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NFL Team Report - Cincinnati Bengals - INSIDE SLANT
For the first time in his three training camps with the Bengals, quarterback Andy Dalton has stability in the players around him. All the starters are back on offense and they have depth in case there are injuries.
All of that is giving Dalton a confidence level not seen from him before. During the first week of camp, Dalton has looked and sounded the part of someone ready to lead the offense, declaring that this is his offense.
"I feel like I'm not just a lead by example out there, I'm also being vocal out there," Dalton said. "Now that I've played a couple of years, I've got some notches on my belt, so I feel like everybody knows that they can trust me. I feel like I'm able to be a really good leader for this, not only offensively, but for everybody as a whole."
There is looking and sounding the part but there is also the part of everyone buying in. With NFL Films here shooting "Hard Knocks," Dalton will be under the spotlight.
Besides feeling like the offense's leader, Dalton also feels like he has a better understanding of changing plays, protections and routes at the line of scrimmage.
For the second straight offseason, Dalton worked on his footwork and also in adjusting his release point on the deep ball. He also had more of a feel for his receivers. He has already built a rapport for finding first-round tight end Tyler Eifert. Mohamed Sanu has looked solid on intermediate routes while there is more consistency in connecting with Marvin Jones on deep passes.
The first three days of camp the offense was crisp but when the pads came on there were more mistakes.
"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."
Until the season opens on Sept. 8 at Chicago, the recent memory everyone has of Dalton is the 19-13 loss at Houston in the wild-card round, including the pass where he missed a wide open A.J. Green in the end zone.
Green said he still has a bitter taste from that game. He called it their worst performance of the season but they still had a chance to win it late.
"That's the last thing that everybody remembers: the playoff game," Dalton said. "It'll be good. I'm glad training camp has started. I'm glad the offseason is over. There's football back. It'll be good to get playing."
NFL Team Report - Cincinnati Bengals - NOTES, QUOTES
--After missing the first four practices due to a calf injury, right tackle Andre Smith was back on the field Monday as the Bengals held their second practice in full pads.
Smith signed a three-year, $18 million extension on April 26, but missed offseason workouts including the mandatory minicamp due to personal issues.
"Everyone has been real cool," said Smith. "Everyone understands I had some things going on. They understand that's life outside of football. Everybody took it pretty well."
With most concerned about Smith's conditioning, the fifth-year player reported at 342 pounds, which is near his playing weight. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden noted that he thought Smith was a lot stronger and bigger.
"We've just got to be sure he gets his legs under him and he can handle the heat play after play after play and not just take two and sit out," Gruden said. "He's got to be able to handle five-, seven-, eight-, 10-play drives. He'll slowly get in that shape."
--James Harrison is still having a bit of an adjustment period with the defense and has leaned on Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict to get up to speed.
"They're helping me out with things that I need to know on the field. It's a switch of positions for me so to speak where I'm learning from a younger guy," Harrison said.
Harrison was getting comfortable with the defense during OTAs and minicamp, but with the month away, he knew it was going to be a process again of getting back up to speed. Harrison will line up at SAM (outside) linebacker but could be in for only one third of the snaps.
Added Harrison: "Everyone is behind right now. We had a lot of the defense put in on Sunday. Maybe just as much defense we had the past three days."
--Second-round pick Margus Hunt has tons of athletic potential, but has only played the game for five years. That is why this season is being considered as a development year for the defensive end.
In the Oklahoma Drill, which means more for fans than it does to coaches, Hunt did get some leverage on offensive tackle Dennis Roland. This came a day after Hunt was pancaked by fullback John Conner during a 9-on-7 drill.
"There have been some days that are eye openers to say the least," Hunt said. "You have to move on to the next play though. I've still got some stuff to learn but I have felt good and strong in pads."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was starting to get my resume ready and was thinking of some of my old Arena Football buddies to call." -- Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden on the first thing he thought after A.J. Green's knee injury.
NFL Team Report - Cincinnati Bengals - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick missed all of offseason workouts as he recovered from knee surgery. After playing in only five games last season many wondered how much the second-year player could contribute. During the first four practices, Kirkpatrick has shown plenty of athletic ability while also showing improvement in technique.
"I'm more confident in the playbook, been studying a lot," Kirkpatrick said. "A lot of people thought I was just being out there not paying attention but I was in my playbook daily. Still asking questions, still is asking questions. It's pretty much the same technique, same steps from Alabama. Only thing I'm behind on getting put in certain situations I haven't seen or haven't been in, learning coach's language."
Kirkpatrick could end up vying with Adam Jones for time at the third cornerback spot.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: There isn't any separation at safety among Taylor Mays, George Iloka and Shawn Williams. All three have received equal time with the first team through the first four practices.
"They have a good competition. Each guy is trying to earn their spot and it's good," defensive backs coach Mark Carrier said. "They've all accepted it and working well with each other. Just see how it works out as camp goes."
Mays, who is going into his fourth year, usually receives the first snaps in 11-on-11 drills before things begin to rotate. Iloka didn't play any snaps on defense and was relegated to special teams last season, but he is hoping to make the jump in his second season like offensive guard Clint Boling did last year. Boling struggled in his rookie year but ended up starting 16 games last season.
Williams, who was selected in the third round, has continued to make progress and showed a little bit of his physicality the first two days in pads.
--WR A.J. Green suffered a knee bruise during the first day of practice and is expected to be out at least a week. It is similar to when he hyperextended his knee in a game against Pittsburgh in 2011.
--FB Chris Pressley (knee) and RB Bernard Scott (knee) are on the physically unable to perform list and are likely to remain on there through the first six weeks of the season.
--RB Cedric Peerman (ankle) is on the non-football injury list but could return to the practice field after the first preseason game.
QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Andy Dalton; Backups -- Josh Johnson, John Skelton, Zac Robinson.
Besides improving on the deep ball, Dalton can't take unnecessary sacks, which he did too often last year. If Dalton were to get injured though, who will step in? Skelton has more experience as a starter but Johnson is well versed in the West Coast offense. Johnson also has an edge in athleticism, with the ability to run some read option. The Bengals have gone with two quarterbacks the past two seasons so it is difficult to see them keeping three.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- BenJarvus Green-Ellis, FB Chris Pressley; Backups -- Bernard Scott, Cedric Peerman, Dan Herron, FB John Conner, H-back Orson Charles, Giovani Bernard, Rex Burkhead.
The position has been upgraded with the selection of Bernard, who could be in the mix for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Combined with the improvement that Green-Ellis made, five of the longest runs of his career came last year, the Bengals have two players that should bring some more balance to the offense. The last time this team went without a conventional fullback was 2010, and the running game suffered for most of the season until they signed Pressley, so there is doubt that it would work this time, even if this is a new scheme and personnel. Scott will need to have his best training camp in order to remain on the roster considering the value that Herron and Burkhead could provide on special teams.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Jermaine Gresham. Backups -- Tyler Eifert, Alex Smith, Richard Quinn, Bryce Davis.
The Bengals ran two-tight end sets only 23.5 percent of the time last season and that is likely to double this year. Eifert was used in a variety of spots during offseason workouts and can stretch the field. Gresham's numbers have increased each of his three years in the league, but he needs to shake off bad plays instead of letting them affect him for entire games.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu. Backups -- Marvin Jones, Andrew Hawkins, Brandon Tate, Ryan Whalen, Dane Sanzenbacher, Taveon Rogers, Cobi Hamilton, Tyrone Goard, Roy Roundtree.
Green continues to be one of the top receivers in the game and had a nine-game touchdown streak last season. He also showed a couple games where he became more of a possession receiver. The unit is more experienced as Sanu and Jones got lots of playing time last year. Sanu had a strong four-game stretch in November with 14 receptions and four touchdowns before a broken foot sidelined him for the rest of the season. Jones started to show some promise, especially in the last two regular-season games. While most of the attention on rookies was given to Eifert and Bernard, Hamilton also ended up having a solid OTA and minicamp. Depending on what happens in the return game, Tate is likely to be on the roster bubble while Whalen and Sanzenbacher will need to perform well in the preseason games on offense and special teams to bolster their stock.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Andrew Whitworth, LG Clint Boling, C Kyle Cook or Trevor Robinson, RG Kevin Zeitler, RT Andre Smith; Backups -- OT Anthony Collins, OT Dennis Roland, OG Travelle Wharton, OG/T Tanner Hawkinson, OT Reid Fragel, C T.J. Johnson, OG/C Mike Pollak, OG John Sullen.
Besides who will emerge as the starting center, the other big question is what kind of shape Smith will be in when he reports to camp. After signing a three-year, $18 million deal to remain with the Bengals, Smith missed the rest of offseason workouts and minicamp due to personal issues. Lewis said he has been monitoring Smith's conditioning via reports from Alabama. After the lockout in 2011, Smith did report in great shape.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LDE Carlos Dunlap, NT Domaka Peko, DT Geno Atkins, RDE Michael Johnson. Backups -- DE Robert Geathers, DE Wallace Gilberry, DT Devon Still, DT Brandon Thompson, DE DeQuin Evans, DE Dontay Moch, DE Margus Hunt, DT Terrence Stephens, DT Larry Black
For the past two years, the Bengals have had the deepest and one of the most talented defensive lines in the league. With 10 returning players and the drafting of Margus Hunt in the second round, this might mark the fourth time that they will go with nine defensive linemen. Dunlap, who has a new six-year, $40 million contract, figures to move into the starting lineup but in games usually all eight players are rotated in and out. Atkins has emerged as one of the top interior linemen in the league after having 12.5 sacks last year. Johnson had 11.5 sacks and could be one of the top ends on the market next year if he can duplicate that success. It will be a learning year for Hunt while Thompson needs to show progress or else he might be on the bubble. Two of the last three years, the Bengals have cut a third-round player who was in his second year.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB James Harrison, MLB Rey Maualuga, WLB Vontaze Burfict. Backups -- Emmanuel Lamur, J.K. Schaffer, Vincent Rey, Brandon Joiner, Aaron Maybin, Sean Porter, Jordan Campbell, Bruce Taylor, Jayson DiManche.
The starters are set but that's about it. Maualuga re-signed during the offseason but he has struggled the past two years in the middle while Burfict became the first rookie to lead the team in tackles in seven years. Maualuga dropped 20 pounds during the season and moved around better, but still has bad technique when it comes to reading running plays. If Maualuga continues to struggle, they could move Burfict to the middle and Lamur to one of the outside spots. The addition of Harrison should help the leadership in the room, especially with a young group. Considering how young the backups are, Maybin could have a chance because of his experience. DiManche has the best chance of the undrafted guys of making the roster.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Leon Hall, CB Terence Newman, S Reggie Nelson, S Taylor Mays. Backups -- CB Adam Jones, CB Chris Lewis-Harris, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, CB Brandon Ghee, CB Shaun Prater, S George Iloka, S Jeromy Miles, S Tony Dye, S Shawn Williams, CB Troy Stoudemire, CB Onterio McCalebb, CB Terrence Brown.
Hall is one of the more underrated corners in the league while Newman bounced back last year as he reunited with coordinator Mike Zimmer and had very few mental errors. Nelson has improved in coverage the past two seasons but still has the occasional lapse. Mays and Williams will vie for the other safety spot. Mays is a big hitter but struggles with technique while Williams is good in coverage. Jones will be the third corner in nickel packages and was very good with technique last season. The enigma remains Kirkpatrick who has struggled with injuries since being drafted. He is not a natural press corner and still faces a big learning curve to adapt to Zimmer's scheme. Ghee could be in the mix for third corner too because of his quickness.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Mike Nugent, P Kevin Huber, LS Clark Harris, P/K Quinn Sharp.
The Bengals ranked first in 10 special teams categories last season and have one of the best coverage units in the league. Huber is very good at pinning opponents inside the 20 while Miles and Peerman have been among the team leaders in tackles. Nugent is solid from inside the 40 but has had periods where he has suffered slumps in the middle of the season. He has also finished two of the last three years on injured reserve. Harris has not had an unplayable snap in four seasons. Sharp has a big leg, but with the extensions given to Nugent or Huber, we can't see him making the roster.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: DE Michael Johnson (tendered at $11.175 million; signed tender March 15).
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--CB Nate Clements (not tendered as UFA).
--S Chris Crocker (not tendered as UFA).
--LB Thomas Howard (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED (all picks signed)
--TE Tyler Eifert (1/21): $8,256,001/4 yrs all guaranteed, $4,384,364 SB/$765,409 RB 2016.
--RB Giovani Bernard (2/37): $5,253,340/4 yrs, $2,200,612 SB/$3,249,400 guaranteed.
--DE Margus Hunt (2/53): $3,671,100/4 yrs, $1,049,892 SB/$1,621,760 guaranteed.
--S Shawn Williams (3/84): $2,760,944/4 yrs, $555,944 SB.
--LB Sean Porter (4/118): $2,589,300/4 yrs, $429,300 SB.
--G Tanner Hawkinson (5/156): $2,342,424/4 yrs, $182,424 SB.
--RB Rex Burkhead (6/190): $2,262,200/4 yrs, $102,200 SB.
--WR Cobi Hamilton (6/197): $2,254,052/4 yrs, $94,052 SB.
--T Reid Fragel (7/240): $2,205,896/4 yrs, $45,896 SB.
--C T.J. Johnson (7/251): $2,205,896/4 yrs, $45,896 SB.
--DE Robert Geathers: Potential UFA; $9M/3 yrs, $3M guaranteed.
--DE Wallace Gilberry: Potential UFA; $6.3M/3 yrs, $2.1M guaranteed.
--LS Clark Harris: Potential UFA; $4.95M/5 yrs, $600,000 guaranteed.
--WR Andrew Hawkins: ERFA; terms unknown.
--P Kevin Huber: Potential UFA; $14M/5 yrs, $3.2M guaranteed.
--DE Michael Johnson: FFA; $11.175M/1 yr.
--CB Adam Jones: UFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Rey Maualuga: UFA; $6.5M/2 yrs, $2.25M SB/$250,000 RB and $250,000 WO 2013-14.
--S Jeromy Miles: RFA tendered at $1.323M with no compensation); terms unknown.
--CB Terence Newman: UFA; $5M/2 yrs, $1.5M guaranteed.
--K Mike Nugent: Potential UFA; $3M/2 yrs, $500,000 guaranteed.
--RB Cedric Peerman: Potential RFA; $2.165M/2 yrs, $350,000 guaranteed.
--TE Richard Quinn: UFA; $725,000/1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB Vincent Rey: ERFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--T Dennis Roland: UFA; $780,000/1 yr.
--RB Bernard Scott: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--T Andre Smith: UFA; terms unknown.
--WR/KR Brandon Tate: UFA; $966,000/1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB James Harrison: FA Steelers; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--QB Josh Johnson: UFA Browns; $1.895M/2 yrs, $500,000 guaranteed.
--LB Aaron Maybin: FA; $715,000/1 yr.
--G Mike Pollak: UFA Panthers; $780,000/1 yr.
--QB John Skelton (waivers Cardinals).
--TE Alex Smith: UFA Browns; $905,000/1 yr.
--CB Jason Allen (released).
--DE Jamaal Anderson (released).
--K Josh Brown: UFA Giants; $940,000 base/1 yr.
--QB Bruce Gradkowski: UFA Steelers; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Manny Lawson: UFA Bills; $12M/4 yrs, $3M SB/$4.6M guaranteed.
--RB Brian Leonard: UFA Buccaneers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--S Robert Sands (released).
--DT Pat Sims: UFA Raiders; $1.5M/1 yr, $250,000 SB.
--LB Dan Skuta: UFA 49ers; $3M/2 yrs, $300,000 SB.
--G Travelle Wharton (released).