The Bengals are back, baby.
With an aggressive sun, distant humidity, and dotting clouds disrupting a near-perfect sky, the Cincinnati Bengals conducted their first training camp practice on Friday.
It was a session bubbling with excitement, evident with nearly 1,400 fans gathering along the northern edges of the practice field. Fans tried sneaking a view over the cascade of privacy shrubs and bushes, wondering who was attacking the blocking shed 30 minutes before practice even began. Most of those that attended dotted the senses with orange and black, filling the chorus with families and friends, some going stag, fans all. A grandfather, standing in front of us, attempted to incorporate critical information to his otherwise uninterested grandson. Anyone arriving when the gates were scheduled to open, trekked the length of two football fields down Pete Rose Way.
Cincinnati typically conducts their practice with breakneck speed, transitioning from seven-on-seven situations, to position drills, to 11-on-11, back to position drills, while concluding the afternoon with a lengthy 11-on-11 session and then special teams; Darrin Simmons forces his players to wrap their arms around six-foot wooden pools, which are resting across their shoulders. It's an exercise of spacing. Don't drift; collapse on the carrier, keeping your lanes, while not collapsing too much.
Jeremy Hill looked good. One fan observed, "Wait, that was Jeremy Hill? I thought it was Giovani Bernard." It was an understandable error. Hill looks quicker than last year, more explosive while retaining critical awareness. However, there were times he disappeared behind failed blocking assignments; it wasn't a regular occurrence but if tackling were allowed, he'd get swallowed whole.
Andrew Whitworth, who is barely clearing 300 pounds, is noticeably fitter and after most plays, sprinted after the ball carrier. For those of you looking at depth charts, Jake Fisher anchored the left side with the second team offense, joined by Tanner Hawkinson at left guard, T.J. Johnson at center, Trey Hopkins at right guard and Matthew O'Donnell anchoring the right edge. Whitworth, Clint Boling, Russell Bodine, Kevin Zeitler and Andre Smith made up the first team offense.
Andy Dalton was Andy Dalton. There were underthrows, overthrows, but also strikes, missiles, and beautiful arches down the sidelines, where A.J. Green applied gears other humans simply do not possess. Predictably, they hooked up several times, usually with the roaring approval of fans. It was clear at times that AJ McCarron was feeling his way; many of his throws were targeted and catchable, others were a bit too hot or to receivers who weren't expecting certain throws; everyone is feeling each other out at this stage.
Receivers like Mario Alford and Tevin Reese collectively prove Cincinnati's shift in philosophy, encouraging smaller, shiftier players. Alford's speed was expressive and explosive. Reese isn't necessarily impressive; though he could make a case for a special teams spot. Alford fielded punts with Giovani Bernard, Adam Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Brandon Tate. Jones, who is easily the most interactive player on the team's roster, began fielding punts with two footballs already secured in his arms. He's a wacky dude.
Former San Diego Chargers head coach Al Saunders, arriving with a hearty west coast background, was interesting to watch. When wide receivers caught the football, he challenged their receptions and attempted to strip the football. He succeeded with Greg Little, while I evidently staged my negative impression of Little while nodding my oversized head with conclusive enthusiasm. Jake Kumerow, who bleeds effort and physicality, should have a clear path toward the 53-man roster, especially now that his broken finger is healed. He caught most passes as the target, and a ridiculous first step was near sensationalism. One comparison ties back to a player who wore his number (No. 84) and matches his size and style, though we're hesitant to make a direct comparison.
Perhaps the stars of practice weren't the stars so much for their on-field explosiveness; rather Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert participating and looking good. It goes without saying that Green was... well, Green. Regardless, the speed was there, quickness too. What also surfaced was his positioning; rarely was he beat in coverage. He wasn't perfect either. George Iloka swatted one Andy Dalton pass, jumping over Green and spiking it like a volleyball.
Players like linebackers Rey Maualuga and Sean Porter, defensive end Margus Hunt and rookie offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, worked on the side with trainers. Maualuga and Hunt looked good, as did Porter. It would be surprising if any of those three are practicing within the week. There was no sign of Vontaze Burfict; based on Marvin Lewis' press conference, it would seem he was unwilling to betray the United States National Security mandate. "We cut that out," Lewis said of Burfict showing rehabilitation videos. A room full of reporters laughed in amusement as Lewis masks irritation having to respond to anything concerning his Pro Bowl linebacker.
A few notes:
- Geno Atkins was his "explosive self", who "whipped offensive linemen consistently in one-on-ones and broke through multiple times" during team drills. [Cincinnati Enquirer]
- Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert was wide open all afternoon; in fact, it was insanely unfair against the team's linebackers in drills [ESPN]
- Rookie cornerback Troy Hill didn't have a good day, allowing several big receptions. [Cincinnati Enquirer]