I have been so desperate for football that I have been watching the CFL.
So, when I realized I was free on Saturday, I jumped in the car as fast as I could and headed over to training camp.
This is my second year covering training camp for Cincy Jungle, and it is one of the most fun things I get to do. Not only do I get to see football activities for once, but I also get to see a new team evolving right in front of me. There is so much change in the Bengals organization this year, and it has all been exciting so far.
With the pads coming on for the first time, there was a lot to take in. Some position battles are heating up while some units are undergoing renovations.
So, here are some observations I made during the third day of training camp.
The offensive line is still a huge question mark
By far the worst position group on the team, the offensive line, has been shaken up in the offseason. Cordy Glenn came in to take over at left tackle, Billy Price was drafted at center, and Frank Pollack was hired to coach them.
The left half of the line has been predictably set—Glenn and Price are at their own respective spots with Clint Boling sandwiched in between them. But going into camp, the right tackle and right guard spots were up for grabs.
Three days later, we’re still not sure. Jake Fisher played right tackle with the first team Saturday after Cedric Ogbuehi and Bobby Hart played there on days one and two respectively (Ogbuehi played left and Hart played right, both with the second team). This means that they are getting long looks at each candidate before they make any decisions. In short, Pollack and Marvin Lewis have no clue yet who will start.
For the guard spot, Alex Redmond started the day with the ones, but incumbent starter Trey Hopkins rotated in for a few times. Again, there is no indication that either candidate is ahead or behind in the race.
Christian Westerman, who is also a possibility to play right guard, was cleared to practice but did not get much work in. He just got over food poisoning though and lost 12 pounds this week, so the Bengals are probably trying to ease him in right now.
While there are no new answers, there’s no reason to worry right now.
Pollack earlier this week “I’m giving everyone an opportunity so we’re moving around and we’ve got to find out who’s the best at each spot.”
This kink will take time to work out, and Pollack knows that. He’s committed to putting the best product out there and said that this process “takes as long as it takes.”
But how have the changes worked out so far? It's hard to say
It’s difficult to evaluate the offensive line without their pads on, so there’s really no way to give an accurate assessment of how well they have been doing until Saturday.
#Bengals OC Bill Lazor to me in early June when discussing evaluation of OL battles: "You really have to resist the temptation to evaluate the line without pads on. Until the pads come on don't make any decisions up front." Here we are. Pads come on today. #CommenceJudging— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) July 28, 2018
With their pads on, the line still looked pretty ugly.
Pass blocking is fine but the run game is struggling to hit any gaps-which is not good to see during training camp— Nick Manchester (@NickManchester9) July 28, 2018
Running backs had a very difficult go of it on Saturday. In training camp with limited contact, running backs should be able to squeeze through holes more easily than normal. But there were no holes to squeeze through for the most part. Joe Mixon broke out a long run once, but that was about all the production the Bengals got out of the run game.
Glenn looked way better than Ogbuehi last year, and Price did have some good moments. But overall, things could have been better.
Is this just some first-day rust? Perhaps.
Bengals OL coach Frank Pollack says on first day in pads there isn’t a happy OL coach in the league. Count him among them.— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) July 28, 2018
We’ll keep tracking the line throughout camp, and hopefully, Pollack can turn this unit around. There is still about two weeks until the preseason, so like I said, this is no time to panic.
The wide receiver group will be hard to trim down
The receiving corps is going to make Lewis lose some sleep. Last season, only five made the opening day roster. This season, there are eight that look like they could make it.
First and foremost, A.J. Green looks like a seven-time Pro Bowler.
A.J. Green giving the fans a show. Making catches look easy in 11 on 11. season upon us.— Jed DeMuesy (@Local12Jed) July 28, 2018
But we already know how good he is, so I won’t waste any time talking about it here.
John Ross looked good again, blowing by defenders left and right. He was held back for most of training camp last season and only played 17 snaps in the regular season. This is really the first time that Bengals fans have gotten to see him unbridled, which has been thrilling so far.
Ross would be a great No. 2 across from Green. Yet, for some reason, Brandon LaFell was the one lined up on the outside during 11-on-11 drills. LaFell is a reliable veteran and has been the team’s second-leading receiver since he came over in 2016.
Still, he has not shown much positivity in camp so far this year. The Bengals would be better off letting their ninth-overall draft pick from last year take some first-team reps over LaFell.
Boyd had a great first two days and kept it going on Saturday.
Boyd had a great catch on the sidelines. High pointed the ball and kept his feet down— Nick Manchester (@NickManchester9) July 28, 2018
Boyd played with the first team in the slot, which is where the Bengals wanted him to settle when they drafted him two years ago.
Josh Malone is another bright spot for the Bengals receiving core and made a splash again on Saturday.
Auden Tate was a seventh-round pick this year and was not given a good chance to make the roster. But it seems like every day, his odds get better and better, and for good reason. He could be a valuable red zone weapon with his wide reach, which would help relieve pressure from Tyler Eifert immensely.
Alex Erickson has been on the roster for the last two seasons because of his returning ability. But he has had some great catches this camp, so he might make the roster again at receiver.
Here is the best play from #Bengals camp thus far with Barkley using the play action to setup this deep ball that Erickson pulls down between two defenders for the catch, WOW #WhoDey pic.twitter.com/FuvrsxXmNr— Mark Slaughter (@MarkVSlaughter) July 28, 2018
Erickson might be able to keep his job at returner, though. Of the four kick/punt returners we saw —Ross, Boyd, Erickson, and Darius Phillips—Erickson is likely the frontrunner for now.
Ross and Boyd got reps at returner in last year’s camp, but they didn’t return a single kick during the season. Phillips might become the primary return man, but Erickson could stay on to provide depth.
As far as the others go, even guys like Kermit Whitfield and Ka’Raun White were making plays. This group is absolutely loaded, anear andd it will be interesting to see who stays.
Let’s hope Andy Dalton stays healthy
One thing that the Bengals were criticized for was not drafting AJ McCarron’s replacement. Over the last four years, if Andy Dalton were to be injured, we knew McCarron would be a serviceable replacement.
This year, the No. 2 job is down to Matt Barkley, Jeff Driskel and Logan Woodside.
Let’s hope Dalton doesn’t get injured.
Barkley did not look that sharp at all on Saturday. He did have that long bomb to Erickson in double coverage, which was actually an impressive throw, but that was it for him. He spent the day either missing on deep throws or checking down to receivers running underneath routes.
Driskel was fairly good, but his athleticism is his best asset. Unfortunately for him, that is difficult to showcase at this point in training camp.
Logan Woodside did not even dress on Saturday, and he figures to be the odd man out already.
Needless to say, there really is no McCarron on the roster this year.
The Bengals have been fortunate that they have only needed a backup quarterback in six games going into Dalton’s eighth year with the team. Let’s hope he keeps the streak going.