AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals

CINCINNATI -- It was rather surprising to me that on Tuesday, some four days after the Cincinnati Bengals' backup offenses first took blitz after first-team New York Jets blitz, we were still discussing the issue.

Scott
Was it really that big of a deal? Did the blitzes that came long after starting quarterback Andy Dalton was out of the game help fluster third-string-turned-second-string quarterback Matt Scott? Is it possible they played a big role in the Bengals' lack of offensive firepower after Dalton's departure and the eventual 25-17 loss Saturday night?

No, yes and most definitely yes.

I mean, this is the NFL. Teams blitz. Teams try to win by exploiting opposing teams' weakest links. Teams also talk trash -- even in the preseason -- and play extremely physical -- even in the preseason. It happens. So why then did this storyline take on such a life of its own early this week?

The answer to that question is unclear, but what is evident is the fact Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander didn't like the continued blitzing on his reserve-filled offensive line after the first quarter. It's also clear Jets head coach Rex Ryan isn't too apologetic for bum-rushing the Bengals' young backup quarterback and trying to intimidate Cincinnati's overall offense.

"We weren't going to be a punching bag," Ryan told reporters in New York on Monday.

Ryan's defenses have long been known for their physicality and probably had a point to prove after last October's 49-9 loss in Cincinnati. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson even said the week before he and his teammates "owed" the Bengals for the blowout. He vowed aggressive play from his team when it visited Paul Brown Stadium for the preseason game.

The Jets did just that. They were flagged 12 times for 133 yards, including a whopping six penalties that were the result of personal fouls. The most egregious came when the Jets were on offense after offensive lineman Willie Colon roughed up Bengals cornerback Terence Newman after Newman intercepted a pass. Colon contended he didn't hear a whistle and wanted to make sure Newman was down after he got up off the turf possibly untouched. Newman's helmet came off with Colon's shove, resulting in Bengals defensive end Margus Hunt violently shoving away another Jets lineman.

The two New York linemen were tagged with personal foul penalties early in a game that was filled with them.

When the Bengals were on offense, they were given similar rough treatment by a blitz assault that annoyed Alexander.

"Notice he didn't bring that stuff when our starters were out there," Alexander said Monday. "We'd have scored quicker. If he wants to put his starting defense out there and blitz all that garbage against our third-stringers, if he feels good about it, then all the power to him."

Jets defensive starters remained in the game well into the second quarter, and kept coming after Scott. Dalton and the starting offense left the field after just three series and an 8-for-8 performance from Dalton that included a 21-yard pass to A.J. Green in the flat as the Jets brought one blitz. As injured backup Jason Campbell pointed out Monday, once the Bengals beat that blitz, the Jets didn't bring another one on Dalton's crew.

The Bengals also shouldn't worry about the blitzing because it did nothing but prepare the line for what's coming in less than three weeks. Even if rookie center Russell Bodine wasn't on the field for the most intense rushes, other backups such as Mike Pollak, Trey Hopkins and Tanner Hawkinson were. On the off-chance that something happens to Cincinnati's starting linemen this season, the reserves need to be ready to communicate through such blitzes together.

"You try to think all preseason is going to be so vanilla, and then you get in a game like that where you really have to make sure you know who you're responsible for and who the other guys are going to," Pollak said. "It's just a good awakening experience to see those younger guys go through."
CINCINNATI -- If you had the opportunity to watch the Cincinnati Bengals' open training camp practices earlier this month, you probably heard one word shouted more frequently and more emphatically than any other.

Finish!

[+] EnlargeBengals offensive line
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanThe blocking by the Bengals' offensive linemen won't just be focused at the line of scrimmage in 2014.
It was a command most often given by offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, receivers coach James Urban and running backs coach Kyle Caskey. Their goal: to get the skill players on offense to continue running downfield even if they had been "tackled" or stood up by a defender or series of defenders who had touched them down. That encouragement was referenced in this ESPN.com story last month on running back Rex Burkhead, the now-injured back who was upheld as an example of finishing practice-play runs even after he got knocked down.

Running backs and receivers weren't the only ones prodded to keep going, though. Offensive linemen were, too. If the 300-pound blockers get up and down the field the way they have so far this preseason, the Bengals believe they will be in good shape when the regular season starts.

"It's an emphasis every team has this time of year, but the key is we're working hard to actually get it done," right guard Kevin Zeitler said. "As you know, we had a couple of fumbling issues at times last year and it would have been nice if we had been there to pick them up."

Fumbles and the possibility of having linemen there to help scoop them up aren't the only reasons behind the added push to get linemen downfield. By getting linemen automatically running downfield, the pace of the Bengals' no-huddle offense could get quickened, too. Additionally, Jackson believes that by getting all of his players to flow to wherever the football is, he'll enhance the intensity and aggressive nature he's trying to instill in Cincinnati's offense.

"That's how you get bigger runs," he added.

In a recent film session he showed evidence of what downfield blocking can do. He put on screen one lengthy Bengals run that was sparked in part by receiver A.J. Green, who rode a defender into the sideline, helping open an alley.

"To me when our star players do that, it shows that they're into it like everybody else," Jackson said.

"It's just got to be the mindset. It's my mindset," he added Monday. "You've got to become that and do it every day. It can't be a sometime thing. I told the guys this morning, if you're going to play on our offensive football team, you've got to demonstrate those characteristics, and they have."

One of the in-game instances of finishing that Zeitler was proud of came in the first quarter of Saturday's 25-17 loss to the Jets after he and center Russell Bodine had trouble holding off defenders at the line of scrimmage. As a result of their issue at the snap, a screen pass to the right to tight end Jermaine Gresham very nearly resulted in a lost-yardage play. But because Zeilter and Bodine didn't resign themselves to the play being over, they cleared a post-catch hole that Gresham scooted through to turn an apparent negative play into a 9-yard gain.

Quarterback Andy Dalton has noticed the extra attention his linemen have made in trying to get down the field even after the ball has been thrown, and believes it's paying off. So does veteran leader and Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who echoed Jackson's sentiments when he pushed Jackson's desire to get the entire unit to showcase that scrappy style of play.

Whitworth would rather point to some of the less recognizable intangibles like players finishing to Jackson's liking, as a theory behind why the first-team offense has looked so impressive through two preseason games. Dalton's stats, including his perfect passer rating last weekend, are good, Whitworth said. But they wouldn't be so high if it weren't, in part, for some of what Jackson is reinforcing.

"That kind of thing," Whitworth said, "is the kind of mentality that helps you win football games."
CINCINNATI -- If the regular season were to begin this week, rookie Russell Bodine would be the Cincinnati Bengals' starting center.

According to offensive line coach Paul Alexander, there's no ifs, buts or maybes about that. Alexander believes Bodine is the guy at the position. From what I've been able to tell after three weeks of training camp practices and two preseason games, he probably should be.

[+] EnlargeRussell Bodine
Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesRookie Russell Bodine has impressed the Bengals and could be Cincinnati's starting center.
"Right now it's full speed ahead with Bodine," Alexander said Monday afternoon, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. "That kid has so much talent; he's loaded with talent. He has a tough, physical demeanor and he can block the big nose guards in our division. He's exactly the type of player we've been looking for."

At the moment when Alexander spoke with reporters from the Enquirer and Bengals.com, I was chatting with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson about Bodine and a few other unrelated topics. So I missed Alexander's firm pronouncement, and didn't hear about it until perusing Twitter moments later after the post-practice availability had ended.

Jackson didn't know about it at that moment, either.

I mention that because during our chat, Jackson didn't have the same unequivocal belief that Bodine's name was scribbled in red -- or in this case, orange -- ink on the Bengals' opening-day depth chart. While Jackson contended he likes much of what Bodine has done thus far as the team's starter at center, he still hasn't completely shut down the possibility that veteran Mike Pollak could earn starting time at the position.

"We're going to play it out and see how it goes," Jackson said. "[Pollak] is a returning player who has played here and played well for us. Like anybody, he deserves an opportunity to see what he can do with the guys. We'll see how it all unfolds. Pollak is very important to us and what we do."

Then, most importantly, Jackson added: "I'm sure [head coach] Marvin [Lewis] will figure that one out as we move forward."

As much as Bodine's position coach may say the position battle is over, it technically isn't.

But it should be.

Yes, Bodine has had his shown inexperience with his share of rookie miscues. Yes, his snaps have been problematic at times this preseason. And yes, the recently-injured Pollak gave the Bengals valuable minutes as an interior lineman at right guard last season when Kevin Zeitler injured his foot.

While those statements are true, so are these. Bodine has become more comfortable and stable at the position. He has cleaned up his snap issues in recent days, playing a completely clean game Saturday against the Jets in that regard. Bodine also has shown some of the physicality and strength that made him instant eye candy for the Bengals in May while they were looking for mid-round linemen in the draft.

As much as Bodine's snap issues may have caused headaches at times in training camp, his overall play has been the magic pill that's made them go away.

"He has the right characteristics," Jackson said. "Every now and then, there's a [botched] call or two here or there, but I've been happy with him. Don't get me wrong, I'm going to push him as far as I can push him because again, I want all these guys to achieve and be as good as they can be."

Few plays encapsulate Bodine's value like the Bengals' goal-line push on third-and-1 late in the first quarter of Saturday's game. As the play began and running back Giovani Bernard got stood up at the line of scrimmage, Bodine and the rest of the offensive line started pushing him and the Jets' defense into the end zone. As Jackson put it, a "glob of bodies" fell foward with Bernard in tow.

The push resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run.

"You get on the goal line, your offensive line has to take pride and get the ball in the end zone," Bodine said. "You can't get that close and not get in the end zone.

"That's kind of a statement situation for all of us."

The message that play clearly sent to Alexander? The rookie's ready.
CINCINNATI -- Earlier this summer, many of the people behind ESPN's NFL coverage sat down and ranked the best current players in the league.

It was all for ESPN.com's #NFLRank series, which debuted Monday with player rankings 100-91. Offensive players and defensive players were separated, meaning the rankings cover the top 100 players on offense and the top 100 on defense.

Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth made it on Monday's reveal, landing at No. 92 among offensive players. It's likely you won't see many offensive linemen crack the top 10 or top 20, but it does still seem kind of early to see Whitworth's name on this list. He was, after all, named the No. 9 player on Pro Football Focus' top 101 players list earlier this year.

The PFF rankings took into account the site's position and game grades for individual players. According to PFF, Whitworth earned top-20 grades at left tackle and left guard last season. Whitworth played left guard following Clint Boling's ACL tear in the Bengals' Week 13 game at San Diego. Cincinnati's offense seemed a little more physical with Whitworth there. The move was a selfless act that came in the middle of a playoff chase, and one that earned Whitworth additional respect from inside the locker room and around the city.

While PFF's rankings were based on grades, ESPN.com's were based on votes from 90 of our NFL experts. Yes, that group includes yours truly, along with the other 32 team reporters who make up NFL Nation. Here is the full list of voters from ESPN.com, ESPN TV, ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider (including Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus), ESPN fantasy, ESPN locals and ESPN Stats & Information.

The players were rated by each voter on a 0-to-10 scale, with 10 being the best regardless of position in the NFL. Ties, as denoted by an asterisk, were broken by determining which player had more ballots with the higher ranking. (If players are tied, the player with three 10s is ranked higher than the player with two 10s; if the tied players had the same amount of highest numbers, we moved to the next number: three 9s beats two 9s, etc.)

You can read the full 100-91 breakdown here.

Whitworth's No. 92 comes after being No. 90 last season. His two-spot fall also came with his earning a 6.58 average vote, tying him with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Whitworth edged out Cutler because he had more ballots with higher numbers.

Here's the blurb on Whitworth from the #NFLRank rankings:
In 14 games with Whitworth last season, the Bengals were 11-3 and quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked 1.7 times per game. In the two games that Whitworth missed, the Bengals were 0-2 and Dalton was sacked 3.0 times per game.

--ESPN Stats & Information
CINCINNATI -- At first, Tyler Eifert was annoyed. Now, he's flat-out frustrated.

The second-year Cincinnati Bengals tight end said Monday that he was growing tired of having to miss time due to what has become a nagging shoulder issue that's unrelated to problems he had at the end of last season.

Eifert
After missing all of the organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp practices in the spring, and then being limited this past week after having breezed through the first two weeks of training camp without incident, Eifert has neared a breaking points.

"It was annoying in the spring," he said of the injury. "Rehab gets annoying.

"I was just getting back out there at the start of camp, running around and felt healthy and in shape and strong, and now I'm back watching for a little bit, I guess. It's a little frustrating but at the same time you have to get the body right."

Eifert played 19 snaps in the Bengals' Week 1 preseason game at Kansas City, but he was held completely out of the Week 2 contest against the Jets on Saturday.

He wasn't yet sure if he'd be cleared to play Sunday night when the Bengals visit Arizona, but he's trying to make it there. For now, the shoulder won't require surgery, just rest and rehab.

"I'm listed as day to day," Eifert said. "The medical staff says that once I'm comfortable and they say you are not putting yourself at any more risk then I can go out there and test it on the field."

Eifert said he knows the training staff is being patient because it's just the preseason, but added he "obviously would like to get some work for the regular season."

Before Eifert was shifted into a more limited practice role -- he primarily spends his days working on conditioning -- he had been one of quarterback Andy Dalton's top targets. It appears the Bengals are committed to using him more regularly in the seam, and exploiting openings in the secondary deep downfield.
CINCINNATI -- Mohamed Sanu had just changed direction on his route and started running at an angle toward the goal posts when his quarterback, Andy Dalton, let go of the pass.

As Sanu sprinted past the cornerback defending him and tried to maintain separation from the closing safety, he looked to the sky.

Dalton
Dalton
 What the Cincinnati Bengals receiver saw made his eyes get big.

"I was just like, 'Gosh, what a ball,'" Sanu said, adding a giddy, school-girl laugh.

A catch, two steps and a touchdown dance later, Sanu helped preserve Dalton's perfect passing line at the start of Saturday's 25-17 loss to the Jets. By the time his night was over, Dalton added another Sanu pass and six more to Bengals receivers to finish 8-for-8 with 144 yards, one touchdown and a 158.3 passer rating. Those statistics, combined with his numbers from the preseason opener at Kansas City the week before, make him 11-for-13 with 215 passing yards and a 144.4 passer rating in limited action through the two games.

It's all evidence that Dalton really is playing better and more efficiently than he has at any other point in his career.

"I see it every year, but especially this camp," Sanu said. "I haven't seen him throw the ball so accurate, so efficient. Every time you turn around the ball is just there and you're like, 'Wow."

Dalton contends that nothing has changed from last season. In his eyes, he's still playing the same as he did before and is practicing the same. He may have made a few tweaks and modifications to better his mechanics, but he says everything else is the same. He's still having fun, too.

"When you have a game like I did [Saturday], and you have teammates like I have, it's a lot of fun," Dalton said. "It's not like it just started being fun. It's been fun since I've been here."

It's tough to argue that. From the outside looking in, it certainly seems as if he is more calm and more at ease than he's been at any other point in his career. He seems to trust his receivers more than before and has a better understanding of their routes. And he knows when he delivers the ball a particular way, he expects them to be right there to run underneath it.

Coach Marvin Lewis, bothered by the way players at the back of his depth chart allowed the Jets to overcome a 17-3 deficit to win, didn't have as much to say about Dalton's performance as he probably could have. That had nothing to do with the quarterback. Instead, he was ticked because the back-end play, in his words, tainted his starting signal-caller's strong evening.

"He's on top of his game. He's throwing the football and understands what we want," Lewis said. "Guys are doing a good job with him. He continues to play the way we think he should play all the time. It doesn't surprise me because that's the way he practices all the time. He doesn't have to be flashy, he just needs to be accurate and handle the offense. He does his thing very well."

Next Sunday night, Dalton will be challenged by an Arizona Cardinals defense that ranked sixth last season, allowing a QBR of 39.4. By comparison, the Bengals' defense ranked one spot better at fourth, allowing a QBR of just 39.0 last season.

The nationally-televised game in Glendale, Arizona, also pits Dalton against the man he replaced: former Bengal Carson Palmer. On the biggest stage he'll see this preseason, it'll be interesting to see if Dalton continues to grow.
CINCINNATI -- It was a simple message.

"Let's go."

When Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson met with receiver Mohamed Sanu in the days after the team first learned it would be without Marvin Jones, those were the only two words he said to the young player.

Sanu, once the No. 3 receiver on the roster, knew exactly what they meant. With Jones injured until October and out of the receiving rotation, Sanu's time had come to attempt to be the best pass-catcher on the team.

The best? Yes.

"I get surprised where people reacted after I made the statement I wanted Marvin to surpass A.J. [Green] a while ago, but it's because they all need to compete," Jackson said. "I wanted Sanu to surpass Marvin, too."

Jackson's philosophy: Keep the pressure high on his top skill players and they'll compete better than they did before. He doesn't just say "no one's job is safe." He actually believes it.

Apparently, the philosophy has been working. Sanu has taken advantage of Jones' absence this preseason, working almost exclusively as the No. 2 receiver in practice alongside Green, the player who continues to get his usual No. 1 receiver reps and looks. In addition to catching, Sanu has been impressive passing and running both on reverses off the edge and out of the backfield as a Wildcat quarterback. Cincinnati won't be looking for him to solely run gadget plays this season, but the Bengals are hopeful he'll continue turning heads when they do.

"He's been all over the place -- outside, inside, moving around -- and he's really done a good job for us," quarterback Andy Dalton said.

Sanu told Jackson when the offseason began that he wanted to come back a different player. In Jackson's eyes, "he's done that."

"It's just the consistency of production in the way he plays," Jackson said. "He plays like a true starter. Not that he didn't a year ago. I just know what I expect our guys to do, and see just what he's done. He blocks, he catches, he runs, he can do it all. We'll try to use some of his vast skills and let him showcase his talents and abilities this year."

The Bengals will get another chance to see those talents and abilities in a live game scenario when they take on the Jets on Saturday night at Paul Brown Stadium.

"I'm going to step up that much more to fill Marvin's shows," Sanu said. "That's to just keep doing what I'm doing. Keep playing and keep being consistent. That's pretty much it. I can't see what's going on in the future, but I know what I can handle and I know what I can control, and that's putting my effort in and doing whatever I can to make this team better."

He won't be alone, he adds.

As the Bengals have been saying all week, with Jones now sidelined through the first three regular-season games because of foot surgery, it's time receivers like Brandon Tate, Dane Sanzenbacher and James Wright fill the void left by the player who was the second-leading receiver last year.

"It's a 'next man up' mentality," receivers coach James Urban said. "That's what we've always had. ... You push them out there and see if we can get the best guys out there that can help us win football games."

You do all that, Jackson said, and then add, "Let's go."
CINCINNATI -- In no particular order, the following are five Cincinnati Bengals you'll want to pay attention to on the offensive side of the ball during Saturday night's preseason home opener against the New York Jets (7 ET).

Be on the lookout for five defensive players to watch in the Bengals' second preseason game, coming soon.

Scott
1. QB Matt Scott. One week after dominating the headlines in the Bengals' Week 1 preseason loss at Kansas City, Scott has a chance to turn more heads this weekend when he likely receives more playing time. With No. 2 backup Jason Campbell still nursing an elbow bruise, the Bengals will turn to Scott a little earlier than they did last week. Against the Chiefs, Scott jogged onto the field midway through the third quarter after Campbell's throwing arm was struck by a defender's helmet. Scott went on to pass for 66 yards and two touchdowns, and rush for a game-high 68 yards. It was what he considered the combination of a pre-game sinus infection, high humidity and exhaustion that turned him into an unexpected Internet star last week. On multiple occasions during a fourth-quarter drive, he vomited a la Willie Beamen, the fictional quarterback in the movie "Any Given Sunday." The clip made its rounds on the Web in the days that followed. Scott, who will be playing through a sore shoulder, hopes he'll be remembered more for his play this week.

2. QB Tyler Wilson. Since Scott does have a minor injury that could affect his throwing, the Bengals might have to turn to Wilson a little earlier than perhaps they would have anticipated, too. Starter Andy Dalton probably won't go any deeper than the two first-quarter series before Scott enters the game. From there, Scott probably won't make it all the way to the fourth quarter. Whenever Wilson does come in, watch for how well he connects with the existing receivers still in the game. If Cobi Hamilton is still playing, the two could be a good combination to watch. Hamilton was one of Wilson's top targets in college when they both played at Arkansas. Otherwise, Wilson will be intriguing to watch because he's playing after only one week of practices with the Bengals, and he's playing for his professional career.

Burkhead
3. RB Rex Burkhead. You may be noticing a trend here. We're focusing on reserve players in this week's "Bengals to watch," primarily because we are arriving at that point in camp when players down on the depth chart are truly fighting for roster spots. Burkhead is among those running backs involved in arguably the team's most interesting position battle. He's gotten his share of touches with the second-team offense in recent weeks and probably will see some opportunities with a mix of that group Saturday night. Be on the lookout for how often Burkhead carries the ball in what could be a ground-and-pound kind of preseason contest. The Jets have already said they expect a physical game. With the Bengals in a bit of a quarterback quandary, there are compelling reasons for them to give New York the physical showdown it is anticipating.

4. WR Dane Sanzenbacher. The position battle at receiver is another one to keep an eye on. Much like running back where the first two positions appear set, the top three spots are squared away on the Bengals' depth chart at receiver. Sanzenbacher is among a group of wideouts trying to crack the bottom portion of the pass-catching roster. With his versatility and wealth of playmaking opportunities both on offense and special teams, he will have his share of chances to prove he belongs in these next three games. After having a few long punt and kick returns in last week's game and catching a 26-yard touchdown pass that ended when he dove for a pylon, Sanzenbacher made a strong case for being included on the 53-man roster. Watch to see if he impresses Saturday.

5. H-back Ryan Hewitt. This will be the second straight week we've listed Hewitt among the Bengals to watch, and with good reason. Earlier this week, coach Marvin Lewis lauded the undrafted rookie free agent for how well he has played throughout this camp. Hewitt has brought his own measure of versatility to the backfield by being used as a blocker, flanking off the line as a tight end and catching passes. It certainly appears he has won the position battle over Orson Charles, the former tight end who was converted to H-back last preseason. Hewitt caught two passes last week. Look for how much he gets involved in the passing game this week.
CINCINNATI -- There's a certain edge, a type of nastiness that good pass-rushers must possess when it comes to keeping quarterbacks in their place.

Margus Hunt is well aware of that.

His coaches are also aware that Hunt has to start applying it better on game day. Once he starts doing that, he will greatly surpass the high expectations many around the team have long had for him.

"There's some violence to playing that spot and some recklessness that needs to occur," head coach Marvin Lewis said of the defensive end position. "It's OK to have that recklessness when it's live out there [in games], but we don't want to quite have that recklessness when it's here [in practices]."

[+] EnlargeCincinnati's Margus Hunt
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMargus Hunt has struggled a bit with the transition from practice, where you don't hit the QB, to games, where you do.
It's been the balance of continuing to push through plays in games versus pulling up in practices that has tripped Hunt a bit in the little live action he has received these last two years. After getting it virtually branded onto his brain that he can't come anywhere close to the tackling the quarterback in practices, he's had some difficulty rejecting that idea when he's been in live-game scenarios.

Although he had one sack in last Thursday's preseason opener at Kansas City, Hunt felt like he could have had more had he not been so subconsciously quick to slow down at the end of a couple other pass rushes.

"Finishing was the issue a couple of times," Hunt said. "I had one opportunity to get another sack and I just ran past the guy. That was a missed opportunity."

Remember, that was Hunt's first game since January, and it was the most defensive snaps he saw in a game since last October when he played 30 downs in the 49-9 home blowout win over the Jets. While he isn't likely to see 30 snaps Saturday when the New York Jets come to town for the second time in 10 months, Hunt still hopes to take better advantage of the repetitions he will have than he did with the 22 he had last week.

As Lewis said, Hunt just has to continue realizing he's chasing down Geno Smith and Michael Vick, and not Andy Dalton or Matt Scott.

"It's hard to have defensive guys working at their craft out here when they need to stay away from the quarterback," Lewis said.

To prevent injury to the team's signal-callers, teams often ask rushers to peel off or stop their rush altogether in practices, even when it appears they might actually have a sack.

"You just have to learn how to do it in practice where you're not getting into Andy's feet or whoever's in there and get into their way and possibly hurt them," Hunt said.

While finishing may still be an issue in Hunt's eyes, his beginnings have gotten dramatically better.

Coaches spent all last season working with him on developing moves and counter moves that might make him better suited for getting by the offensive tackles and tight ends he'll see on a regular basis at end. Hunt also worked on developing a series of moves to get by centers and guards for those times when he'll be lined up in the line's interior as a rushing defensive tackle in the nickel defense.

Perhaps the rush technique he's getting down best is the bull-rush. At 6-foot-8 and more than 280 pounds, it makes the most sense for him to come off the line by simply manhandling his blocker with his hulking size and strength.

"The picking up techniques part, it's not really that difficult," Hunt said. "It's just the fact of learning how to use them. Now, it's just more about the reaction and learning how to be quicker to react to the blocker."

Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has seen Hunt developing tactics beyond the bull-rush.

"He's working on everything," Guenther said. "You've got to have more than just the bull-rush or guys are going to anchor down on us. So he has to have the ability to come under a tackle or long-arm them."

So far, Lewis likes what he sees out of Hunt. Even with the minor finishing issues aside, Lewis seems happy with the overall player. Along with Hunt's size and ability to power past blockers, the young lineman has other traits the coach adores.

"We're going to keep pressing him and keep giving him opportunities to do those things and keep growing," Lewis said. "Coming on as a rusher is important for us as he continues to take positive steps."

Bengals Camp Report: Day 16

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
2:45
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CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:
  • Perhaps the best word to describe the Bengals' 16th and final training-camp practice Thursday afternoon was "chill." It certainly was a low-speed, low-intensity type of workout as the offense and defense went through a series of drills that hinged on fine-tuning a few situations and rotations, and resting starters ahead of Saturday night's preseason home opener against the Jets. Players ditched their shells and pads for the first time since last Tuesday, and kept the contact to a minimum. It was "chill" for another reason, but we'll get to that a little further down.
  • Early in the practice the Bengals went back to the basics, working on a few position-specific fundamentals. It felt a lot like the first day of training camp. They devoted a large amount of time trying to make sure some of what had been taught to this point in the preseason had been retained. Once those position drills ended, the Bengals shifted to 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 exercises. Starting quarterback Andy Dalton looked sharp in those situations. According to one Cincinnati Enquirer reporter who was keeping track, Dalton was 24-for-26 combined in those drills. One of the sequences involving Dalton that most impressed me had to do with a pair of throws he completed to A.J. Green. At the end of one red zone drill, Dalton delivered a perfectly placed pass on a back-shoulder fade to Green who got both feet in bounds in the end zone, dragging them into the back pylon. One play later, the pair hooked up again for a long completion after Green put a double move on cornerback Onterio McCalebb. It was the second straight play McCalebb was burned.
  • Dalton has delivered passes like both of those to his receivers during this camp. His anticipation and trust in his receivers' routes has been noteworthy. That's something quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese told me earlier this month that he had worked with Dalton on: learning to trust his receivers and knowing that they'll be in the spot he delivers the ball even if they don't turn their heads before it's thrown. That was the case on those two throws and others Dalton had Thursday. Here's what Dalton said to reporters about the end of camp: "We've had a really good camp. We've gotten what we wanted out of it and it's not over yet. We still have several more preseason games to go, but we've done a good job so far."
  • While the practice was full of noncontact work for the players, a different story played out for the coaches. After getting challenged by Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and a few of his staff members took part in the social media-inspired Ice Bucket Challenge to raise funds and awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (commonly called ALS or "Lou Gehrig's disease"). Lewis, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and co-defensive backs coach Mark Carrier were among those who got doused by ice water dumped out of Gatorade buckets by linebacker Rey Maualuga and a few trainers.
  • Injury update: Several of the players who either sat out Wednesday's practice or were banged-up earlier this week returned to practice Thursday. A few, like linebacker Vontaze Burfict, offensive tackle Andre Smith and defensive end Wallace Gilberry, were limited. They participated in position drills but that was it. Those who completely missed practice included: Sean Porter, Dre Kirkpatrick, Tyler Eifert, Andrew Whitworth, Jason Campbell, AJ McCarron and Jermaine Gresham. Eifert and Gresham still may play Saturday. It appeared they, like Whitworth, were simply being given the day off.
  • Up next: The Bengals are done with their open practices for the year. Monday begins the limited media-only availability that will last through the season.
One of the toughest balancing acts for a coaching staff at an NFL training camp is determining how much contact will be allowed in practices -- and how hard the contact can be.

As the Cincinnati Bengals wind down their training camp portion of the preseason Thursday, we can safely say the team had as good a mix of hitting and non-live activity as you're probably going to find in the league these days.

 They never did formally tackle live in practices, but some defenders made just enough contact with various offensive skill players -- primarily rookies and young free agents -- that it caught some attention. It was common for linebacker Vontaze Burfict to give rookie running back James Wilder Jr. a firm thud on a screen across the middle of the field. Burfict did the same thing to the since-released Jeremy Johnson when he'd catch passes in his area.

On Wednesday, safety George Iloka got in on the popping action, delivering a couple of hard forearms to first-year receiver Colin Lockett. Like some of Burfict's hits, those came in a practice that saw the Bengals wearing only shoulder pads and helmets. One of the forearms to Lockett's back came after players all took their pads off in favor of finishing the practice in only their jerseys and helmets.

"We're not playing against the Bengals, they're not on our schedule, but some things happen in practice," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. "You can't tell a dog not to eat red meat."

Still, Bengals coaches hope their defensive dogs know that for now, they only want them nibbling on the offensive prey that are in their way. When they suit up Saturday and the following Sunday and the Thursday after that, then they can deliver whatever hard blows they want to deal.

"We've just got to take care of our guys and continue to be aggressive," Guenther added.

So considering how bad some of the collisions were, should Guenther and his assistants rein in their players?

No.

Again, the group wasn't out to maliciously hurt anyone during this camp. They were primarily out to test the toughness of some of the newest members of the team. If Burfict could hit Wilder or one of the young receivers like Lockett hard enough and they could bounce right up, a message was sent to the locker room that the struck player could match the toughness the rest of the team believed it had.

Not to mention, sometimes, the hitters were just following orders.

"Sometimes I'll tell a guy that if I don't think practice is going the way we want it, to get some stuff going," Guenther said. "It gets everybody into the practice a little bit."

That means there will be no reining in of defenders going on in practices any time soon. Besides, before too long they'll be into the regular-season mode of practicing, meaning their in-practice contact will soon decrease dramatically.

Wilson will play: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said during his news conference Wednesday that backup quarterback Tyler Wilson will end up playing at some point Saturday against the Jets, despite having less than a week of practices.

Wilson was signed last Saturday after brief stints with Oakland and Tennessee. He's excited for this opportunity, and hopes that by the end of camp he can prove he belongs on an NFL roster.

It's tough right now seeing him on the Bengals' roster in three weeks. He's currently the No. 4 quarterback on a team that signed him in response to No. 2 quarterback Jason Campbell's elbow injury that occurred a week ago Thursday. The former Arkansas standout has at least one familiar face in the Bengals' locker room: Cobi Hamilton was his go-to receiver in college.

"When you've been sitting on the street, you learn fast," Lewis said of Wilson.

The coach didn't say how much he might use Wilson this weekend. But with backup Matt Scott working through a sore shoulder and starter Andy Dalton likely limited to 15-25 early snaps, Wilson could see his fair share of action.

"He's been able to learn things to go out and operate," Lewis said. "He handled the verbiage and the terminology well and the adjustments he needed to make. He did a good job."
CINCINNATI -- From the tone of his responses to questions about the players competing at his hybrid H-back/fullback/tight end position, Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis sounds sold on rookie Ryan Hewitt.

He sounds less excited about third-year veteran Orson Charles.

"He's in a dogfight with these other guys who have come on, and that's what you want for your football team," Lewis said, referring to the position's competition.

That was virtually the extent of his thoughts on Charles during a Wednesday afternoon news conference. Prior to those comments, Lewis spoke at length about the versatility Hewitt brings to the blocking-based position. Lewis also hinted at how Hewitt could be the team's future at the position.

"It's just not been too big for him," Lewis said. "As he grows and [if] he's fortunate enough to stay around here, I think by next year we'll have a real, real, real big, physical man. He's going to be a big person."

The Bengals are like a lot of teams that have started utilizing tight ends like fullbacks, calling on them to provide additional blocking options in running situations, and having them step up from the backfield to block in occasional pass-protection schemes. It seems that the days of the traditional NFL fullback are going by the wayside.

Just think back to last preseason when the Bengals had the option of keeping true fullback John Conner or holding on to Charles, who was being converted into the H-back after having spent his career to that point as a tight end. The Bengals felt Charles gave them more versatility as a special-teams fit, and they liked his upside as a younger player.

He barely got used offensively last season, though. Charles appeared in 13 games, mostly playing special teams. He saw just 62 snaps on offense, with more than half of those coming in Week 17 when he was filling in for tight ends Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham, who were out with injuries, and backup Alex Smith, who dislocated a wrist during the game. Charles' only catch of the season came in that regular-season finale.

The hope is that Hewitt will be involved more. He caught two passes in last Thursday's preseason opener, and he was on the field for 28 offensive plays, according to the NFL's Game and Statistics Information System. Charles wasn't out there for a single one.

When you take into account how highly the Bengals seem to regard the H-back's role, it appears strange that Charles wouldn't get used at all. It also appears like a clear sign that Charles' days in Cincinnati may be numbered.

"It's a position that I really hold valuable to our offensive football team because I think you have to have a guy that can do that," offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said about the H-back.

He acknowledged that the position didn't work as well as he would have hoped last season.

"Nothing against Orson, but at the end of the day, it's competition and the best people win. That's just the way it goes," Jackson said. "Orson still has some chances here and we're going to see if he can continue to improve. But at the end of the day, as you know, there's only so many spots on the football team. So you've got to make sure when your number's called that you make the most of it."

That's an endorsement for Charles -- for now -- but not exactly a ringing one.

As it did last season, Cincinnati likely will keep only one hybrid H-back/fullback/tight end-type of player. Don't be surprised if the undrafted rookie free agent Hewitt is it.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 15

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
6:20
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:
  • There are two types of pass-catchers in the game of football: Those who catch with their hands, and those who catch with their bodies. Count Mohamed Sanu among the former. For as long as he can remember, Sanu has used his body to glide toward the ball and his hands to snatch it out of the air -- even at times when other receivers might use the unpopular, unconventional style of body-catching. Sometimes, the body catch is about all a receiver feels like he can do in order to grab the ball before getting smacked by a defender. We're highlighting Sanu's hands style of catching here because he showcased it regularly Wednesday afternoon as the Bengals went through their second-to-last open practice of the preseason. Perhaps his best catch came along a sideline when he got both feet down after jumping over reserve cornerback Victor Hampton and catching a pass mid-air before it hit Hampton's back.
  • When offensive coordinator Hue Jackson spoke to me after practice about how impressed he's been with Sanu in this camp, he noted that he sees a different player from the one who was the No. 3 wideout last season. What's different exactly? "Just the consistency," Jackson said. "The consistency of production of the way he plays. He plays like a true starter." Jackson added that he thought Sanu played like a starter before, and added that he's noticed a slightly different edge to him this season. Perhaps Jackson's proudest moment of the day, with respect to Sanu, came early in the practice when the receiver beat Adam Jones on a go route into the end zone. The pass was overthrown by Andy Dalton, but the move to get separation had Jackson loudly screaming, "Attaway, Mo!"
  • While Sanu impressed offensively Wednesday, safety George Iloka turned heads defensively. It was primarily for his enforcer style of play. Twice he roughed up rookie receiver Colin Lockett at the end of plays. He gave him one hard forearm early in the practice when Lockett had caught a pass along the sideline and was turning to head up the field. Lockett had to take a knee right after the contact. At least he was wearing shoulder pads for it. Near the end of the workout, long after the Bengals had removed their shoulder pads to finish the practice in only their jerseys, shorts and helmets, Iloka struck the rookie again at the end of a route. "We're not playing against the Bengals, they're not on our schedule, but some things happen in practice," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. "You can't tell a dog not to eat red meat. We've just got to take care of our guys and continue to be aggressive."
  • The Bengals took care of several veteran players Wednesday when they gave them the day off. Cornerback Leon Hall, defensive end Robert Geathers and offensive linemen Clint Boling and Mike Pollak didn't practice. Boling and Pollak appeared to be getting an off day after a rather rigorous week of work ahead of Saturday's preseason home opener against the Jets. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict and receiver A.J. Green started practice but didn't finish it. Neither did backup quarterback Matt Scott, who coach Marvin Lewis said had a sore shoulder. Lewis added he'd play Saturday. Defensive tackle Domata Peko returned to team drills after being limited Tuesday. Fellow tackle Brandon Thompson also came back after being ill Tuesday.
  • Additional injury update: Along with the aforementioned, the Bengals were without Dontay Moch, Sean Porter, Dre Kirkpatrick, AJ McCarron, Jason Campbell and Tyler Eifert, who has a sore shoulder.
  • Up next: Thursday is the final open practice of the year for the Bengals. They get going at 11:15 a.m. ET.
CINCINNATI -- Preseason games are usually boring, uninteresting, uneventful and, aside from perhaps five plays in the first quarter, are mostly lacking in entertainment value.

That might not be the case in Cincinnati this weekend. If New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson gets his way, there ought to be a few fireworks going off inside Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday night.

Five days after Richardson told his team's website that he felt the Jets needed retribution this weekend for last season's 49-9 regular-season defeat against the Cincinnati Bengals, two Bengals players embraced the comments, saying they will be glad to see an opponent who doesn't plan on taking them lightly.

[+] EnlargeMarvin Jones
John Grieshop/Getty ImagesThe Jets surrendered four TD catches to Marvin Jones in a 49-9 loss against the Bengals in October.
"That's good," Bengals Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "We want their best. Sometimes for older guys -- especially myself, who have played as much as I have -- it's kind of disheartening when you go out there and guys are playing, but not really playing. You want people to bring their best. You want to get better. That's what [the preseason] is for."

Whitworth was responding to comments Richardson made Saturday when, according to the Jets' website, he said, "We owe them one. We owe them one big time."

Richardson continued, adding: "That was pretty much the only team that dog-walked this defense like that."

The Bengals dominated both sides of the ball that October afternoon. Receiver Marvin Jones, who won't be playing Saturday because of a foot injury, caught a franchise-record four touchdown passes in the game. Quarterback Andy Dalton completed just 19 passes, but he threw for 325 yards and the Bengals racked up 402 total yards. Cincinnati's offense was so strong in the red zone that it converted five of its six series that made it there into touchdowns. The defense was so stout that it didn't allow the Jets a red-zone possession.

"That game got really out of hand at one point," Bengals defensive end Margus Hunt remembered Wednesday.

It was the ugliness of the game that had Whitworth unfazed by Richardson's comments.

He knows teams often remember the bad more than they remember the good.

"You remember the last time you played a team and how it went. It sticks in the back of your mind," Whitworth said. "It doesn't mean they're going to come out and do something cheap or something different. It just means they remember that, 'Hey, last time these guys got the best of us and this time we plan on reversing it.'"

Even though it is the preseason and he doesn't anticipate Richardson to play for long, Hunt still is glad to hear the emotion coming from his fellow defender.

"We need that," Hunt said. "We need to be physical and we need to match their physicality or set the physicality first and foremost. We need to be the aggressors and we need to set the tempo."

Despite knowing they will only see New York's first-team units for a few plays in the first half, the Bengals hope to still match the intensity they had last October. The trick, Whitworth added, will be maintaining it all game with the second- and third-team groups seeing action.

"For these young guys it'll be a good opportunity to get in there and play against a [good] group -- [Jets head coach] Rex Ryan's D-lines are always going to be some of the best you're going to play," Whitworth said. "They're excellent with their hands, they're physical. Every year they're a great-run defense, and it'll be no different this year."

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