Bengals Training Camp: The Story so Far
The 2013 Cincinnati Bengals return to practice today after their first day off from training camp on Tuesday.
So far, we've had an injury scare with A.J. Green, some promising moments from rookies Tyler Eifert and Gio Bernard, as well as some notable returns in the form of Andre Smith and Dre Kirkpatrick.
In Week 2 the Bengals will be hoping to shake off the offseason rust and start to putting together some more complete practices as they begin to preparing for a trip to Atlanta on Aug. 8.
Here's what we learned in Week 1.
Through the first few sessions of camp, Andy Dalton looked and sounded the part of a leader.
At the start of camp, Bengals.com spoke to A.J. Green, who complimented Dalton's growth: "This is his team...You can tell he's more confident.
It's a sentiment that Dalton agreed with.
"That's the way it should be," Dalton said. "The quarterback has to be the leader. He's the one with the ball in his hands every play."
Dalton took that confidence onto the field through the first few days, but when pads were thrown into the mix on Sunday, things began to wane a little bit.
Geoff Hobson noted, "Quarterback Andy Dalton went 4-for-10 in 11-on-11 after winging it about 70 percent."
"It's a whole different aspect once pads go on. Guys can be more physical out there at receiver and corner," Dalton said. "You have to get used to getting off guys, breaking press coverage and different things like that. We've had a couple of guys sitting out, different guys getting in, and they've got to take advantage of all these reps. But we've been in full pads one day. We'll see how it goes as the weeks go on."
A.J. Green has made only a cameo so far at training camp following a minor knee injury.
But don't despair, Green is more than talented enough that missing these will mean very little.
The injury, acquired whilst trying to make a sideline grab, is said to have caused no structural damage to his knee. The star wideout was left with only a knee bruise.
Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com described the scene:
Green planted his left foot and and twisted the knee while reaching for the ball, which deflected off his upper arm. He landed hard, rolled onto his back and grabbed the knee before putting his hands on the top of his helmet in pain.
Green isn't expected back in practice anytime soon, and when asked whether he'd sit out the preseason, his response was, "We'll see."
The picture says it all.
Orson Charles is impressing just about everybody in training camp so it's no surprise to see a smile on his face.
On Friday, Dan Hoard of Bengals.com praised the tight end-turned-halfback for hauling in a few catches out of the backfield.
Charles, notable for his physicality and blocking prowess, tangled with linebackers Rey Maualuga, Vinnie Rey and J.K. Schaffer in the Oklahoma Drill on Sunday, beating all of them.
Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com named Charles his player of the day and wrote that he continues to lead the fullback race.
When Tyler Eifert joined the Bengals, many assumed it meant the end for Orson Charles. However, if his training camp performance is anything to go by, his move to halfback could be the beginning of a new and very productive future for him in Cincinnati.
Giovani Bernard is one of the names attracting attention at Bengals camp.
Fan expectations are high and he's living up to them so far.
With a completely different toolset to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bernard is hoping to groove out his role with the offense.
But at this stage he's under no illusions about who the No. 1 back is, and says he's concentrating on being a complement to BJGE:
"My speed and my shiftiness kind of helps him out a little bit more...he is the leader and I have to follow in his footsteps."
It's not just on the ground that Bernard can add flavour. Hue Jackson likes what he's seen from him in the receiving game, too:
"He's so natural catching the ball. He can catch it like a receiver," Jackson said. "I knew he could catch it really well, but I wouldn't be surprised if he could go out there and line up outside and catch balls like some other guys can because he has that skill set."
Jay Gruden is also a fan of his newest asset:
"He's got great feet," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. "He's going to be tough to see in the hole. He'll bounce around; make a lot of people miss. If he gets in the open field, he's dangerous."
"He catches the ball very fluidly," Gruden said. "Obviously run after catch, you can see what he can do out in space. We need him to stay up a little bit when he gets bumped by the safety instead of doing a whirlybird going down. He'll understand tempo once we get pads on. He'll get lower."
Drama over...for now at least.
After signing a three-year, $18 million deal, skipping offseason workouts, missing mandatory minicamp and then sitting out the first few days of training camp with a non-football injury, Smith is back.
The good news is, he doesn't seem to have missed a beat, and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden thinks he's in good shape:
"First time I saw him, I thought he was a lot stronger and bigger...I just thought he looked stronger, bigger. It’s hard for him to be bigger, but he looked more defined and muscular".
The man Smith needs to impress the most is offensive line coach Paul Alexander, and according to Bengals.com, he's doing exactly that:
Offensive line coach Paul Alexander loved his work in short yardage, where the offense looked to be perfect on a handful of tries, and was 4-for-6 on goal line. Even though Smith had't been on the field since January, the Bengals went right behind their tackle most of the time on the short stuff.
"He looked good. He looked ready to go," Alexander said.
Bengals fans can now breath a deep sigh of relief.
Rookie strong safety Shawn Williams is locked in a three-way battle for the starting job opposite Reggie Nelson with Taylor Mays and George Iloka.
Right now, all three are splitting time with the first unit and there's no clear favourite for the starting gig.
So far, secondary coach Mark Carrier remains closed about who he's tipping, but he likes what he's seeing from Williams:
"He's actually doing some things better than I thought he could do...He's got a lot of mobility. He can move back there. I knew he was going to do well in the Oklahoma. I knew that. When you watched him play in college, you knew he was going to hit people. He'll hit you, now."
This is shaping up to be one of the key battles of training camp, and should make for some interesting TV moments for the Hard Knocks crew.
Injury-plagued cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick is ready to join the first unit.
“No doubt,” he said. “It’s not going to be on me to make that call. But I’ll be ready. It won’t be because of me not being ready. I will be ready. I’m just playing my role.”
ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley says he's been "one of the bigger surprises so far in this year's camp."
Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer has been impressed with what he's seen:
"He's improved a lot from last year when he was hurt," Zimmer said Sunday. "He understands the system a lot better now. He's playing a lot more confidently and playing with a lot better technique. He's actually done really well. I've been really pleased."
Kirkpatrick will have to keep putting in big performances throughout camp and the preseason if he wants to dethrone Terence Newman.
Newman and Leon Hall are likely to be the Bengals' starters, with Kirkpatrick likely to duke it out with Adam Jones for the nickelback spot.
At this point, the Bengals will just be pleased to see Kirkpatrick getting back into playing health. Contributing as a starter isn't as important, yet.
James Harrison's move to the Queen City remains a puzzler.
Will he live up to the name he built in Pittsburgh, or is this simply one more pay slip before he hangs it up?
So far in training camp, we haven't seen much to indicate either way.
Harrison took it easy in the Oklahoma Drill and has shown his disdain for Hard Knocks, calling it a "pain in the A-double-S." But don't worry, despite the frosty demeanor, he seems to be building solid chemistry with the defense.
The guys over at Cincy Jungle have been to see how he's getting on first-hand:
"He hasn't been used a whole lot as a pass rusher yet," said Brennen Warner. "He's been used exactly as a traditional strongside linebacker, which means mostly run defense and a little bit of coverage. I don't trust him at all in coverage, but he will be a force at the line of scrimmage..."I was hoping Harrison would also be used as the second interior DT in the nickel formation, but it looks like that spot will go to Wallace Gilberry. Maybe they will install him as a pass rusher more later, but right now, he's purely a strongside LB who will blitz every now and then."
We should get a better idea of his progress in Week 2 of training camp. If not, we should get a good indication of what Mike Zimmer is hoping for when the Bengals visit Atlanta on Aug. 8.
Jermaine Gresham is determined to bounce back in 2013.
He's still reeling from drops in key moments during the Bengals' playoff loss in Houston, and holds himself responsible for their early exit.
Despite Pro Bowl appearances, many have been disappointed with his career thus far, but now, Gresham is determined to get things back on track:
"It's all about me being a professional...I owe it to the fans and people who got me here to do better because being a disappointment is not what I am. I'm just trying to make up for it. I'm another year wiser and know what's expected of me. I just have to do my job and not let my teammates down. It's sad that it has taken so long, but I'm really starting to figure some things out. Things will be different this year."
So far, he's looking great. On Sunday he battled James Harrison to a tie in the Oklahoma Drill before challenging Geno Atkins.
Head Coach Marvin Lewis is impressed with his progression:
"Jermaine has grown so much over the last two seasons. This offseason he continued to take another step. This camp he's taken another step," Lewis said. "I don't want him to keep the pressure on himself all the time … he's done a great job stepping up his leadership on this team, doing everything that's asked of him and trying to get better physically. He's got such a big heart, such a good kid and it's fun to watch him come out of it the more comfortable he's gotten."
Andy Dalton has a new favourite target.
That at least seems to be the case with A.J. Green sidelined.
Eifert is impressing all with his abilities, and the reaction has been similar to Green's first trip to camp.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is already a fan:
"He's done everything we thought and more...He's just one of those guys that when he makes a play, you kind of look around and see if anybody else saw what he just did...He's running routes and catching the ball. He's very natural at what he does. He can beat man coverage no problem. He can beat zones. He's got a great feel for the game."
The men covering Eifert have also noticed something special. Veteran CB Terence Newman likes what he sees:
"He's a big guy, but he moves kind of like he could be a big wideout. It's kind of like the 49ers, what they do with Vernon Davis. He's versatile and he can do anything they ask him to do...He's going to be somebody to be reckoned with this year, for sure".
It'll be interesting to see what happens when Green returns to the line-up. But with Eifert impressing, Gresham rebounding, Charles emerging and a number of other receivers/backs jostling for snaps, the Cincinnati offense is looking jacked.