The Cincinnati Bengals held their seventh day of training camp on Friday, a day primarily highlighted by key players showing off their skills and encouraging signs from most areas of the defense. The team saw Derron Smith and Joe Mixon suiting up after Smith had missed about a week with an ankle injury and Mixon missed a few minutes on Thursday, which was enough to send fans into freak out mode.
Once the available players took the field, warmed up, and prepared for another day of training camp, we got a good look at a few interesting things.
The passing game looks great
Although there was plenty of concern on Friday due to the performance of the offensive line, the passing game itself put up more than a few highlights. In particular, the performances of star pass catchers Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green were the talk of the day.
Tyler Eifert with the same reaction the very next play! pic.twitter.com/jTNR2YeJvJ— Kyle Phelps (@KylePhelps92) August 4, 2017
In fact, even the running game saw a boost from the talent the Bengals employ at wide receiver.
The biggest problem from the day for the offense seemed to be the offensive line. Andy Dalton consistently looked to be under pressure, especially during the 2-minute drill. Luckily, the plethora of options he had to throw the ball to out wide, in the middle, and in the backfield, were enough to keep the offense looking exciting. Getting Mixon right back on the field after his heel injury on Thursday was a definite positive, but the offensive line is going to need to step up when the regular season rolls around. the only player who there were positive things to report on was Clint Boling, who helped on a key block that allowed Giovani Bernard to score a touchdown on Friday night.
The defense flashed potential
On defense, things were clicking on a level we haven’t yet seen in this year’s training camp. For starters, golden boy Carl Lawson was, once again, all over the place, making his presence known. He had what would have been deemed a sack, though, Dalton is not allowed to be brought down in these practices.
However, it was another Bengals edge rusher who caught so many eyes on the practice field. Jordan Willis, the team’s third round rookie defensive end, earned a round of applause from Bengals fans as he dropped back into coverage and broke up a sure touchdown pass from Dalton to Tyler Eifert.
Jordan Willis has pass cover skills!!! pic.twitter.com/DDJ0DSq5xf— Kyle Phelps (@KylePhelps92) August 4, 2017
In addition to the impressive performances from the Bengals’ young defensive draft picks, one undrafted player made a big time disruption in the backfield.
Considered one of the top candidates to be the Bengals’ breakout undrafted player of 2017, Hardy Nickerson Jr. quickly broke through the Bengals’ line on one occasion, disrupting any chance of a positive gain for Bernard and looked absolutely unstoppable in the process. In fairness, it was a bad day for the Bengals’ offensive line, but it is still good to see a lesser known player showing progress. Nickerson also did work on special teams and maybe, just maybe, could sneak onto the roster this year. If not, he’s sure to be a top practice squad candidate.
Elsewhere on the defensive line, the defensive tackles had a strong day, as did defensive end Chris Smith, who the team traded for this year. Marvin Lewis seems to be impressed by him, too.
“I’ve been very pleased. Last year when we played Jacksonville in the preseason, we were getting ready to watch some of their players. As you go through and watch who they may or may not release, Chris is someone who stuck out to us. When the offseason came around this year and (Bengals director of player personnel) Duke (Tobin) had mentioned that he may be available, we obviously pulled the trigger,” Lewis said of the trade.
“He’s working his tail off to make the football team, and that’s good. He shows the athleticism and ability that we see, and he gives you some flexibility as a guy who could contribute on special teams,” Lewis continued. “When you can gain a half-man from the defensive line group, that’s a good thing.”
Definitely look for Smith to continue making his presence felt through training camp and the preseason. He may just land a surprising spot on the roster at the expense of someone like Will Clarke or Wallace Gilberry.
Special teams had an issue, but recovered
The Bengals worked John Ross on kick returning duties today, a seemingly successful strategy at first. However, after a few solid returns, he fumbled one of the kicks while making the catch.
His fumble isn’t necessarily a big deal as it was an isolated incident and he recovered after the issue, but it certainly not what fans or coaches want to see from a player potentially looking to contribute on return duties and on offense.
However, other than the one issue, the Bengals made a point to flex their special teams muscles, and the exposure seemed to pay dividends. Kevin Huber looked good and his hang time seemed impressive.
Rookie kicker Jake Elliott appears to be the frontrunner to win the Bengals’ open kicker spot, so the Bengals working him in in multiple drills makes sense, such as onside kicks.
We certainly learned some important things about the special teams unit on Friday. Huber is still good. Elliott looks impressive. Ross has potential as a returner, but still needs work. For the most part, it was a good day for the special teams unit.
The Bengals have Family Day on Saturday and a live scrimmage inside Paul Brown Stadium. That kicks off at 12:30 p.m. ET. The Bengals then have Sunday off before returning to practice on Monday (3:00 p.m. ET), Tuesday (3:00 p.m. ET) and finishing off training camp on Wednesday (3:15 p.m. ET).