A look at a few Cincinnati Bengals offensive players who have made strong impressions through the first five practices of training camp:

Carlos Dunlap: Expectations are high for the fifth-year lineman this season. They're so high that defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has already told him he better be a Pro Bowl selection.

Margus Hunt: The second-year player told reporters in Cincinnati on Monday that he felt more comfortable at his position compared to last season, and that work going against offensive tackles Anthony Collins and Andre Smith as a scout-team rookie helped give him a better idea of how to attack opponents.

Wallace Gilberry: It's easy to forget Gilberry because of the attention paid to Hunt, the native Estonian who had a basic understanding of his position previous to the coaching he received this past year. Gilberry plays with a veteran's savvy and can be used at different spots depending upon the situation.

Brandon Thompson: With Geno Atkins still rehabbing from an ACL tear, and Devon Still slowly returning from a back injury, Thompson has had his share of repetitions on the line's interior so far in training camp. Larry Black and Ross LaKendrick have mixed in at times with him. Thompson's name has been called often during camp, and typically for positive reasons.

Vontaze Burfict: He's still Vontaze Burfict. There's not much else to add, other than the fact he's already in midseason form with his trash-talking and physical style of practice play.

Jayson DiManche: He's been similarly vocal and energetic as he tries hard to earn a roster spot. Like his rookie training camp, DiManche has quite the fight on his hands this year, having to fend off a number of linebackers.

Emmanuel Lamur: It seems clear the Bengals will benefit from having Lamur healthy this year. Primarily a coverage linebacker, he will regularly line up against tight ends and some receivers. With the high number of good tight ends the Bengals will face his year, his return comes at a good time.

The 'Older' Corners: There are too many of them to list individually, so we're going to group the Bengals' veterans together here. Terence Newman and Adam Jones have been particularly impressive, breaking up a number of difficult passes through the first few days. Along with Burfict, they've been the biggest defensive playmakers of the camp. Leon Hall hasn't done much from a gameplay standpoint so far, but he is noteworthy because of his slow and steady return after his Achilles tear last year.

Darqueze Dennard: Cincinnati's first-round draft pick has filled in admirably for whichever of the older corners takes days off while he practices. Since the Bengals have tried taking things slow with Newman, Jones and Hall, Dennard has found himself playing a number of cornerback positions to account for their absences. His best play defensively has come the past two days as the Bengals' schedule has afforded him more chances to showcase his patented lockdown man-press ability. He's looked more comfortable in that regard, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. Dennard also has been part of a variety of special teams units, using his speed on kickoff coverage and his cover skills to hold gunners in check on punt returns.

Reggie Nelson:
The veteran safety hasn't been too flashy this camp, but he's had a solid enough work on the back end.
A look at a few Cincinnati Bengals offensive players who have made strong impressions through the first five practices of training camp:

Andy Dalton: The team's top signal-caller was praised by offensive coordinator Hue Jackson on Monday for beginning to make strides with his decision-making. He's seemed to have better velocity and accuracy on some of his deeper passes, too.

Giovani Bernard: So far, he's picked up where he left off last season, serving as the dynamic playmaker in the Bengals' offense. Cincinnati plans to use him in a greater variety of ways this season. Look for him to run a bit more and catch passes both from the backfield and after having been split-out wide or placed into the slot.

Jeremy Hill: Pass-blocking was among Hill's greatest traits as a college back at LSU. When the Bengals first incorporated those drills Sunday, he performed well, holding off linebacker Vincent Rey in blitz pickup. The rookie still appears in line to play the role of No. 2 back behind Bernard.

A.J. Green: He's been to the Pro Bowl every year of his career. Aside from a very rare drop in goal-line work Monday, he's looked well on his way to receiving a fourth selection to the all-star game.

Mohamed Sanu: With Marvin Jones out through the first five practices, Sanu has had more opportunities to prove himself as one of the "three amigos," the group he referenced Monday that includes him, Green and Jones. Sanu wasn't happy with his production last season and hopes to use his versatility as a receiver, passer and rusher to help ignite the Bengals' offense.

Brandon Tate: While much of the chatter surrounding Tate's apparent spot on the roster bubble has revolved around his lack of receptions with the Bengals (he has 14 in his three seasons in Cincinnati), he has tried during camp to prove he's more than just a kick returner. Once on Monday, he drew rookie Victor Hampton into the middle of the end zone before breaking off and peeling in the opposite direction, where he easily caught a touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone. Veteran moves like that will help him keep his spot on the roster as a receiver.

James Wright: Another player whose receiving numbers were down last year, the rookie has been among the biggest head-turners in camp. The seventh-round draft pick is fighting for a roster spot, and has so far done well in that regard. The ball has very seldom hit the ground when thrown in his direction. Cobi Hamilton also had a strong Monday, adding some intrigue to this battle for one of the final receiver spots.

Tyler Eifert: Much like Sanu who has taken advantage of Jones' absence, Eifert has benefited from Jermaine Gresham's training camp injury. As the current No. 1 pass-catching tight end, Eifert has been among Dalton's top targets so far.

Marshall Newhouse: It's not so much that Newhouse has played incredibly well or anything, but he's worth highlighting since he is getting a number of snaps in place of injured left tackle Andrew Whitworth. The increased reps in Cincinnati's offense will only be a positive for the veteran swing tackle who was added in free agency this offseason.

Trey Hopkins: The undrafted free agent has had his share of reps, as well, giving reason to believe he has the best chance of making the team of all the undrafted free-agent linemen the Bengals signed.

Russell Bodine: The rookie continues getting practice time just as he did in the spring. He still needs to hone his snapping ability after a miscue earlier this week.
Welcome to the Cincinnati Bengals' first off day of training camp.

[+] EnlargeDanieal Manning
Al Behrman/AP PhotoDanieal Manning, a free-agent pickup by the Bengals this offseason, says he hopes to contribute on special teams.
We begin with ith only one morning take, and we'll have our regular multiple "takes" again Wednesday. This lone take has to do with Danieal Manning, the veteran safety who came to Cincinnati via free agency.

While Manning's addition ought to aid the Bengals' establishment of secondary depth, he was brought on board for at least one more reason. A noted kick returner from his time in Chicago and Houston, his special teams versatility was a plus, too. He's quick to point out that he's not out to take any other player's job, but he's hopeful he can help this area of the Bengals' game.

"The guys we've got back there working are a set of explosive players that are definitely returners already or some that are hidden talents," Manning said. "You've got a lot of options on this team to put guys in who are comfortable enough to make the play. What I bring is just more experience."

Brandon Tate is another veteran with kick-return experience. He came into camp as Cincinnati's primary returner following his impressive season in 2013. Unlike what Manning is trying to do as a defensive back/returner, Tate wasn't used as regularly at his offensive position in 2013. Special teams was his forte. On offense, he caught just one pass. If the Bengals elect to use him more offensively this season, Tate says he'll be happy. But he'll also be just fine if his primary job is to return kicks again. He just wants to make the team.

Tate's comparable lack of versatility has made him a potential roster bubble candidate.

Manning, who has practiced as a returner, along with Tate, Cedric Peerman, and others, approaches kick-returning as a science. He broke down for me last week ways he focused on bursting past wedges and through seams in the past, and compared them with tweaks he might make if he has difficulty enacting those old ways. Like many things in football can be, kick-returning is about adjustments and improvisation, he said. It's also about figuring out whether you're a returner who uses his speed to set up the play, or one who shows off some physicality.

"That's the thing about it, you have to know your skill," Manning said. "I'm a fast guy, and I'm a physical runner. Some guys are fast and very elusive."

The nine-year veteran was one of the NFL's best physical returners before injuries started creeping in the past two years. He contends that injuries aside, his ability is still there. It's sometimes easy to forget how solid a returner Manning was when he played for the Bears between 2006-10, simply because of the punt returner who stole all the special teams headlines, Devin Hester.

Manning had 28 or more kick returns for the Bears each season between 2008-10, as the Bears paired him with Hester and Johnny Knox. Manning's best kick-returning season came in 2008 when he returned 36 kicks for an average 29.7 yards. Granted, that was seven seasons ago.

When it comes to setting up strong field position as a kick returner, Manning has given his teams slightly better starting field position than Hester and Tate. Offenses have an average 68.8 yards to travel following one of Manning's returns since he's been in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Hester's career returns on average set up field position that started drives 72.1 yards away from the end zone. Tate's returns have set up an average 75.0 yards for his offenses to travel. With respect to Hester, it's also worth mentioning that he has five career kick-return touchdowns while Tate and Manning only have one each.

As much as his defensive talents are currently a reason he's on the Bengals' roster, Manning's special teams background gives the Bengals a noted measure of experience that could at the very least make him a valuable meeting-room resource, if not a regular returning talent himself.
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CINCINNATI -- Late in Monday afternoon's practice, on one goal-line exercise, quarterback Andy Dalton stepped up in the pocket, then stepped back, rolled to his right away from more pressure, and threw the ball to an empty space well beyond the back corner of the end zone.

The play resulted in an incompletion. And his offensive coordinator couldn't have been happier.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
AP PhotoAndy Dalton has worked on becoming a smarter quarterback during the offseason.
"Good, Andy. Good job," Hue Jackson shouted as Dalton jogged back to the huddle.

Indeed, it was good recognition by the Cincinnati Bengals' long-embattled quarterback who has struggled in the past with deciding in similar scenarios of good defensive coverage and pressure whether he wants to tuck the ball and run, take a sack, throw it away or still try to complete the pass.

More often than not, his instinct in the past was to make the play work anyway. The end result of those decisions? Typically wobbly passes that fluttered into the hands of a defensive back who greedily picked off the pass that shouldn't have been attempted. A number of Dalton's 20 interceptions last season came when he tried to force a pass.

So for much of the offseason, Jackson made sure Dalton understood his decision-making had to improve.

"It was a huge emphasis," Jackson said. "First, one, it's what I believe in. It's what our staff believes in. But two, it's truly what the essence of playing quarterback is about: making sure you don't have negative plays for your team. You've got to do a great job of carrying everybody under your hand. When you've got the ball in your hand, it's just about making a good decision. He's worked his tail off at doing that."

One of the more telling comments Jackson made during a post-practice huddle with reporters was that he wanted Dalton to realize that his decision-making doesn't only impact the offense. It can impact the entire team.

"You've got to protect the offensive football team and our entire football team with the ball," Jackson said. "He's starting to understand that. The guy had 33 touchdowns last year. But if we can get him to where when those opportunities come that are not there, to get him to be good with the ball, then great things can happen with this football team."

On the first day of training camp Dalton accepted responsibility for what he felt was his role in the Bengals' 27-10 loss to the Chargers in January's wild-card playoff loss. He was right to do that, just as he was at other times the past seven months. He had three costly turnovers in the game. All in the second half, he lost a fumble and threw a pair of interceptions. The Bengals' four-point halftime deficit ballooned after the turnovers, and eventually the game was out of hand.

It's film of that game that has Jackson wanting to see more of the heady Dalton who threw that pass away Monday.

"That was outstanding," Jackson said. "That's what I'm looking for. My goal, my thing with him, is to get us to the next down with the ball. It's not always about throwing a touchdown pass.

"Sometimes we're going to play good defenses and they're going to do things that stop us. And when they do, we have to be a smart football unit to make sure we're making proper decisions. Which sometimes, you've just got to say, 'Uncle,' and throw it away. It might mean taking a sack. It might mean whatever those things are. But just get us to the next down with the ball and we'll have a chance."

Bengals Camp Report: Day 5

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:

  • The Bengals had barely finished stretching at the start of Monday's practice before Mohamed Sanu made his presence known. The receiver went in motion on one of the first plays of an 11-on-11 drill before he was handed the football. Right after taking it from quarterback Andy Dalton, Sanu stopped, pulled up and threw a pass -- one of the few he has even attempted, in practice or otherwise, since college -- to fellow receiver A.J. Green. The throw fell easily into Green's hands well down field and set the tone for what ended up being a strong day overall for Sanu. "Coach had me doing a little bit of everything," Sanu said about offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
  • In addition to throwing that pass, Sanu ran the ball once and, naturally, caught a few passes of his own from Dalton and other quarterbacks. While Sanu nor Jackson nor head coach Marvin Lewis will dare provide specifics about how they are using the receiver, they are all glad to have such a versatile playmaker on the roster. With Sanu a threat to do almost anything on the field, the Bengals know how big a challenge covering him, while also having to account for Giovani Bernard and Green, among others, can be.
  • Much of the Bengals' second fully-padded practice of training camp was spent working on short-yardage and goal-line situations. Running backs had to plow ahead on each play while defenders were charged with stopping them. It seemed like regularly during the third-and-short and fourth-and-short plays, the running backs were able to slither free for the first-down gain. On the goal line, however, the defense had its share of wins, breaking through and knocking down passing attempts, stopping running backs at the line of scrimmage or flushing quarterbacks out of the pocket and into forced throws. The units seemed split on the amount of time they respectively won battles in the trenches.
  • While the overall contact stepped up a notch Monday, the physical play that occurred Sunday may have been just a bit too much for several defenders. Linebackers J.K. Schaffer and Sean Porter got a little dinged after the first fully padded practice of the camp. That caused them both to stay in the training room Monday, while defensive end Robert Geathers and cornerback Adam Jones may have been receiving veterans' days off after the intense Day 4 workout. Neither was dressed Monday, but both were out on the practice fields. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick also was at practice but not participating after apparently tweaking a hamstring on Saturday.
  • The Bengals did lose one player to injury Monday. Offensive tackle Andre Smith ran into the locker room in the middle of the practice for an unspecified injury. Jackson said after practice he wasn't positive what the injury was but felt comfortable in affirming that the lineman shouldn't miss too much time. An off day couldn't have come at a better time for the Bengals. They won't practice Tuesday and will be back in action Wednesday.
CINCINNATI -- Geno Atkins has done it. So has Vontaze Burfict.

Now Carlos Dunlap believes it's his turn.

The Cincinnati Bengals' fifth-year defensive end said before training camp practice Monday that he would like to join Atkins and Burfict as the next Cincinnati defender to reach the Pro Bowl.

"Most definitely, that's been one of my personal goals: to get out there with those guys," Dunlap said, responding to a question about the Pro Bowl.

Dunlap's motivations for making it to the game were inflamed further in January by defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, who sent him a text message from Hawaii. Guenther was there as one of Burfict's guests. His message to Dunlap? It's time you get out here, too.

"He saw the guys that were out there, so for him to feel like I should have been out there, it just tells me that I need to put the work in and everything else will fall into place," Dunlap said.

Since 2006, Burfict and Atkins have been the only Bengals defenders selected to the Pro Bowl. Atkins played in the game in 2011 and 2012, and the former undrafted free-agent Burfict capped off his second season by reaching it for the first time last year. Before Atkins, the last Bengals defender to be selected to the Pro Bowl was cornerback Deltha O'Neal, who participated in the 2005 season's game.

"The Pro Bowl is based off numbers and fan support," Dunlap said. "We've got a good, strong fan base in Cincinnati here, so now I just have to go out and produce and put up the numbers."

Last season, Dunlap had a career-high in tackles (58) and finished with 7.5 sacks. He tied for the team sack lead with Wallace Gilberry. Dunlap also forced four fumbles, matching a career high set in 2012.
CINCINNATI -- As the Cincinnati Bengals get going with Day 5 of training camp Monday, here are three items we're going to be watching:

Defensive line a focus. Admittedly, it's been a challenge keeping tabs on the defensive line through the first four practices. Until the Bengals are permitted to do a bit more hitting, it's hard sometimes to gauge how well the line is playing compared to other positions in which it's a little more apparent how well they're executing. The defensive line's rotation also hasn't changed much since the spring. If there's one area that is set on the team, it's this one. Still, it's worth taking a peek at the line, specifically 360-pound LaKendrick Ross, a possible practice squad addition who is eager to learn NFL defensive tackle techniques.

Can Hill sustain his play? I'm also interested in watching rookie running back Jeremy Hill and seeing if he can sustain some of the solid play he showcased in Sunday's workout. He was good in blitz pickup and even better in some of the half-line drills the Bengals ran as they split up their weakside and strongside groups. Expectations are high for the second-rounder in this camp, and it's important to coaches to see steady growth. I'll be interested to see if he's able to keep it going Monday.

Tate more than a returner? Receiver and return specialist Brandon Tate is trying to prove to coaches that he's more than a pure return man. He wants them to value him as an offensive weapon, too. Versatility could be the difference getting one of the last roster spots. I'll be keeping tabs on how Tate is doing Monday.
One of the more intriguing storylines that we're tracking in Cincinnati Bengals training camp revolves around running back Giovani Bernard and the increased touches he's expecting this season.

He first heard during the spring that he was going to take on a greater share of the offensive load. He should be on the field more regularly and be put in better situations to see his number of touches increase from the 226 he had last year to somewhere closer to the neighborhood of 300.

By the extension of his position, quarterback Andy Dalton will play the largest role in the Bengals' offense this season. Receiver A.J. Green will be a big contributor, too. But no other skill player will be used like Bernard will.

"I don't know if it's the workload that's going to get more, it's more the type of plays that we're going to run with him in the game," running backs coach Kyle Caskey said after Sunday's practice. "We're going to expand his portfolio of plays and find different ways to get the ball in his hands in space. You get the ball in Gio's hands in space, he's dangerous."

That's not much of a secret. Take a look at film from Bernard's first home regular-season game last year against Pittsburgh on "Monday Night Football." He ripped off a 27-yard touchdown reception that was powered by his speed, agility and the positioning of his blockers deep downfield. It was his only catch in that game, but the screen pass and big gain set the tone for how well he can play if put in the right spaces.

Caskey, new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and the rest of the offensive coaches hope to put Bernard in those situations as often as possible this year. That could mean lining him out wide as a receiver, placing him into the slot or positioning him elsewhere on the field where he can catch passes. The same could be said for rookie Jeremy Hill, who has also been lauded for his ability to catch passes even if he isn't quite as explosive as Bernard.

"You don't necessarily have to hand it off and say, 'Hey, Gio got 260 touches last year out of the backfield.' Maybe he gets 260 to 300 touches but he gets them some other way," Caskey said. "Maybe he gets 200 out of the backfield but he catches 100 passes or however it is. We'll find a way to get the ball to him."

That said, does it really matter exactly how many rushes and receptions he has?

"No," Caskey said. "Of course we're going to limit certain parts of his game. It's a long season, sixteen games. And you don't want him to get hurt. Besides, we've got a huge talent pool in our running back room with the other guys we've got there. So it's not like he has to go in there and take all the reps."

But the Bengals still want him to take as many as he can. That's something Bernard is looking forward to.

"Whenever I have the ball, I feel explosive," he said. "I'm not going to say I don't get tired, but there's always that thing where when you have the ball, you've got to go full speed. The more opportunities, the more things you can do with the ball."

Here are a few other quick items to be aware of as the Bengals kick off Week 2 of camp:

Green-Ellis gets support. Veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis got a bit of a boost from Caskey, who said he was "still one of our guys." While some in the media, myself included, have said the writing seems to be on the wall for Green-Ellis and his stay in Cincinnati, the coach contends that nothing has changed as far as the staff is concerned. It has also been interesting to hear the type of support Green-Ellis has received from his teammates in practice this camp. Typically when he's got the ball in his hands, offensive and defensive players are shouting more encouraging words to him than you hear for anyone else.

Campbell part of project. Found it interesting over the weekend that The Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Northeast Ohio Media Group were in the middle of a summertime project that saw them catch up with all the men who played quarterback for the Browns since 1999. Yes, that's a long list. Be happy that you've had relative consistency at that position over the years, Bengals fans. Ranking 20th on the Plain Dealer's list was current Bengals backup Jason Campbell, who spent part of last season in Northeast Ohio. You can read about Campbell's post-football plans there, too.
Examining the Cincinnati Bengals' roster:

The Bengals were content with having just two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster last season, but expect them to take three this year. McCarron would be the odd man out, but since they drafted him this year and made him a de facto heir apparent to the position in case something happens with Dalton in the next few seasons, they probably won't cut him or place him on the practice squad. In Campbell, the Bengals also get a tried and true veteran who could step in if Dalton's play is unsatisfactory, or if he gets hurt.


This grouping includes Charles at H-back, meaning the Bengals are more likely to take four true running backs. I'd argue that neither Burkhead, Peerman nor Charles is a lock right now to make the team, but there are compelling reasons for each being part of the 53-man roster. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and James Wilder Jr. also have real chances to be part of the full roster. Although his carries have been limited early in training camp, Green-Ellis still has made the most of the few he has had. Multiple times on runs over the weekend, you could hear teammates shouting their support as he carried balls into the second and third levels of the defense.


The top three on this list are locks to make the team. The true battle during training camp will be for the other two spots. If this group holds, that means veterans Brandon Tate and Jasper Collins, former Bengals practice squad player Cobi Hamilton, undrafted rookie Colin Lockett, and recently added free agents Jeremy Johnson and Conner Vernon won't make the team. Alex Neutz was released last week. Of the possible cuts listed here, Tate would be the real notable one after performing well as a kick returner and filling in at punt returner last year. With a fully healthy secondary around him, expect Adam Jones to get back to returning punts. While the Bengals will give Tate opportunities to contribute in the passing game (he's had only 14 catches in three seasons with Cincinnati) this preseason, Sanzenbacher can also do much of what Tate can. Sanzenbacher has been more consistent in the passing game and could fill in as a returner on punts or kickoffs. Hamilton's size (6-foot-2) and leaping ability make him a possible pick to make the team, but performance would be a reason for cutting him. Wright's special-teams background and his strong showing in minicamp and organized team activities make him a possibility too.

So far, Tate has been among the most sound and steady receivers of camp. He's had several noteworthy catches and has been praised by coaches for his route-running. Hamilton has been less impressive, dropping or bobbling mutliple passes.


Gresham is entering a contract year, and expectations have never been higher for him. To meet them, he'll have to first overcome a back injury that has prevented him from practicing so far. Along with Gresham, Eifert and Smith should be part of the main roster. Kevin Brock and Ryan Hewitt also are competing for spots at the position.


It's possible the Bengals end up taking only nine linemen so they can fit additional players at other positions. For instance, they could end up taking another running back or another receiver. It's common for most teams to have nine or 10 linemen, and this group seems to provide the versatility coaches are seeking. Of the undrafted free-agent linemen the Bengals signed this year, Trey Hopkins -- a versatile guard who was used in a variety of ways this spring -- has the best shot to make the team, but even he's just barely left off this list.


The only player on this list who wasn't on last year's 53-man roster is Will Clarke. The rookie was drafted in the third round in May. He effectively takes the roster spot of Michael Johnson, who signed with Tampa Bay in the offseason. This may be the most set group on the team. Another name to watch, though, is 360-pound LaKendrick Ross. The defensive tackle was added nearly two weeks ago and could give the Bengals an added run-stopping presence in certain situations. He hasn't played much football, though, so coaches have a tall task teaching him schemes and concepts, and reaffirming fundamentals.


Like the receivers, the top spots at linebacker are pretty much squared away. In this case, it's a veritable lock that Vontaze Burfict, Emmanuel Lamur, Vincent Rey and Rey Maualuga will make the team. The two remaining linebackers, on the other hand, will be part of one of the better position battles on the team. DiManche and Flowers have the best chances among the rest of the outside linebackers to make the team, but they'll have to fend off Sean Porter, Brandon Joiner and James Davidson too. Dontay Moch could make the team because of his versatility as a stand-up defensive end and hybrid linebacker. J.K. Schaffer was snubbed on this list at middle linebacker, but there's a lot about his drive and internal makeup that could make him a repeat roster surprise.


The top four positions are effectively locked down. Kirkpatrick runs the risk of being cut for performance reasons, but it's unlikely he will be dismissed because the Bengals would take a $1.2 million cap hit if they let go of the former first-round pick. The sixth cornerback spot will be a battle between Hampton, R.J. Stanford, Lavelle Westbrooks, Chris Lewis-Harris and Onterio McCalebb. Hampton has some versatility and ability the Bengals like, as well as special-teams leanings.


This may end up being one of the tougher cuts Bengals coaches have, if they end up keeping just four safeties. Taylor Mays would be the odd man out in this situation, which might come as a surprise given how well his spring and summer practices have gone. Nelson and Iloka are virtual locks, Manning seems like a good veteran addition and Williams factors into the team's future at the position.


These guys aren't going anywhere. The punter, kicker and long snapper will make the team.
CINCINNATI -- BenJarvus Green-Ellis' future with the Cincinnati Bengals first appeared in doubt back in early May when the Bengals drafted running back Jeremy Hill out of LSU.

The rookie is bigger than Green-Ellis. He's faster and clearly younger, too. His legs have several years left in them. Not the one or two Green-Ellis' presumably have remaining.

Such evidence, it would seem, suggests the writing is on the wall for Green-Ellis.

But the Bengals aren't yet making plain any assertions of that sort, as they continue to believe there remains a place on the team for the 29-year-old known throughout the league for his dependable hands. Running back coach Kyle Caskey relayed such sentiments Sunday afternoon when he reaffirmed his commitment to the back who is anchoring the team's training camp backfield battle.

"Benny is still one of our guys and Benny is still getting the same amount of reps that Benny's always gotten," Caskey said. "Nothing's been taken away from Benny."

Caskey's comments come after Green-Ellis was moved from his first-team duties last season to the second- and third-team units during minicamp and organized team activities. He's begun training camp behind Hill and starter Giovani Bernard, and doesn't appear poised to emerge from their shadows any time soon.

Backups Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead have been among the backs getting repetitions with Green-Ellis below Bernard and Hill. One or both could threaten to take the veteran's spot.

Just four days into camp, it's tough to tell whether either will end up doing that. Actually, if Green-Ellis' spot on the roster came down to popular player opinion, it would appear that he would be overwhelmingly kept. Few players receive the type of support from the players standing on the sidelines than Green-Ellis has gotten so far.

Whenever he cuts back on an inside run or catches a screen pass out of the backfield, a steady stream of "Attaboy, Benny" erupts from the side. It's clear the veteran is liked and respected by his peers on both sides of the ball.

"He's a pro's pro," Caskey said. "He helps lead our young guys, and he helps bring them on. He does everything you ask him to do. He's been playing for a long time for a reason. He'll continue to play."

Ahead of his second NFL season, Bernard said during the offseason that he admired Green-Ellis.

"To have somebody like Benny who not only played here, but who played in New England and who plays the game the way he does, who understands it the way he does, you can learn a lot from somebody like that," Bernard said. "And I did. I continue to ask him questions.

"Whether he is here or not, I will still ask him questions. That's a person I'm going to rely on. That's a person I'm going to lean on because he understands the game very well."

Much of the knock on Green-Ellis this offseason came after his production declined last season. After averaging 3.9 yards per carry his first season with the Bengals in 2012, he rushed for just 3.4 yards per carry last year. He also saw his receptions plummet from 22 in 2012 to four last year. Also, after not having a fumble through his first four seasons, he now has five in his last two.

Production decreases aren't among the Bengals' chief concerns right now, though. They simply want to see how well he fits into their running back rotation through this camp. If he fits to their liking, he will make the team.

If he doesn't make the team this year or gets let go at the end of 2014 or sometime after, the Bengals just hope younger backs like Bernard truly have been taking notes.

"He won't play forever. Nobody does," Caskey said. "But he can pass on his [leadership] traits to Gio. And Gio can pass them on to Jeremy. And Jeremy can pass those on to the next guy or whatever the case may be."

Green-Ellis' task for now is to stockpile as many lessons as he can, and to teach them for years to come, not days.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 4

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:
  • The most anticipated activity of the weekend, Sunday's previously scheduled Oklahoma drill, was scrapped at the last minute by head coach Marvin Lewis, in part due to an overabundance of caution. "We know who 35-40 of our players are going to be," he said to reporters after Sunday's practice. "Let's make sure those 35 or 40, we give them every opportunity to get to Baltimore in one piece." The Bengals open the regular season at the Ravens on Sept. 7. On Saturday, a few players and coaches expressed mixed feelings about the physically demanding, collision-focused drill. Linebacker Rey Maualuga said he wasn't sure what the exercise had to do with football. Lewis backed his sentiments slightly, adding Sunday afternoon that the Bengals "got the same thing out of" the Oklahoma-less practice.
  • Rookie running back Jeremy Hill was among the players who did wish to participate in the drill. He said he and some of his offensive teammates were getting tired of some of the trash talking their defensive counterparts were doing. "Those guys have been yapping all week," Hill said. "But that bravado is what allows them to play better. I'm glad we have a defense that plays with swagger and plays fast." Instead of mixing in the Oklahoma drills, the Bengals incorporated a few half-line and blitz pickup/receiver-blocking exercises that allowed the fully padded players to get some contact. On the blitz pickup drills Hill was part of, he won both times he was paired with linebacker Vincent Rey. Those were two noteworthy plays in an afternoon that also saw him run aggressively as he slipped in and out of holes on some of the first inside runs the Bengals have worked on in this training camp.
  • Another running back, Rex Burkhead, had what I'd consider the feel-good play of the day. After getting knocked down during one of the aforementioned interior 11-on-11 runs and getting trapped underneath the dogpile, he got right up, bounced outside and sprinted another 20 yards downfield. It was the type of hustle play that can turn heads and earn the kind of brownie points a player on the fringe of the 53-man roster needs. You can read more about Burkhead's knack for finishing practice plays off here.
  • The actual play of the day came late in the practice when backup cornerback R.J. Stanford disrupted what looked like a sure long first-down catch for receiver Cobi Hamilton. On the play, quarterback Andy Dalton waited for Hamilton to race past Stanford on the post route and lobbed a deep pass over the middle that had the right amount of air underneath it. As Hamilton got in position to catch it, Stanford jumped and swung his arm at the last moment, forcing a break-up as Hamilton hit the turf without what previously looked like an easy reception.
  • Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was the only addition to Cincinnati's group of injured. He didn't participate in the practice after coming out in the middle of Saturday's session due to an apparent hamstring injury. It's not expected to be a serious ailment that will keep him out for too long. Corner Leon Hall was back into the mix in most coverage drills as fellow veteran Terence Newman received a day off from that part of the practice. The Bengals are slowly trying to ease Hall back into full action after his Achilles tear last year. Rookie Darqueze Dennard has benefited from more reps as a result.
CINCINNATI -- As the Cincinnati Bengals get going with Day 4 of training camp Sunday, here are three items we're going to be watching:

Full pads come on. For the first time this training camp, the Bengals will put on shoulder pads and padded practice pants as they step up the contact. It's a new phase of the camp and should step up the energy, intensity and excitement level on the practice fields. Rookies and veterans alike look forward to this day because they can finally hit again. As linebacker Vincent Rey said, "Football is movement and contact. Let's get some contact in."

Oklahoma Drill Day. Few contact-focused exercises are as entertaining in training camp as the Oklahoma drill. In it, a defender tries to beat a blocker and wrap up a ball carrier who is handed the ball from the quarterback. Some players like it, some players hate it. There's a similar split among coaches, too, with all hoping they come out of such drills healthy. It'll be interesting to see which players win which matchups.

Weather a factor? Well, the weathermen got it wrong Saturday. Reports had indicated storms might be a factor during the afternoon. Instead, they rolled through with a vengeance after nightfall. The forecast for Sunday afternoon is much less favorable, according to the National Weather Service. Hail, tornadoes and severe winds could roll through this part of the Ohio River Valley around midday. The threat of severe weather diminishes as the afternoon goes on, but at the very least, the Bengals could get wet ball work as they practice on a potentially wet field. It's worth watching the weather all afternoon because the Bengals don't have an indoor practice facility and would be forced to wait until any severe threats pass. Practice is slated to begin at 3 p.m. ET.
CINCINNATI -- For some, it's the most anticipated moment of training camp.

For others, it's a pain they would rather not endure.

Ahead of Sunday afternoon's Oklahoma drill, the first fully padded, live contact exercise of their training camp, the Cincinnati Bengals offered mixed reviews on the necessity of the task.

"[It's] overblown for me," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. "The faster that gets over with, the better for me. I'd just like to get to football."

The Oklahoma drill. Old-school football. The sport's roots. The most fundamental drill there is to determining how physical and overpowering a player actually can be. Regarded as a battle of will and determination, it has been viewed in some circles as a drill that shows how hard a player will fight to either finish off a tackle, break a tackle or to block in hopes of preventing a tackle.


The drill involves four players. Each is lined up within the narrow confines of a rectangle that's roughly 5 yards wide. One player is a defender. Another is a blocker. The third is a quarterback and the fourth is a running back. Quarterbacks, of course, do not get hit. They simply take a football, turn around and hand it off to the back who will try to follow a hole created by his blocker and slip away from the defender trying to tackle him in the small space.

It's a test to see how powerful the blocker and running back are, and how physical and savvy a defender can be.

"It's football," linebacker Vincent Rey said. "You come down, try to get on the block, get off the block and make the tackle.

"I like it."

In Cincinnati, the drill may take on a slightly different meaning than in other places, primarily because of the notoriety that has come to the Bengals' version of the drill, thanks to two showings of it on HBO's "Hard Knocks." Last summer, the drill was among the most entertaining parts of the first episode. Defensive linemen and offensive linemen were paired together. H-backs and fullbacks squared off with defensive ends and linebackers. Receivers and cornerbacks made contact, causing loud crunching noises to echo throughout the practice fields with the pop of their pads.

Last year's Oklahoma drill was so popular that dozens of fans walked up the walkway of a bridge that overlooks the practice fields and watched as the hitting commenced.

Rey is one of the few who like the drill. Fellow linebacker Rey Maualuga shares Guenther's sentiments on the exercise. He'd rather coaches used other things to test toughness, competition and team unity.

"If you don't make the tackle, does that make you less of a player?" Maualuga asked rhetorically. "Everyone is just worried about the initial contact. Everyone thinks of the Oklahoma drill as a smashmouth, downhill, who's going to get the upper hand kind of drill. You can dominate the blocker but not make the tackle. Does that mean you lost? I don't think so."

Maualuga, 27, also hit on the most concerning aspect of the drill for him: age.

"The older you get, you're just trying to get through it," he said.

Rookies have every reason to embrace the drill and enjoy it, he added. It's one of the first real tests they have to see where they stand. Otherwise, all others could do without it.

"[As a rookie] you want to impress your teammates," Maualuga said. "Since it will be Sunday, I'm assuming fans go to church and then come to practice, so there's going to be a bigger crowd. Everyone knows the Oklahoma drill's coming. People are going to talk: 'Oh, this guy lost. We thought he was going to win but he didn't.' It's a drill. It doesn't mean you're good or not good. It's just a chance for everyone to hit somebody."

As much as the competition and energy release can be good for certain players, the bottom line is the Bengals want to make sure they come out of the exercise healthy.

"We're trying to get out of that drill feeling good," Maualuga said. "That will probably be the first thing we do after stretching and individual drills. But we've still got four other periods we have to get through. What it will do is just set the tone for practice."

Bengals fans around Cincinnati eager to see the Oklahoma drill can show up at Paul Brown Stadium starting at 2:30 p.m. ET. Gates open at that time and practice begins 30 minutes later.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 3

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Cincinnati Bengals' training camp:
  • Offense was the big story for the Bengals through the first two days of training camp, but on Saturday, defense stole the headlines. Cornerbacks Adam Jones and Darqueze Dennard had a few key pass breakups and interceptions in a practice that hinged largely on third-down play. Jones rebounded after giving up a few receptions in one-on-one drills with receivers. By the end of the 11-on-11 portion of practice, he was stopping most everything that came his direction. Arguably his most noteworthy pass breakup occurred off a play-action fake from quarterback Andy Dalton. As Dalton threw off his back leg and hung a deep pass to A.J. Green, Jones turned and jumped in the path of the ball, knocking it down. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said Jones has played with good technique through the first three days. He added that veteran Terence Newman has as well. "It's good for our younger guys to see how they play and how they're out here competing every snap."
  • One of those younger players, the rookie Dennard, had the play of the day when he dove full length for a Dalton pass that flew wide of its mark. It was hard to tell whether Dalton threw the pass to the wrong spot or if the receiver ran the wrong route, but Dennard, playing in the familiar lockdown style that was his hallmark at Michigan State, saw the ball heading toward the sideline even as the receiver didn't. Players and fans both reacted favorably to the pickoff. "Saturday] was the first day we could play press-man on the receiver, and that's what he did at Michigan State, so he's back in his comfort zone doing what he does. He's just got to continue to get better and work on his technique, and going against good receivers every day will help him."
  • One of the cornerbacks who did not take part in the live offense vs. defense portions of the workout was Leon Hall. The veteran is still rebounding from an Achilles tear that ended his 2013 season in Week 7. It was out of an abundance of caution that the Bengals held him out of most of the practice, even though he still participated in position-specific drills early in the session. Although he's fully recovered from the serious injury, the staff still wants to ease him back into action.
  • Along with Hall, the Bengals are taking a similar slow approach with offensive linemen Clint Boling and Mike Pollak. The left guards are rotating days on and off for the foreseeable future. After Boling started at the position Thursday, Pollak took his share of snaps Friday. Keeping with the rotation, Boling claimed the starting reps at the spot Saturday. Both still dressed in the shoulder pads-and-shorts attire the rest of the team sported as the full-gear acclimation period begins to slow down. The team will be in full pads Sunday.
  • The Bengals had two injuries during Saturday's practice. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick pulled up, holding his right hamstring, after using good coverage to prevent Green from catching a pass from Dalton off a deep go route. Kirkpatrick was stretched out but didn't return to practice. Defensive tackle LaKendrick Ross had a minor injury as well, jogging off the field at one point for treatment. He ended up returning and finishing the practice.