While many Cincinnati Bengals fans are anxious for the season to start (and even the preseason, which is less than one week away) thousands poured into Paul Brown Stadium to see the next best thing. The first team, dressed in white jerseys, took on the second team wearing black. Even though the players were wearing shorts and full contact wasn’t permitted, the level of competition was far greater than any of the drills in normal training camp sessions. Not to mention, the game conditions forced the teams to react to different situations rather than starting for fresh every play. In the battle of white versus black, the fans were the biggest winners of the day.
Here are some observations from Saturday:
The starting lineups were mostly indicative of who the first and second team members have been throughout training camp. These will most likely be the teams playing together in the preseason. Some position battle front runners were revealed.
Among the first teamers were Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, Tyler Eifert, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard.
The battle for the right guard position seems to be a tight competition between veteran Andre Smith and former practice squad player Trey Hopkins. Surprisingly, they were both playing for the first team. Smith played the first drive of the game for the white team.
There is not much to conclude from this arrangement. If the season started today, Smith would probably be the starter. But there is still plenty of time for Hopkins to make his final impressions.
Another unexpected starter on the white team was Dennard. He appears to be leading the competition to fill in for Adam Jones in Week 1. Because of Jones’ suspension, Dennard has been battling William Jackson and Josh Shaw for the starting spot in Week 1. It appears he has a lead over the other two corners. On Saturday, he played in the slot and on the boundary.
This would suggest that Dre Kirkpatrick and Dennard will start at cornerback in Week 1, while Shaw will resume his slot duties from last year. But, there’s still time for that to change.
The only other white players that would not be obvious choices were Cody Core at wide receiver and Tyler Kroft, who was the third string tight end last year.
The black team consisted of mostly of second team players, though both Joe Mixon and Alex Erickson played for the white team (first team) in the second half of the scrimmage.
Special teams also bounced back and forth as Jake Elliott and Randy Bullock kicked for each team. Punter Kevin Huber punted for both teams as well and punt returners were the receiving team, regardless of jersey color.
The first team looked shaky out of the gate.
Dunlap and Atkins both jump offsides early for first defense to give up a first down. Not the cleanest start.— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) August 5, 2017
2 flags for offsides today n the first 3 plays— Nick Manchester (@TheManch93) August 5, 2017
The penalties were on Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, the two Pro Bowlers on the line. After giving black a first down with their penalties, they eventually forced a punt.
Rookie defender Carl Lawson is living up to all of the hype surrounding him. He played roughly equal time for the first team between defensive end, which he played in college, and linebacker. Lawson was equally impressive at both positions, putting the pressure on the second team’s offensive line.
Carl Lawson beat Eric Winston to sack AJ McCarron— Nick Manchester (@TheManch93) August 5, 2017
Based on what’s happened in training camp, it appears the bengals are exploring the option of using Lawson at defensive end and linebacker. We won’t know for sure what Lawson’s role will be in the Jungle until the season starts, and even then, it may change. At the very least, he will be a player that Marvin Lewis can plug in anywhere to accommodate different looks in the defense and inevitable injuries.
After Friday’s practice, many felt the offense lacked firepower. That was not the case on Saturday, as the white team offense scored four times, while the black team scored three. White scored two field goals and two touchdowns, one of which capped off a 94-yard drive. All three quarterbacks had plenty of playing time and none threw a single interception. There were no turnovers at all, showing the offenses took good care of the ball.
The offensive line has been the biggest question mark of the offseason. During the scrimmage, they looked decent. Not great, but for the most part, they protected Andy Dalton. Speaking of, Dalton’s two touchdowns went to Ryan Hewitt and Mixon.
Jackson played almost every snap for the second team defense. As the top cornerback for the black team, he had the toughest assignments. Jackson matched up against A.J. Green during the first half and against Core in the second half. Despite that, Jackson looked the best he has looked all camp. He had been giving up deep passes on a regular basis, even to the likes of Alonzo Russell. But on Saturday, he gave up very few yards. Whenever Green had a huge catch (which is bound to happen) it was when he moved into someone else’s zone. Green did have a few catches against Jackson, but it was on short out routes or wide receiver screens. Most of the yards gained were after the catch, and they were limited.
The only mistake he made was against Core. The play after he had a pass defended while covering Core, he stumbled and fell to the ground. He immediately got up and caught up to Core, but was too handsy and drew a pass interference call. While the penalty was costly and unfortunate, it showcased Jackson’s athleticism and aggression. The penalty happened because he was probably trying too hard to make up for his fall, so hopefully with some experience, it won’t happen again.
Randy Bullock was perfect on the day, with a long of 52 (which matched his season long of 52 in 2016). Bullock has been the most solid kicker of camp so far.
Jake Elliott missed his first two kicks. One was a 52 yard attempt, which would have been longer than any kick he made in 2016 in college. This miss technically didn’t count due to a defensive penalty, but it probably affected his extra point miss later in the half. While 52 yards is a difficult kick to nail, the extra point miss is alarming. He was able to settle in and make his next field goal attempts, but it was still troubling to see. Optimists will say he was able to regain mental control, while pessimists will just focus on the misses.
This is a perplexing issue, since Elliott was drafted in the fifth round. On the one hand, it seems unlikely the Bengals will pass on a kicker they used a draft pick to acquire. On the other hand, they will want to go with the best player on the roster, which to this point is Bullock.
While playing for black, Josh Malone was targeted more than other receiver on the team, especially after Erickson switched teams. As someone who is on the roster bubble, he made a solid case for himself on Saturday.
Hewitt has played fullback for Cincinnati for all of his NFL career and was minimally used last season, even after receiving a contract extension. While he has been practicing with the tight ends, he actually lined up wide on several occasions. It’s one thing to join the line and play in the tight end position; it’s another thing for the fullback to be the widest receiver on the field. This is not only a possible sign to how he’ll be used in a different position, but also a foreboding signal for Jeremy Hill’s future with the Bengals, since a fullback suits his style of running the most.
After Saturday, Bengals fans have more reason to be excited. Most of the position groups are showing improvement, and the chemistry is working.
Training camp continues at 3:00 p.m. EST on Monday, August 7 on the practice fields west of Paul Brown Stadium. Gates open at 2:30 p.m. for the third to last day of open-to-the-public practices.