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What we’ve learned so far at Bengals training camp

We’re one week into training camp and still one week away from actual football. What have we learned?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals-Training Camp Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Zac Taylor’s first training camp as head coach for the Bengals began pretty chaotically. Opening camp at Welcome Stadium in Dayton wasn’t the original plan for the team, but after 90 minutes of work on what has been described as a “terrible” field, Taylor and Cincinnati lost their best offensive player for the beginning of the season.

A.J. Green’s injury was the definition of unfortunate, but life goes on for the other 89 rostered players. Eventually the pads had to be put on and players began hitting each other soon after Green had minor surgery that will take him out of commission until at the very least September. The Bengals are far from the only team that deals with training camp injuries, but the football gods don’t seem any kinder now than in year’s past.

Injuries will forever suck and there’s not much that anyone can do to prevent them, and the Bengals being stricken by injuries isn’t anything new. As far as what is new, there are a few things we can gather after the first handful of practices.

  1. Don’t practice at Welcome Stadium

Oops! Wrong list. Here we go.

The young receivers are putting in WORK, and for good reason

The Bengals have an extremely young wide receiver corps. This isn’t anything new from last year but just seeing it visualized again really drove the reality home for me.

The receivers room is a nice microcosm of how young the roster is; with the vast majority of notable contributors having three or less years of experience. Recently, inexperienced receivers have had trouble hitting the ground running in Cincinnati, but with no Green and John Ross for the time being, some of them have to step up. This is why Cody Core and Josh Malone, two guys that have hardly developed at all since college, are being forced into the fire.

In early viewings of the first-string offense, Core, Tyler Boyd and Malone are your starting receivers. When the unit is in 12 personnel with only two receivers on the field, Tyler Boyd hasn’t been out there. Obviously when they’re in 11 personnel with three receivers, Boyd is in the slot. But as of now, it’s Core and Malone in 12 personnel.

This is only interesting considering how they handled injuries at the position last year. After Brandon Lafell was cut and John Ross was still coming along, Boyd was the flanker receiver on the opposite side of the formation from Green. This isn’t the case this time around, which may not mean much, but interesting enough to take note.

Behind them on the second team, Auden Tate and Alex Erickson are joined by undrafted receiver Damion Willis, a name that’s been attached to a fair amount of hype since OTAs. The hype is starting to build a bit.

Willis is looking like the receiver that can make a run at a roster spot, but the room is still crowded at the top. Core is still being used heavily on special teams, as is Tate, and even Malone is getting looks as a kickoff return man. Willis has plenty of work to do.

It’s too early to judge any of the quarterbacks

Not every ninth-year quarterback gets a chance to re-invent himself, but that’s essentially the deal with Andy Dalton this year. We know what he is at this point in his career, but this new offense is supposed to elevate him to new highs! We’re not supposed to see those highs yet, so sit back down in your seats.

Behind Dalton is where we need to see progress fast, because things don’t appear much different there. Ryan Finley had a forgettable offseason program and so far, hasn’t done anything with the third team to bump him ahead of Jeff Driskel, who also looks less than impressive. There’s nothing separating the two from an outsider’s perspective, but Driskel’s experience seems to be giving him the edge as of now.

In all honesty, Jake Dolegala is in a decent spot, even as the fourth-string quarterback. Finley is obviously going to see plenty of opportunity as a fourth-round pick the team traded up for, but three quarterbacks being kept on the final roster is an idea that can’t be immediately disputed. Dolegala can begin making his case once the preseason rolls around.

Various shuffling going on in the trenches

Last year, there were two spots up for grabs on the offensive line, so cutting that number in half is progress? It’s also too early to tell if someone is winning that competition, but Christian Westerman took reps with the first-team in back-to-back practices, so there’s that.

Billy Price is still sidelined which means Trey Hopkins is the starting center, making Michael Jordan his backup, for now. Once Price returns and Hopkins is relegated to the second team, more shuffling will follow, but the only rotation going on right now with the backups is at left tackle. Undrafted free agent O’Shea Dugas and recently re-signed veteran Andre Smith have each seen time with the second team and can both be considered in the running right now.

Going up against them on the defensive line is much more of a frenzy—specifically on the interior. Behind Geno Atkins and Andrew Billings is a constant rotation featuring Ryan Glasgow, Josh Tupou, Christian Ringo, Andrew Brown and Renell Wren. There have been about four combinations of guys taking reps with one another in this unit, and there’s likely only one open spot for the final roster. Watching them battle it out has been a blast.

Brown has also seen a few reps on the edge, where Jordan Willis and Kerry Wynn seem to be splitting reps with the second team. Wynn has seen time on the interior with the first team nickel pass-rushing unit, which could ultimately give him an edge over Willis if they decide to keep only four edges.

The clocks... they actually work!

The team and coaches actually use these and they count down and everything. It’s incredible!