AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals

CINCINNATI -- Dre Kirkpatrick's aspirations extend much further than simply winning a starting job by the end of this training camp.

The fourth-year cornerback wants to force the Cincinnati Bengals into one day soon putting on his chest a patch with a "C" and a gold star on it.

"I don't want to [just] be no starter," Kirkpatrick said. "I want to be a leader, man.

"I want to wear a 'Captain C' on my jersey."

[+] EnlargeDre Kirkpatrick
AP Photo/AJ Mast"When you think of the Bengals, I want you to be able to think about Dre Kirkpatrick," Dre Kirkpatrick said. "Point-blank period."

For those around the team who are closest to Kirkpatrick, that statement wasn't surprising. But it has been a long time coming.

"That's exciting because he wants to be the best and he wants to win," co-defensive backs coach Vance Joseph said. "He wants the whole thing. He wants to be the best corner that we've got, he wants to be the best corner in the league. That's his personality."

Asked if he felt Kirkpatrick would make a good team captain, Kirkpatrick's biggest competition, second-year corner Darqueze Dennard, said yes.

"He's passionate about the game. He's very intense," Dennard said. "Guys can lean towards that. You have the Ray Lewises, and on this team, the Vontaze Burficts. He's a big rah-rah guy and he can get people going, as well. I see qualities like that in Dre."

Dennard wasn't the only one who mentioned Lewis in reference to leadership. Kirkpatrick brought up the retired former Baltimore Ravens linebacker in reference to this conversation, too.

While Lewis might be the first name people think of with respect to leadership in Baltimore, Kirkpatrick added: "when you think of the Bengals, I want you to be able to think about Dre Kirkpatrick. Point-blank period."

So why exactly does he believe he can be a leader within a position group that also features the likes of veterans Leon Hall and Adam Jones?

"It's always been a goal, I just had to get in that situation," said Kirkpatrick, who spent the first three seasons of his career as a backup. "Now I feel like I'm in that situation and I feel like I'm doing a great job of going out there motivating guys by my play and not what I'm saying."

There was a prime example of that in the middle of Monday's practice when Kirkpatrick pulled rookie corner Josh Shaw to the side after Shaw failed to shed a block during a half-line contact drill.

In an effort to replace the Oklahoma drill, and to give players more of a true-to-football measure of contact, coaches had receivers and defensive backs go head-to-head in the blocking drills. After Shaw was turned by one receiver, Kirkpatrick got him on the sideline and started breaking down better techniques with him. He specifically mentioned how getting a better push on the blocker's outside shoulder may have helped in that instance.

Kirkpatrick actually looked like a coach for a brief moment.

"He knows how it works," Joseph said. "That's his role, to help others."

Kirkpatrick contends his desire for the captain's "C" runs deep. He believes leading has long been part of his personality.

"It comes from Alabama," said the former Crimson Tide star and Yellowhammer State native. "It comes from my dad, my momma, from just who I am as a person. When I want something so bad, I'm going to do everything in my heart to try to fulfill it and do it right. I feel like I can be a captain on this team. I ain't shying from it."

CINCINNATI -- On the first day the Cincinnati Bengals went into full pads, they had another training-camp first: a Vontaze Burfict sighting.

The linebacker made an appearance on the side rehab field Monday, ending his string of four straight practices without being seen. It could be interpreted as a positive sign. This was just one more step toward him having a full recovery from microfracture surgery earlier this offseason.

"He's progressing good," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. "He's doing everything the trainers are asking him to do. But just like the defense, he's got to put one day on top of another and on top of another."

Burfict's public rehab included various drills that tested his agility and explosion off the left knee he hurt against the Ravens in Week 8 of last season. Going to his left to try to make a play on a run, he was blocked low before coming up limping. Although he took a couple of plays off, he returned to finish the drive, assisting in a series of stops on a key early-game goal-line stand. He ended up playing the rest of the game before doctors later discovered he needed cartilage cleaned out of the knee.

Among the drills Burfict took part in with other rehabbing players Monday were short sprints, ladder drills and exercises with bungee cords. In addition to tugging head trainer Nick Cosgray along with the bungee on a sprint, Burfict also did jumps with the bungee cord that worked his lower-body power.

Listed on the active/physically unable to perform list, Burfict is able to rejoin the team in practices at any point this camp, so long as he's medically cleared. Despite appearing significantly better than he did the one day in May when he rehabbed at the start of an offseason practice, Burfict still appears to have some days ahead of him before officially returning to the 53-man roster.

Whenever that day comes, the Bengals will welcome him back with open arms.

"When he's out here, it adds a whole element to our defense, that's for sure," Guenther said. "When he's ready to go, he'll be ready."

• Along with Burfict, the Bengals also were without receivers Marvin Jones and Onterio McCalebb and defensive end Wallace Gilberry. Jones and Gilberry were working through hamstring injuries and McCalebb suffered a leg injury at some point Sunday. He walked through the locker room Monday on crutches. Neither Gilberry nor Jones went to the rehab field to get in any conditioning.

• While those players sat out practice, running back Cedric Peerman returned after spending the previous day's workout sidelined with knee soreness.

• Part of Monday's practice was devoted to giving the punt coverage team work. Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard formed a solid tandem of gunners last season. They were a big reason why Kevin Huber's net punting average ranked fourth in the league. With Kirkpatrick appearing to take on a larger role as a likely starting corner, his special teams opportunities will be limited. As a result, the Bengals have to look for his replacement. Brandon Tate, Greg Little, Denarius Moore and Dennard were among the notable players getting a gunner tryout.

• Speaking of Little, the embattled receiver who was signed back by the Bengals last week, has had a more impressive last couple of days. Special visiting assistant and retired former Chargers head coach Al Saunders gave Little a couple of loud "Well done" shouts of praise. He was certainly impressed by how crisply Little came out of routes and caught passes.

AJ McCarronAaron Doster/USA TODAY SportsAJ McCarron was a bit inconsistent in his first padded practice but had some good passes late that he can build on.

CINCINNATI -- AJ McCarron has a one-word message for all the reporters and fans who watched a training-camp performance from him Sunday that even he would classify as inconsistent.


"It's the third day," the backup quarterback said. "It's going to come. We just need time with it."

Although it still is early in the Cincinnati Bengals' preseason, McCarron wasn't as sharp as he was the previous two days. A series of highlights and lowlights defined the workout. At times, he overthrew receivers. At others, he put the ball exactly where it needed to be.

Most of his struggles came early in the practice when he had a series of passes he threw well out of range of receivers during comeback and out routes in a drill that only featured quarterbacks and pass-catchers. With NFL Network broadcasting the practice live, those who were watching got a heavy dose of the inaccurate throws.

McCarron was significantly better later in the day, connecting with receivers on deep passes in 11-on-11 drills.

Some of his inconsistency was the product of playing with shoulder pads for the first time this year. Like the rest of the team, quarterbacks and receivers were in them for the first time since the end of last season. McCarron just started breaking in a new pair of pads and still is adjusting to their feel. His inconsistency also stemmed from passing to receivers whose speed and idiosyncrasies he's still figuring out. At this stage of training camp, rhythm can be slow to develop.

"The timing's going to be off and everything a little bit," McCarron said, "but we've just got to keep working through it. We're fine. The second group, we just have one good play and then one not-so-good play."

Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson isn't panicking, either.

"I'm not at that point. It's Day 3," Jackson said to reporters. "At the end, he'll be fine. I respect what you guys see and how you go about it, but I might see something different when I go back and look at the tape."

Here are a few other observations from the practice:

  • Aside from Michael Johnson's injury bullet the Bengals believe they dodged, they also had a couple others miss some time Sunday. Running back Cedric Peerman wasn't in uniform at all, but was in attendance. He also didn't spend any time on the rehab field with injured players. Perhaps we'll know more about him Monday. Defensive end Wallace Gilberry also missed a portion of the practice with what appeared to be a leg injury.
  • The corners and receivers had several good battles in their first day in pads. The ones that drew the most attention came during one-on-one drills about halfway through practice. Moments before Johnson went down on another part of the field, receivers were testing out their moves. A.J. Green started it off by spinning off Adam Jones at the line of scrimmage and creating several yards of separation on a deep pass into the middle of the field. Minutes later, Green broke left on an out route against Jones that ended with a well-placed pass that forced Green to toe-tap as he dove for the ball and the sideline. It was the clear play of the day.
  • Undrafted rookie receiver Jake Kumerow continues to impress, too. In that same drill, he caught a one-handed pass on a Go route in which fellow rookie Josh Shaw was matched against him.

CINCINNATI -- We may have our first hint about part of what Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson meant when he indicated last week he was unleashing Pandora's box with his offense this season.

Sure, knowing Jackson, some of that likely includes little-before-seen gadget plays and uncommon formations. It might include receiver Mohamed Sanu throwing a pass or two and quarterback Andy Dalton catching them. It could also include various pre-snap movements, all in an effort to keep opposing defenses off balance.

Whether the offense does any of that remains to be seen. But one thing we know it will be is fast.

Andre SmithAP Photo/Frank VictoresBengals starting right tackle Andre Smith trimmed down from 345 pounds to 322 this offseason.

Jackson has indicated that in the past, and right offensive tackle Andre Smith effectively confirmed it Saturday when he gave insight into why he went from weighing 345 pounds before getting hurt late last season to a noticeably more svelte 322 in training camp.

"[It's about] being able to play with the new mindset that Hue has," Smith said. "He wants everything to be quick, quick, quick. That's what we have to do. You have to prepare yourself in order to execute."

Similarly, fellow veteran tackle Andrew Whitworth trimmed down a bit this offseason and reported to training camp looking a shade slimmer than he did a few months ago. He's still listed at 330 pounds on the Bengals' latest roster, but he appears to be holding the weight slightly different than before.

"Lean Whit," Smith said, joking about changing Whitworth's nickname. "He's not Big Whit any more."

Both tackles are entering contract years and have plans to prove to the people who run the team that they ought to be re-signed. At the dawn of his seventh season, Smith is set to command a $6.36 million cap charge for 2015. Whitworth, coming into his 10th season, is slated to make $6.2 million. With likely higher or at least similar yearly figures anticipated for both in the coming seasons, the organization might find it difficult to bring back both of them as free agents.

In what appears to be an effort to brace for life without either Whitworth or Smith in the future after both retire or leave, the Bengals drafted a pair of rookie offensive tackles this year. First-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi is still working his way back from a December ACL tear, and second-round pick Jake Fisher is already filling in as a second-string backup.

"It's still a business at the end of the day," Smith said. "I still have to do what I have to do to prepare myself and give myself the best opportunity to be on the field."

Which meant working out often and making a few dietary changes this offseason. Smith contends he still can eat what he wants, he just had to learn better portion control. The size of his meals are a little smaller.

Smith also spent his offseason rehabbing from a triceps tear and was just cleared for full contact a week before camp opened. He spent the first two practices back at his familiar starting right tackle position.

When it comes to the speed of the Bengals' offense, Jackson wants the pace to step up. You likely will see less time between plays and the Bengals getting in and out of huddles -- or even having no huddles at times -- quicker than they have in recent seasons. It means the offensive linemen had to up their conditioning.

"He warned us," Smith said, smiling. "He's true to his word, as always."

CINCINNATI -- Cornerback Adam Jones said Saturday afternoon that the Cincinnati Bengals have reached out to his camp regarding a possible contract extension.

"They've contacted my agent," Jones said. "But ain't nothing I can do about the contract right now. I'm not upstairs."

A nine-year league veteran, Jones is entering his sixth season with the Bengals. Like more than a dozen other key veterans, he will be eligible for free agency at the end of the season if a new deal hasn't been struck.

Adam JonesPatrick Semansky/Associated PressAdam Jones, who will turn 32 in September, said there ave been talks about a contract extension with the Bengals.

"If it happens before the end of camp or after the end of camp, I'll be thankful," Jones said. "But right now, I'm just focusing on competing every day and helping my team win."

Jones has a good argument for getting an extension. After all, he has played some of his best football the past three seasons. His 63 tackles last year tied a career-high he originally set in 2006, his second season in the league. Jones also had three interceptions in both 2013 and 2014. Other than his four-pick campaign in 2006 with Tennessee, the last two years have been the only other multi-interception seasons of his career.

Jones also ranked third among qualifying players in kick return average last season. It was enough to make him an All-Pro, but he missed out on being a Pro Bowl selection.

Beyond what he's done on the field, it's what he mostly hasn't done off it that also makes an extension an intriguing possibility. Trouble routinely found the old Jones. It hasn't followed him around to the same degree since he has been in Cincinnati. Other than being found not guilty of assault in an incident at a Cincinnati bar in 2013, he hasn't made the types of headlines he once did. He credits his persona clean-up to the reality that set in with the birth of his then-premature daughter nearly five years ago, and the patience of team president Mike Brown.

"Mr. Brown, I can say he's been good for me. He's been a man of his word," Jones said. "He really cares about me."

Jones' spot on the roster is secure in this training camp, but if he earns a long-term deal, he might have to prove he can consistently outlast rising young corners Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick. This season he appears to be the starter at right corner. Kirkpatrick and Dennard enter camp competing for time at left corner, while another possible upcoming free agent, Leon Hall, is experimenting in the slot and at safety.

While Jones' play might be trending positively, it's his age that could be among the more important factors in determining the length of the new deal. He turns 32 at the end of September.

Jones contends others can worry about his age. His mind remains trained on playing as long as he possibly can.

"Some guys get complacent, but every day I come over here, I still get that nervous jitter before practice," Jones said. "That's a good thing to me, because when I stop getting that, that means it's time to stop playing."

Regularly at the start of practices, Jones can be heard chattering with teammates and coaches, kicking his incessant trash talk into gear.

"Some guys are like, 'I don't get nervous,'" Jones said. "Well, if you love what you do, you should get some kind of jitters before. I'm not saying be shaky, but by the time you pull in that gate, you should feel it. I just got chill-bumps just from talking about it."

CINCINNATI -- The day after his Cincinnati Bengals lost to the Colts in the wild-card round of the playoffs, Marvin Lewis, as he does at the end of every season, held exit meetings with each player on the team.

When it came time for Greg Little to enter the head coach's office, the receiver was hellbent on imparting a simple message.

"Give me a chance to have a training camp here," Little told Lewis. "I know how special I think the offense can be. I just want to be part of that."

Greg LittleAaron Doster/USA TODAY SportsGreg Little's ability to be physical helped him earn another chance with the Bengals.

Almost two months later, on February 27, that chance seemed like it wouldn't come. Little was cut that day, released to free agency.

But when promising second-year wide out James Wright was formally placed on the Bengals' injured reserve earlier this week, a spot came open in the receiver rotation. The Bengals brought in five players for a tryout Thursday and signed two. Little was one. The other, Desmond Lawrence, took the place of Cobi Hamilton who had just been cut.

Little's training camp chance came to fruition. This time around, Lewis wants to see if Little can be trusted and showcase consistency.

"He's in a good spot for his career; [26] years old," Lewis said. "This may be his last stop to get it done right. So he has to toe the line in every area.

"He has to do it day in and day out, week in and week out. That's important. There has to be some consistency. The quarterback has to be able to count on him, the receiver coach has to count on him, the offensive coordinator and the head coach and the special-teams coach, for everything we do around here."

Little has spent parts of the past two years with three teams, getting cut by the Browns and Raiders before signing with the Bengals in the middle of last season. In six games, he had six catches for 69 yards. His second game in a Bengals uniform, Week 8 against Baltimore, he caught three passes, including one that put Cincinnati in goal-line territory late on what proved to be a game-winning drive.

Lewis said clutch receptions like that one wasn't the only reason the Bengals brought Little back.

"It was also coming back trying to peel a guy off Jeremy [Hill], effort plays that showed in being physical and so forth," Lewis said. "Now is a chance to continue on that physical path, stay quiet, be seen and not heard, and do the right things all the way through."

Not long after Little's initial arrival to the Queen City last fall he told reporters the prime-time game against the Browns -- the team that drafted him and cut him; without just cause, he felt -- was "personal."

Ultimately, he recorded one eight-yard catch in the Bengals' 24-3 loss.

CINCINNATI -- Sometime near the start of the Cincinnati Bengals' training camp-opening practice Friday afternoon, the first fumble of the preseason was registered when 6-foot-2, 220-pound receiver Greg Little was stripped from behind by a man more than twice his age.

Just after Little caught a pass in a routine passing drill and turned upfield to jog out an extra 15 to 20 yards, the shorter, blonde-haired man bounded behind him.

The 68-year-old didn't cover ground as quickly as the 26-year-old professional football player, but the effort was certainly there. Arms flying high off his body, legs stretching wide and churning grass underneath them, the older man in the gray shirt eventually caught Little. When he did, he punched the ball out of the receiver's grasp and stumbled awkwardly for another 10 yards as he tried to slow his momentum.

"He's not just standing there to stand there," Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said about the mystery man. "He's here to work, and I appreciate that about him."

It was around the time of Little's fumble that people on the sidelines began wondering: Who was the older man?

Al SaundersJeff Chiu/AP PhotoAl Saunders, shown with the Raiders during a 2013 practice, has coached with seven NFL franchises and was head coach of the Chargers from 1986-88.

He's Al Saunders, a former San Diego Chargers head coach. Saunders also spent a year serving as Jackson's offensive coordinator when Jackson was the Raiders' head coach. They also coached together as assistants in Baltimore in 2009. In Jackson's quest this season to give his offensive players guidance from people he trusts -- coaches who will confirm much of what he teaches them --he pleaded with Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis about bringing Saunders to town in a secondary coaching role.

Lewis and owner Mike Brown signed off on the request, and Saunders, who retired in April after three years as a senior offensive assistant with the Raiders, came to Cincinnati.

"I've been a little busier than I thought I'd have been," Saunders said. "My wife asked me, she said, 'Was it a sabbatical or retirement?"

Saunders will be working with the Bengals through the preseason, spending the bulk of his time with the receivers. It's always been his favorite position to coach, he said, and it's one he coached for three teams at the college and pro level throughout his 35-year career.

"Oh man, I love him. He's so energetic," Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green said following practice. "Saunders told me the Hall of Famers always need something to work on. Like I'm just trying to get better on my releases. That's why I'm out here. If I can take an extra 5-10 minutes to get better on just one little thing this whole year, I'll be fine."

The Bengals hope to be finer on turnovers this year. Last season they committed 26, including nine lost fumbles.

Saunders said part of his purpose is to provide players teaching moments similar to the one involving Little, who was just signed Thursday after being cut by Cincinnati this past February.

"That's one of the things Marvin said: We've got to hold on to the football and to try to take it away," Saunders said. "Turnovers are the most important differential in any game to any team in the league. You just kind of have to reinforce it, and that's one way to do it."

CINCINNATI -- Based on comments coach Marvin Lewis has made in recent months about Vontaze Burfict's rehabilitation from offseason knee surgery, it came as little surprise Friday afternoon that the Pro Bowl linebacker wasn't seen during the day's opening session of training camp.

Burfict certainly wasn't expected to practice after being placed on the team's physically unable to perform list earlier the week.

But Burfict also didn't appear at all on the side practice fields, where other players on the PUP or non-football injury lists went through conditioning drills.

It isn't the first time Burfict has been missing in action. After appearing in a side-field rehab session the first day of organized team activities earlier this year, he was shuttered from media the remainder of the spring session. Any rehab work he went through was conducted inside the Bengals' newly renovated indoor workout area.

That likely was the case Friday as well.

Burfict has been inspiring some hope among the Bengals' fan base recently that a return may be imminent. After a near yearlong absence from Twitter, he returned to posting messages to the social-media site two weeks ago. Among his posts have been a series of videos showcasing some of his rehab work. In the videos, he's been seen cutting, running and doing jumping drills.

Lewis indicated before Friday's practice that the videos may soon be coming down. Lewis also intimated that Burfict's rehab will take a while longer.

"He's in the middle of his rehab. I mean, that's where he's going to be if you ask me that question today, tomorrow, next week," Lewis said. "He's going to be in the middle of his rehab until he's not in the middle of his rehab. He's got to just keep working like he's doing."

Every other player participated in Friday's practice.

CINCINNATI -- Believe it or not, the Cincinnati Bengals are Andy Dalton's team.

Coach Marvin Lewis drove that point home Friday afternoon when he said during a pre-training camp news conference that the locker room's baton of leadership has switched hands.

Dalton, the embattled starting quarterback who is entering his fifth season, now holds it.

"[Andrew] Whitworth is cutting his ties to allow Andy to keep going, as Whit would say," Lewis said. "He's passed the baton to Andy and he's happy to give it up. That's a good thing."

McCarron/DaltonAP Photo/Al BehrmanBengals QB Andy Dalton has worked on becoming more of a vocal leader this offseason.

A 10-year veteran who has long been among the team's most commanding voices, Whitworth is beginning the final year of his contract. He has stated often that he wants to retire a Bengal. No formal interest from the club has been publicly expressed in re-signing him, but it's clear those in charge understand the impact Whitworth has had on the organization throughout his career. A 2006 draft pick, Whitworth has only worn Cincinnati's stripes.

Leadership has been at the heart of Dalton's offseason. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was charged following January's wild-card round playoff loss at Indianapolis with making Dalton a more respected figure inside and outside the franchise.

"Hue has been great for Andy because Hue has really pushed Andy to do more," Lewis said. "Andy has grown by leaps and bounds."

This hasn't been the first time Lewis commented on Dalton's development as a leader, and it likely won't be the last. As the Bengals try to mold Dalton into being a better performer in postseason and big-game scenarios, they feel the leadership issue is one of the final obstacles he has to overcome.

Dalton said he focused on being more vocal with teammates during organized team activities and minicamp, and he's hoping to do the same during training camp.

"It's just the full control [of being a leader] and making sure everybody's on the same page," Dalton said. "Because if a receiver runs something short, it messes up the timing. He's not going to catch the ball and we're not going to be able to get the full potential of a play; or the same if it's a blocking assignment. Just making sure everybody's doing the right thing. Pushing guys to be the best that they can be.

"That's what's going to help us win games, and that's what's going to help this team be the best. It's much-needed."

CINCINNATI -- Margus Hunt plans to play for the Cincinnati Bengals often this regular season.

He would like to get a few snaps in one or more preseason games, too, but the possibility of that happening remains out of his hands.

For now, the defensive end considers himself day-to-day as he builds up his conditioning after an April back injury prevented him from participating in springtime workouts. Asked where he would classify his relative health at this point, Hunt said "about 80 [percent]."

"We're at the point right now where I can't really take part in team activities yet," Hunt said Thursday. "But we're still in the rough timeline that we thought where we'll be at."

Margus HuntAP Photo/Gail BurtonA back injury suffered this spring is keeping defensive end Margus Hunt on the PUP list for now.

That timeline included placing Hunt on the physically unable to perform list earlier this week. His inclusion on the PUP list simply means he's unable to practice until doctors clear him. Apparently he's getting closer to that happening. Hunt was slated to participate in Thursday's pre-training camp conditioning drills. While other players went through the exercises to see where their relative strength and conditioning was, coming off the offseason, Hunt just wanted to do something to see how close he really is to playing again. His rehab since April has included training at the Cincinnati-based Ignition Athletic Performance Group's complex.

Admittedly, it's been a rough few months for the third-year end who has had trouble staying healthy throughout his career. Ankle, knee and rib injuries caused setbacks last season, much like the back issue this past offseason.

"I was called injury-prone a lot, but it was all these injuries and hits that kept happening that ... it wasn't anything to do with me being weak," Hunt said. "It was just all these little things. My ankle that kept me out for four weeks. I mean, that was just B.S. It's just stuff like that. But, I kept battling through it. This is football. Everybody gets hurt."

Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has remarked all offseason about how the injuries have affected Hunt's ability to get into a rhythm since being a second-round draft pick in 2013. Just when Guenther could tell certain concepts were beginning to stick with Hunt last season, the Week 12 ankle injury occurred, and his growth was stunted slightly.

"He's one of the guys on the cusp of maybe breaking through as a starter," Guenther said at Tuesday's team kickoff luncheon. "Last year he was progressing at a high rate. Even the little things maybe you don't notice, once he went down and missed [games], it was like starting over again.

"We just have to keep him on the field."

Hunt feels the same way.

But even if he's beyond ready to get back on the field, Hunt believes going through some of the struggles that have come at the start of his career has been a good thing.

"It's good to kind of have that experience," Hunt said. "It was a good thing for me to kind of push and press through all that and realize this game comes with setbacks like that and that injuries can and will happen.

"You kind of get the frustration out early because you know stuff like this will happen. It's just a matter of pushing through all this and working my way back."

With a series of kisses and a multistep handshake, Devon Still said goodbye Wednesday afternoon to his 5-year-old cancer-surviving daughter, Leah, just two days before his Cincinnati Bengals begin training camp.

The Bengals defensive tackle posted to Instagram a video that featured the pair bidding one another farewell as he prepared for a flight from Philadelphia -- near where she lives with family -- to Cincinnati. Still will report to Paul Brown Stadium with the team's other veterans Thursday just in time for the start of training camp Friday. He has spent the entire offseason in Philadelphia while Leah has undergone treatments for Stage 4 neuroblastoma.

She went into remission in March, and tests Tuesday revealed she was still in remission.

In the video, Still held Leah with his left arm while asking her to "hold it down for him" while he's gone. They then kissed each other on their cheeks and foreheads before performing an elaborate handshake that had a finish reminiscent of one made famous by Will Smith's character in the 1990s sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."

Underneath the video, Still included the following message:

"We both knew this day was coming when we had to say bye but we didn't know it would come this soon. I was only willing to show this part of our goodbye because we both make the ugliest faces when we cry so I couldn't do us like that. On a serious note, I'm not leaving her to go out there and play around I'm going to handle business. My daughter has been through hell this past year and now I have the opportunity to make sure she gets the world from here on out. So I'm going to make sure she gets it."

Still added the hashtag #iDidntGrindThisHardToFail.

Grind is exactly what he will have to do the next five weeks to make the Bengals' 53-man roster one year after he was originally cut from it. This preseason, he will be competing with several other defensive tackles for one of the position's final roster spots.

Often this offseason Still has called Leah his inspiration. He's trimmed down his weight and firmed up his body. He went from 317 pounds in January to a more healthy 295 entering this week. After watching how she fought and beat cancer, he has said he's vowed to do everything he can to prove he was worth the Bengals making him a second-round selection in 2012.

CINCINNATI -- Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict was one of three defensive players the Cincinnati Bengals placed on their physically unable to perform list Tuesday. All three will miss the start of training camp, which begins Friday at Paul Brown Stadium.

Each of the players was placed onto the active/PUP list. Because of that, they continue to count against the Bengals' 90-man preseason roster limit and will be allowed to return to practices once medically cleared.

While Burfict has spent nearly all offseason rehabbing from microfracture surgery to his left knee, defensive end Margus Hunt has been trying to recover from an April back injury and linebacker Sean Porter has been attempting to bounce back from an ACL tear he originally suffered nearly a year ago.

Vontaze BurfictAP Photo/Al BehrmanBengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict has spent nearly all offseason rehabbing from microfracture surgery to his left knee.

Before news of Burfict's injury-list designation, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was asked at a luncheon earlier Tuesday afternoon about Burfict's progress.

"He's doing well," Lewis said. "When he proves he's ready to sustain football play day after day and the doctors feel good about it, then he'll be out there."

Until Burfict is healthy, expect Vincent Rey and free-agency acquisition A.J. Hawk to split time in camp at the "Will" linebacker position.

Along with Burfict, Hunt and Porter, the Bengals made two other injury-related roster moves.

Rookie offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, the team's first-round pick, was placed onto the active/non-football injury list for an ACL tear he suffered last December during Texas A&M's Liberty Bowl win over West Virginia. Ogbuehi has spent the past eight months rehabbing the injury and, like Burfict, recently posted videos of himself beginning to cut and turn and sprint on the injured leg.

Last year, quarterback AJ McCarron began the preseason on the active/non-football injury list with receiver Marvin Jones. Before the end of the season, McCarron had a PUP list stint and Jones went on the injured reserve. McCarron's injury last season stemmed from shoulder fatigue during college.

Cincinnati also released second-year receiver James Wright under the waived/injured designation. If Wright clears waivers Wednesday, he will revert to the Bengals' IR for the 2015 season. His loss would be a big blow to an already-reeling pass-catching group. After their top three receivers, the Bengals' depth looks quite thin. Wright was expected to be the fourth receiver had he recovered fully from a knee injury he suffered Week 13 last season.

Wright was just coming into his own in that game, converting first downs on all three of his catches in the win at Tampa Bay. Each of the receptions came on third downs.

The Cincinnati Bengals open training camp on July 31 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Here's a closer look at the Bengals' camp, which wraps up on Aug. 20:

Top storyline: As has been the case the past four preseasons, the Bengals' top storyline this year revolves around their push to finally get over the postseason hump. Sports fans in Cincinnati know all too well that it's been 25 years since either of their professional franchises has advanced in the playoffs. When it comes to football specifically, this area is starved for January victories. While quarterback Andy Dalton hasn't made wholesale fixes to his style of play this offseason, he has focused on becoming a better and more accountable leader. His offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, believes he has accomplished that goal. The rest of us won't truly see evidence of that until the end of the regular season, when Dalton hopes to snap the four-game winless streak that's started his postseason career. With arguably one of the NFL's best rosters, the Bengals made tweaks this offseason in an effort to ensure they'll have another playoff-bound team.

Position battles to watch: As they bring back a near complete starting lineup -- only two of the 22 positions on offense and defense needed addressing during free agency -- the Bengals will have relatively few major training-camp position battles. Keep an eye on how the No. 2 receiver position shakes out. Although A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu ought to see their share of playing time in a regular rotation, practices next month could help determine which of the receivers (Jones or Sanu) gets opportunities behind the four-time Pro Bowler Green. Also watch for what happens at the back end of the receiver rotation with Brandon Tate, Denarius Moore and Mario Alford competing for the speed receiver/kick returner role. This camp also could help determine the final defensive tackle job, for which Devon Still and Pat Sims are front-runners.

Veterans to watch: Barring an unexpected slew of August extensions, this figures to be a contract year for a bevy of Bengals stars who will have much to prove. As a result, be on the lookout for how well several key starters play not only in this camp, but throughout the season. Andrew Whitworth, Adam Jones, Andre Smith, Eric Winston, Leon Hall, Reggie Nelson, George Iloka, Emmanuel Lamur, Wallace Gilberry, Vincent Rey, Marvin Jones, Sanu, Green and Tate are among those entering the final years of their current deals. Each of these rotational players knows the importance of the upcoming season.

Rookies to watch: Because of all the key veterans who will be in various starting and second-string rotations, the Bengals' rookies may have a more difficult time sticking out than usual. Offensive tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher may have a difficult time cracking the regular rotation. Tight ends Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah have a better chance due to a lack of depth at their position, but the focus will largely be on veteran Tyler Eifert. Safety Derron Smith doesn't figure to enter the lineup regularly, but he'll be a rookie worth watching as the Bengals work on filling out depth.

Bubble watch: As mentioned above, Tate is one returning Bengal at risk of losing his spot in the team's receiver rotation. As Cincinnati tries to get faster at his position, he will have his hands full trying to stave off Moore and the quick-footed rookie Alford. Tate hasn't been as good in the kick-return game as the Bengals would like in recent years, meaning the door is open for someone else to take his spot. Defensive tackle depth puts Still on the bubble for the second straight camp, despite the feel-good story his daughter overcoming cancer has provided the team. Second-year running back James Wilder Jr., a fan favorite, also is at risk of being cut although he has enhanced his versatility, taking snaps at fullback throughout the spring. With Ryan Hewitt continuing to do an admirable job as an H-back blocker, it remains to be seen whether the Bengals have a spot on their 53-man roster for a fullback.

Backfield breakdown: The backfield will be a place Bengals fans and fantasy owners alike will pay a great deal of attention to this year, particularly early in the season. Although offensive coordinator Jackson has vowed balanced opportunities between Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, one has to think Cincinnati will be riding Hill a little more. He's proved to be more sturdy than Bernard, and he got better as his rookie year continued. The Rex Burkhead dynamic also could make the backfield breakdown interesting, as the Bengals look to get their backup running back some catches out of the slot. Perhaps camp will provide a clue as to how the Bengals will use their running backs.

For daily updates at camp, check out the Cincinnati Bengals' clubhouse page.

Here is the projected starting lineup for the Cincinnati Bengals.


Quarterback (Andy Dalton): He's been the starting quarterback since he was a rookie five seasons ago, and as the Bengals' $115 million man, that won't be changing this year.

Running back (Jeremy Hill): Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson claims the Bengals will balance carries between Hill and Giovani Bernard. But the fact Hill led the NFL in rushing the last nine weeks of last season should be enough to convince coaches he deserves the bulk of backfield snaps.

Wide receivers (A.J. Green, Marvin Jones): If we're to assume the Bengals open the season in a two-receiver, one-tight-end set, then Green and Jones would be the wideouts they would turn to. Mohamed Sanu mostly played well in 2014 while leading an injury-riddled pass-catching group and could contend with Jones for No. 2 receiver duties.

H-back (Ryan Hewitt): The Bengals could easily open the year in a three-receiver set, but since they like Hewitt as a blocker, and because they used him often as a rookie last season, look for him to resume his duties helping power the running game.

Tight end (Tyler Eifert): On just eight snaps in last season's opener, Eifert caught three passes for 37 yards. He was in line for a big second season before a pair of upper-body injuries effectively ended his season. He could be a 40-catch player in Cincinnati's offense.

Center (Russell Bodine): Despite occasional struggles as a rookie, Bodine figures to take another step toward anchoring one of the NFL's best blocking offensive lines.

Offensive tackles (Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith): Two veterans entering contract years, Whitworth and Smith will be playing for their next deals. Whitworth was rated the league's top offensive tackle in 2014 by Pro Football Focus. Smith had trouble staying on the field because of injuries, so he'll be out to prove he isn't injury-prone.

Guards (Clint Boling, Kevin Zeitler): After signing a contract extension this March that will pay him $5.2 million per year, Boling has the left guard position locked down. Zeitler is arguably the better guard, but like Smith, he'll be looking to prove he can stay on the field after dealing with injuries the last couple of seasons.


Defensive ends (Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson): Dunlap's eight sacks last season marked the second-highest total of his career, but it wasn't enough for a Bengals defense that finished with a league-low 20 sacks. The return of Johnson to the right side of the line ought to help ease some of the double-teams Dunlap encountered last season.

Defensive tackles (Geno Atkins, Domata Peko): Both ends could benefit from an improved and healthier Atkins. Coaches believe Atkins will return to the Pro Bowl form he showcased in 2012, when he had a career-high 12.5 sacks. Peko will be more of a rotational player, switching out for Brandon Thompson on run downs.

Outside linebackers (A.J. Hawk, Emmanuel Lamur): Put Lamur down in ink as the starting strongside linebacker, but keep Hawk's inclusion as the weakside starter in pencil for now. This position depends upon how quickly weakside 'backer Vontaze Burfict can recover from offseason microfracture surgery. If Burfict isn't ready -- as it currently appears -- the former Packer Hawk would be a viable replacement. Hawk will be competing in camp, though, with Vincent Rey.

Middle linebacker (Rey Maualuga): Like Boling, Maualuga signed an extension in March that locks him into the starting role. He's best in run-stop situations. When he was on the field last season, opposing offenses collected just 3.6 yards per carry. When he wasn't, they averaged 4.9 yards.

Safeties (Reggie Nelson, George Iloka): Two more players slated for free agency at season's end, Nelson and Iloka are among the team's top players. Iloka might have been a Pro Bowl snub after leading the league in PFF's metric "cover snaps per reception" last season. He allowed a catch every 51.8 snaps he was in coverage.

Cornerbacks (Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick): Assuming the Bengals open the year in a base, non-nickel defense, Jones and Kirkpatrick would start on the right and left boundaries, respectively. Leon Hall and Darqueze Dennard figure to be on the field regularly, too, as slot corners in nickel situations.


Kicker (Mike Nugent): There might be two kickers on the roster now, but Nugent will be alone by preseason's end. He signed a two-year extension in March.

Punter (Kevin Huber): One of four Bengals Pro Bowl selections, Huber will be out to build upon his No. 4 ranking in net punting average last season.

Long-snapper (Clark Harris): Like Huber, Harris has no competition and will begin his seventh straight season as the Bengals long-snapper.

Kick returner (Mario Alford): If Alford makes the team, he has a good chance to be one of the Bengals' two return specialists. A seventh-round draft pick in this year's draft, he was a better kick returner at West Virginia, where he had two return touchdowns. The Bengals have worked with him as a punt returner, though.

Punt returner (Adam Jones): Jones was one of football's top punt returners last season.