CINCINNATI – The Bengals will don full pads for the first time in training camp on Sunday. Practicing in their shoulder pads on Saturday, they got in a little taste of what’s to come.
The rules of engagement were for light hitting but on more than one occasion players gave extra love taps to teammates, with linebacker Vontaze Burfict at the head of the list. There has been no hitting since last January’s playoff loss at Houston. It was easy to see an elevated tempo to Saturday’s workout.
Fullback John Conner leveled rookie defensive end Margus Hunt during one session in which the offense was working on plays designed to get them out from within the shadow of their own goal line.
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Burfict and rookie running back Giovani Bernard were jawing at each other after a running play late in practice that ended with safety George Iloka delivering a blow that sent Bernard to his seat emphatically. It wasn’t the only encounter Burfict had with Bernard and others during the afternoon.
“Yeah, I’m going to get in trouble in film tomorrow but at least I was running to the ball,” said Burfict. “Actually, 25 (Bernard), you hit him and he falls. We’ve got to toughen him up a little bit.”
Burfict was the Bengals’ leading tackler last season. He took over the starting spot at the WILL position in the second week, replacing the injured Thomas Howard. Viewed as a potential first-round pick, Burfict slid to being an undrafted free agent over concerns about his attitude and physical shape. Those concerns have been non-existent with the Bengals.
Now that he’s in his second season, he’s more comfortable with his surroundings.
“He’s not a kid you have to teach to eat red meat,” said linebackers coach Paul Guenther. “Once he’s out there and he gets flying around he gets right back into it. He’s kind of to the point right now where he’s the coach on the field.”
There are 12 linebackers on the Bengals’ roster. Nine of them are like Burfict; they didn’t enter the NFL via the draft. Emmanuel Lamur played in nine games last season plus started in the playoffs after beginning the season on the practice squad. He added 12 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-4 frame to bulk up to 240 pounds but has been able to retain the speed that has enabled him to earn more playing time.
“We all have a good bond,” said Lamur. “I knew was going to be comfortable with the weight and carrying it. It’s all a mindset. It’s what you tell yourself. That’s what you’re going to do. I wanted to gain weight just because I’m taking on blocks. I actually feel better than ever, I actually feel faster.”
OKLAHOMA TIME: Sunday’s practice in full pads will feature the Oklahoma drill, where defensive players attempt to shed offensive blockers and tackle ball carriers. It is annually the first live tackling drill head coach Marvin Lewis schedules for training camp. Practice is scheduled from 3-5 p.m. and the drill is expected to get started at 3:30 p.m.
ONE TOUGH GUY: Cornerback Terence Newman is looking forward to watching newly acquired linebacker James Harrison in the Oklahoma drill.
“It will be fun to watch No. 92 over here, a little pit bull. They’re going to take his leash off and let him go bark at a couple people, so it will be interesting to watch,” said Newman. “I’m going to lobby just to watch the Oklahoma drill, stay out of his section and watch what goes on over there. That dude is strong. He’s tough. He’s got Kevlar in his helmet. Have you ever seen his helmet? He’s got Kevlar in his helmet. That’s how hard he hits. Kevlar! I’ve seen it on people’s ribs, but never in the helmet.
“It’s actually not a bad idea. I’ll probably have to do it too if Taylor (Mays) stays at safety because sometimes he comes in and there’s a little bit of friendly fire every now and then, so I may have to put a little Kevlar in my helmet.”
GREEN-ELLIS ON HERNANDEZ: Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis was a one-time teammate of Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriot tight end who is accused of killing Odin Lloyd and is a suspect in another murder investigation. Green-Ellis was asked if he had been in contact with any of his former New England teammates regarding the situation.
“My heart goes out to both families and hopefully everything turns out the way everyone is okay with, but it’s a trying situation and it’s really sad the way it happened,” said Green-Ellis. “I think it was shocking to everyone. Anytime you know anybody, like if one of you guys were to do something, or be committed or acquitted or accused of something like that of course it’s going to be shocking but right now we just have to send out our prayers to both families and let the good Lord take care of that situation.”
INJURY REPORT: Aside from A.J. Green’s left knee bruise, the Bengals have had a relatively injury-free first three days of camp. No pulls or strains have been reported. Right Tackle Andre Smith said on Thursday he was hoping his calf injury would be healed up enough to allow him to practice on Sunday.
All eight players that began camp on either the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list or the Active/Non-Football Injury list, like Smith, remain on the sidelines. The five players on the PUP are: quarterback Zac Robinson (elbow), wide receiver Tyrone Goard, wide receiver Brandon Tate, running back Bernard Scott (knee) and fullback Chris Pressley.