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NFL Team Report - Cincinnati Bengals - INSIDE SLANT
During the final moments of Monday's OTA practice, the ninth of 10 during the offseason program, Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis gathered his team near the end-zone goal line at Paul Brown Stadium.
Only seconds later, his voiced lifted above all others, with words easily audible halfway across the field. They weren't kind. They weren't glowing. They were immediately followed by multiple wind sprints.
Lewis witnessed a practice that moved along far too slow and sloppy for his liking considering the progress he felt the team made during its three-day minicamp the previous week.
It may be June, it may be 82 days away from the opener, but it's never too early to deliver an important message in Lewis' mind.
"I think that we want to remind them we don't want to be complacent at any point," Lewis said. "We can't be complacent, we can't be average, we have to make sure we keep working. We keep doing the little things correct and moving forward with them. We can't go sideways at any point."
A crop of 20 rookies and cast of new veteran pieces witnessed one of their first tone-setters from Lewis on the practice field. They don't come often as Lewis spends most practices quietly watching in the distance, entering the mix to help drills along and push tempo.
This speech and the intensity behind it proved a point that when this team returns for training camp July 24 they need to understand how he manages.
"I just had to do something different," Lewis said. "I expect things to run smoothly over the next couple of days and we are going to remind them of that. We are not going to hit a peak last week and start going downward, we want to keep going upward."
--All eyes have been on Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, on and off the field this offseason. Still, his contract negotiations have been just that. What he could control on the field makes everyone around the building more comfortable shelling over the cash.
"I think he's throwing the ball fantastic," offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. "I really do. He's improved. I see it. I see it on the practice field."
It's hard not to be optimistic in shorts in June at the first day of mini-camp. Everyone looks great this time of year, it seems, and a few impressive practices don't shadow one touchdown to six interceptions in three postseason losses.
But, the chatter among coaches and players has been of Dalton leaving an impression on them during the offseason program. His command is noticed. His control of the team is noticed. The compact power of his throw is felt by receivers after an offseason spent working with quarterbacks guru Tom House.
"The ball comes out quicker," Jackson said. "There's more urgency in his body. I just think all the way around he's improved. But we've got to keep improving. Again, we have a lot more practices before we get ready to play a game. So I'm excited about what the upside is, but I know we've got to go get there. We've got to keep chasing it every day to get there."
Dalton's found himself at home leading an offense where Jackson focused all energy on increasing the tempo. The speed can be seen by the naked eye and felt by the defense. Always strong with the mental aspect of the game, it's allowed one of Dalton's strengths to shine.
Coaches laud his ability to make the correct adjustments at the line and feed the proper spot consistently. Dalton finds comfort in the setup.
"Hue told me he wants to get the play in so he can start talking trash to the defense and not have to worry about it," Dalton said. "The rest of it is on me, getting guys lined up and everything. And that's how it should be. In a game-time situation, the quarterback is the one on the field getting guys lined up and everything, if it's not right. So Hue tries to create that atmosphere in practice."
NFL Team Report - Cincinnati Bengals - NOTES, QUOTES
--Wide receiver Cobi Hamilton, the Bengals' sixth-round draft pick from 2013, didn't finish off camp exactly the way he would like as he dropped a few passes he should have caught.
But that barely diminished what was a strong offseason and strong step toward making the Bengals 53-man roster.
Hamilton drew praise from receivers coach James Urban, who called him the most improved receiver on the team during a season spent on the practice squad. This from a player who rewrote the University of Arkansas record books with 90 receptions and 1,335 receiving yards his senior year.
He displayed flashes of brilliance during this month's offseason training camp, blowing by defensive backs and hauling in acrobatic contested catches in the back of the end zone.
Hamilton will spend much of the next month home in Texas decompressing, but understanding any slack has been eliminated as he returns for the open of camp.
"It's pretty hard trying to come in and get immediate playing time as a rookie," Hamilton said. "There's a lot of stuff you got to know off the field and on the field to earn your time. This year is completely different for me. I know exactly what I have to do to get on the field."
--This year's first-round pick, Darqueze Dennard, signed his rookie contract last Thursday and practiced for the first time as an officially paid member of the Bengals Tuesday.
While little drama was involved in striking a deal because of the rookie pay scale in the new CBA, he did feel better having the situation behind him.
"Yeah, it's a relief," Dennard said. "It's something that's crossed off. Something that I don't have to worry about. We can all just focus on football, and (I'm) doing whatever I can to help the team win. It's not about money or anything like that anymore. We're able to throw all that out of the way and get back to football."
--Head coach Marvin Lewis grew up in Western Pennsylvania learning football watching the era of Chuck Noll's Steelers. Noll passed away last weekend at the age of 82.
When Lewis arrived as an assistant with the Steelers in 1992 he recalls a team with a specific work ethic and toughness as a result of Noll's era that produced four Super Bowls, most by any coach.
"I think obviously the thing coach Noll did was he set a direction, they had a plan, they drafted for the plan, they developed for the plan very effectively and won championships," Lewis said. "That's the key element. He had a great temperament about him. He was a very physical person and he had physical football teams. He was demanding as a football coach. You learn from that."
NFL Team Report - Cincinnati Bengals - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A closer look at the Bengals' picks:
Round 1/24 -- Darqueze Dennard, CB, 5-11, 199, Michigan State
--The Bengals needed to get younger at corner and felt lucky Dennard slipped into their laps at 24. Most had him projected five to 10 picks earlier, but he fits perfectly into a man-press scheme.
Round 2/55 -- Jeremy Hill, RB, 6-1, 233, Louisiana State
--BenJarvus Green-Ellis isn't getting younger and Hill will provide the power running up the middle and explosive breakaway ability offensive coordinator Hue Jackson desires next to Giovani Bernard.
Round 3/88 -- Will Clarke, DE, 6-6, 271, West Virginia
--The Bengals needed a replacement for Michael Johnson and you can't get a more identical prospect than Clarke. He owns the sprawling wingspan the Bengals desire off the edge.
Round 4/11 -- Russell Bodine, C, 6-3, 310, North Carolina
--Bodine is a powerful man who can handle being the big center in the AFC North. The Bengals thought enough of him to trade up for only the third time in franchise history.
Round 5/164 -- A.J. McCarron, QB, 6-3, 220, Alabama
--The Bengals got their developmental quarterback behind Andy Dalton. McCarron is a proven winner and it wouldn't be insane to see him competing to start next season should problems arise with Dalton.
Round 6/212 -- Marquis Flowers, LB, 6-2, 231, Arizona
--Flowers brings speed and plenty of it. Plays well in space but will have a hard time making the 53-man roster.
Round 7/239 -- James Wright, WR, 6-3, 203, Louisiana State
--Only caught 25 passes without a touchdown for LSU and never broke through as a starter, but Bengals like him for special teams possibilities.
Round 7/252 -- Lavelle Westbrooks, CB, 5-11, 186, Georgia Southern
--A big hitter who plays well around the receivers.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--LB Michael Boley (not tendered as UFA).
--S Chris Crocker (not tendered as UFA).
--P Zoltan Mesko (not tendered as UFA).
--OT Dennis Roland (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--CB Darqueze Dennard (1/24): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--RB Jeremy Hill (2/55): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--DE Will Clarke (3/88): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--C Russell Bodine (4/111): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--QB A.J. McCarron (5/164): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Marquis Flowers (6/212): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR James Wright (7/239): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Lavelle Westbrooks (7/252): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Taylor Mays: UFA; terms unknown.
--G Mike Pollak: Potential UFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Vincent Rey: RFA tendered at $1.431M with no compensation); 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Dane Sanzenbacher: RFA tendered at $1.431M with no compensation); $1.2M/1 yr, $200,000 SB.
--TE Alex Smith: Not tendered as UFA; terms unknown.
--WR/KR Brandon Tate: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
--QB Jason Campbell: FA Browns; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--S Danieal Manning: FA Texans; terms unknown.
--DE Dontay Moch (waivers Cardinals).
--OT Marshall Newhouse: UFA Packers; terms unknown.
--CB R.J. Stanford: Not tendered as RFA by Dolphins; terms unknown.
--T Will Svitek: Not tendered as UFA by Patriots; terms unknown.
--T Anthony Collins: UFA Buccaneers; $30M/5 yrs, $15M guaranteed.
--C Kyle Cook (released).
--CB Brandon Ghee: UFA Chargers; $1.65M/2 yrs.
--LB James Harrison (released).
--WR Andrew Hawkins: RFA Browns (tendered at $1.431M with no compensation); Bengals didn't match offer of $13.6M/4 yrs.
--QB Josh Johnson (released).
--DE Michael Johnson: UFA Buccaneers; $43.75M/5 yrs, $16M guaranteed.
--QB Greg McElroy (released/retired).
--QB Zac Robinson (released/failed physical).