Bengals camp observations

BY foxsports • August 2, 2013

CINCINNATI – Training camp is a little more than a week old, time enough to start formulating some observations.

Players can shine on one day but do they come back the next and repeat their play? Some players make an impression because you might not consider them real threats to make the final 53-man roster but watch them day after day and they are giving themselves a fighting chance to stick around one way or another.

Here are few observations and thoughts from training camp so far.

*AS ADVERTISED: Scouts weren’t kidding when they said Tyler Eifert makes contested catches. The tight end and first round pick of this year has been catching just about everything thrown his way so far in camp. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has been able to line up Eifert in multiple spots; on the line of scrimmage, in the slot and out wide.

It’s been so impressive that when a pass from Andy Dalton intended for Eifert on Friday was tipped and went behind Eifert for an incompletion people did a double-take. Did that really happen?

“I think Tyler’s done a great job since he’s been here,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “He continues to understand things and he doesn’t make errors. We brought him here to play and he’s lived up to everything we’ve asked of him.”

*SAFETY WATCH: The battle for the starting strong safety position will become a little clearer in the next week when the Bengals go to Atlanta, first for a pair of practices with the Falcons and then the opening preseason game next Thursday. The depth chart has George Iloka, Taylor Mays and Shawn Williams in that order but this is far from a done deal. All three figure to get plenty of opportunities throughout the preseason. 

“It’s only been eight days of camp, and everyone needs to get better,” said Iloka. “The whole defense needs to get better to accomplish what we want to accomplish. Being first on the depth chart for a preseason game is not my focus right now. It’s on getting better so when the season comes along I can be out there making plays, and big plays.”

The test against Atlanta is more likely to come in practice as opposed to the game. Wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, running back Steven Jackson, tight end Tony Gonzalez and quarterback Matt Ryan aren’t expected to play much next Thursday but they will all get plenty of practice snaps.

“It’s going to be fun for the two practices against the Falcons to let our guys get against different people,” said Lewis. “When you’re used to seeing the same tempo, the same route developments all of the time, you get a little comfortable. But when you have to play against other people, now it’s at a faster pace.” 

*HE’S A FULLBACK: Orson Charles has taken well to his conversion from tight end to fullback. He’ll be called an H-back at times but don’t tell that to running backs coach Hue Jackson. 

“He’s a fullback. That’s what he is. He’s in my room,” said Jackson.

The difference between an H-back and fullback is in where they line up and their motioning. Fullbacks will traditionally be behind the quarterback, either directly or slightly offset, while lead blocking for the running back. An H-back can be anywhere offset from the tight end, go in motion, and even end up in the backfield because of it. They serve the same purpose but do it from different angles.

Charles played all 16 games last season as a rookie, getting six starts as the second tight end. He caught eight passes for 101 yards with his role mainly to be a blocker. John Conner and Chris Pressley (currently injured) are more traditional style fullbacks who could be fighting an uphill battle given Charles’ versatility.

“He’s not afraid (of contact),” said Jackson. “That’s what is going to give him a chance. We’re heading into the second week of this process, the first week of pads. It’s happening. We all want it to happen overnight but it’s going to take him a little time. I think when it’s all said and done I think he’s going to be really good at it. I really do.”

*INJURIES: The wide receivers have lost A.J. Green to a hyperextended knee and Andrew Hawkins to a sprained left ankle. The team hasn’t given a prognosis or timetable for return on either player but it appears that Hawkins’ injury is the more severe of the two.

He was on crutches and in a walking boot on Friday.

Green injured himself on the first day of camp. He was able to walk off the field and back to the stadium on his own. He had a slight limp for a couple of days is walking normally now. The Bengals are going to be cautious with his return. They’ll likely keep him out of practice next week in Atlanta and out of the game against the Falcons next Thursday night. Rookie defensive tackle Larry Black, an undrafted free agent from Indiana and a native of the Cincinnati suburb Wyoming, dislocated his ankle this week and will be done for the season. 
Defensive end Carlos Dunlap suffered a concussion and has missed the last few days of practice but should return shortly, possibly next week. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth has been working back from offseason knee surgery. He started training camp practicing, but the team has scaled back his workload. Don't be surprised if he doesn't play until the third preseason game at Dallas.

More notable than the losses due to injury has been those players returning from injury. Center Kyle Cook wasn’t his full self last December when he came back from ankle surgery but he’s had the entire offseason to get 100 percent and looks the part.

Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick missed most of last season with knee troubles and a concussion. He’s been as impressive of a player as there has been the first week-plus. He’s shown off the speed, quickness and change of direction that made him the team’s first of two No. 1 picks in 2012.

Running back Cedric Peerman (ankle) returned to practice on Friday. He’s been an important cog on special teams during his career with the Bengals. There is going to be a battle for roster spots behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard between Peerman, Dan Herron, Rex Burkhead and, if he can return from knee surgery, Bernard Scott. It’s tough to win a spot if you’re not practicing.

*ROUGH AND TUMBLE: If any fights break out between the Bengals and Falcons during their joint practices next week, my money is on linebacker Vontaze Burfict being in the middle of things. He was throwing his weight and muscle around last Saturday, the first day players were allowed to wear shoulder pads, and he hasn’t let up since.  

We knew James Harrison was going to bring a tougher attitude to the defense but Burfict is showing he’s more comfortable in his second season. He’s not being dirty but he has an edge when he practices. That’s not a bad thing.