For the first time in training camp, the Cincinnati Bengals were practicing with a cool evening breeze behind them.
Every practice thus far has been in the mid-afternoon, but the Bengals changed things up with an evening session on Friday. This is also the final practice before Saturday’s Family Day, which will feature a team scrimmage. That may explain why Friday night was a lighter session that featured a lot of special teams and situational work.
A lot of special teams today. Kids sitting behind me seem to be getting restless: "Where is A.J. Green?" #Bengals— Laurel Pfahler (@LaurelPfahler) August 4, 2017
Here’s a look at our biggest takeaways from Day 7:
1) Returner Snaps
The Bengals may go back to Alex Erickson as their full-time kickoff returner in 2017, but they’re at least giving other guys a shot. That includes first-round pick John Ross and former second-round pick Tyler Boyd getting a shot on kickoffs, which could increase their workload in 2017.
Of the three, Ross was the bigger game-breaker in college, and he was impressing Friday with a number of returns, though, one resulted in a fumble.
The Bengals aren’t planning to play Ross in every preseason game, so the ones he does play in should see him getting a few chances on kickoff returns. As for Boyd, he too was a dynamic returner in college, so it’s not crazy to think he could see work there this season, too.
2) Mixon Returns
So much for Joe Mixon’s first NFL injury. After leaving Thursday’s session with a heel injury, the Bengals were holding their breaths as the rookie running back was examined by trainers. As it turned out, it was nothing more than a mild cut, as Mixon was back in full pads for Friday night’s session.
If Mixon can just stay healthy, he’s poised to have a major role in the offense and get plenty of touches as a rookie, even if he isn’t starting. And frankly, even if he doesn’t win the job, both Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard have had trouble staying healthy during the past two years.
3) Lawson Shining
Carl Lawson has been the defensive star of training thus far. The fourth-round linebacker is expected to be used primarily as a nickel edge rusher in his first NFL season. However, the Bengals appear to be giving Lawson reps as a true linebacker, which will obviously have a lot of growing pains.
As I wrote today, Carl Lawson is showing a lot of potential in camp, but his coverage skills need a lot of work. Which is to be expected— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) August 4, 2017
Lawson doesn’t have the size or frame to hold up as a 4-3 defensive end, at least not this year. Perhaps he will down the line, because he’s making a lot of noise when rushing off the edge.
I'll follow that Lawson tweet up w/ this: 2 minute drill, Lawson comes around the edge to beat Ogbuehi and sack Dalton to end that series— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) August 4, 2017
Head coach Marvin Lewis has gone out of his way to praise Lawson, saying the team would unleash him this season. For a coach that’s notorious for bringing defensive rookies along slowly, that really speaks to how great of a camp Lawson is having.
4) Offensive Line Struggling
For the second straight day, the offensive line had an underwhelming practice that will only keep the concern level high here. The line was holding up well through the early part of camp, but after taking a step back on Thursday, Friday was more of the same.
They're working the 2 minute drill today, and this is the first time I've noticed Dalton under pressure consistently.— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) August 4, 2017
Sadly, Ogbuehi getting beat has been a consistent theme the past two days. If your left tackle is struggling, it really doesn’t matter how well the other four linemen are playing. It’s going to make the whole line look bad, but Ogbuehi can’t take the entire blame when one of the league’s worst starting centers is next to a project right guard in the starting lineup. Hopefully, these are just some early struggles and the line works through its issues as the season nears.
5) Green Going Hard
Don’t tell A.J. Green he’s a superstar receiver who’s making $15 million annually. Throughout camp thus far, Green has been practicing like someone fighting for a roster spot.
In addition to roasting just about everyone who’s lined up across from him, Green has also been laying out for catches as though a game was on the line.
A.J Green gets a round of applause for a falling sideline catch. Be excited.— Kyle Phelps (@KylePhelps92) August 4, 2017
Green has been doing the same since Day 1 of his seventh NFL training camp, which is awesome to see from your offensive superstar. Green has said it himself that a bigger leadership role would be required of him in 2017, especially after long-time leaders like Andrew Whitworth, Domata Peko and Rey Maualuga departed this offseason.
Leading by example is one of the best ways to accomplish this, so good on Green for doing just that.