering from a knee sprain that could sideline him 3-4 weeks, so seeing him already on the rehab field is encouraging. He’s one of the game’s better free safeties, so it would be a tough blow for this defense if he misses regular-season time, which doesn’t appear will happen.
Smith is battling a foot injury, though his timetable is uncertain. The same is true with Johnson and his lower-body injury. If Smith can return soon, he’d likely be the starting free safety in Iloka’s absence. The only other legitimate contender for that spot is Clayton Fejedelem, and he’s more of a strong safety. Though, cornerback Josh Shaw could also fill in there.
3. Increased Censorship
Following Tuesday’s scuffles, the Bengals are going to make it harder for camp fights to go viral. Going forward, media will be restricted from posting videos of certain drills.
Bengals have shut out the media from taking film of offensive vs defensive drills at Training Camp after the Burfict hit yesterday.— Steinmann (@TheSteinMann) August 3, 2017
This is beyond lame and robs fans of a chance to see practice highlights. If anything, video of Vontaze Burfict hitting Giovani Bernard around the waist was a good thing, as multiple reports from the fight initially said Burfict hit Bernard’a surgically-repaired knee. The video showed that clearly wasn’t the case, so the Bengals could actually be shooting themselves in the foot the next time something like this happens.
4. O-line a Mixed Bag
Thursday was a so-so day for the offensive line. Throughout the session, there continued to be negative updates on this much-maligned unit.
Defensive line bull rushes the o line and destroyed Andy's pocket. Carl Lawson got into post play scrum #Bengals #NFL— J. Angelo Carriero (@AngeloCarriero8) August 3, 2017
Will Clarke gets the best of Ogbuehi #Bengals #NFL— J. Angelo Carriero (@AngeloCarriero8) August 3, 2017
Seeing the enigmatic Will Clarke beating your starting left tackle is not a great sight, especially since Clarke may not even make the final roster. Ogbuehi’s struggles didn’t end there, however, as rookie Jordan Willis also got the better of the third-year lineman.
Offense vs defense, Jordan Willis puts spin move on Ogbuehi. #Bengals #NFL— J. Angelo Carriero (@AngeloCarriero8) August 3, 2017
Jordan Willis has gotten around Ogbuehi more than once on passes. Not sure how shallow QB is in pocket, but looks worrisome. #Bengals #NFL— J. Angelo Carriero (@AngeloCarriero8) August 3, 2017
Ogbuehi struggled to block just about anyone last year, but the hope is he’ll improve dramatically this year. If he doesn’t, either Ogbuehi won’t keep his job for long, or Andy Dalton won’t make it through 16 games.
The offense was also struggling in red-zone drills to get ball into the promised land, but there was some positive moments for the offensive line. That included springing Giovani Bernard and Boom Williams for big gains.
HUGE hole opens up for Gio in team run drills #Bengals #NFL— J. Angelo Carriero (@AngeloCarriero8) August 3, 2017
Long play to develop, but O-Line holds up for McCarron and thrones TD to Carter. #Bengals #NFL— J. Angelo Carriero (@AngeloCarriero8) August 3, 2017
We also saw offensive lineman Kent Perkins make some noise for the first time in camp.
Kent Perkins got the best of his man. He's looked impressive in spurts this camp. #Bengals #NFL— J. Angelo Carriero (@AngeloCarriero8) August 3, 2017
Perkins is vying for a roster spot as a guard who can play some tackle as well. Seeing him mentioned positively is a good development, though he’s likely fighting for a spot on the practice squad, at best.
5. Backfield Shakeup?
One of the positive Thursday stories was Boom Williams shining. The undrafted free agent is vying for the final running back spot on the 53-man roster, so he’ll need a great camp and preseason to do.
So far, so good in camp.
Boom rips an absolutely beautiful spin move in the hole one-on-one versus a linebacker #BBN #Bengals #NFL— J. Angelo Carriero (@AngeloCarriero8) August 3, 2017
Boom catches the ball out of the backfield, shakes Josh Shaw off of him, and scores! #BBN #Bengals #NFL— J. Angelo Carriero (@AngeloCarriero8) August 3, 2017
Boom’s chances of making the final roster may have also increased due to injury. Joe Mixon suffered a foot injury late in practice, though it sounds very minor. Depending on how long Mixon is out, that could create more touches for Boom and other backs to showcase their talents.
Mixon has a bruised heel. Says he could have gone back in— Geoff Hobson (@GeoffHobsonCin) August 3, 2017
Boom likely needs to beat Cedric Peerman for the fourth cornerback spot, if he’s to make the roster. Peerman is on the Non-Football Injury (NFI) list, so he’s already losing ground to Boom.