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5 observations from Bengals mini-camp: Athleticism upgrade; kicker battle

Richard Skinner takes a look back at the Bengals recent three-day mini-camp and ahead to training camp, which starts July 27 (WKRC).

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - The Bengals concluded their three-day mandatory mini-camp on Thursday and because tackling isn't allowed and contact is minimal it's hard to make many real judgments from what took place. Here are five observations from the three days and how those practices will affect training camp when it begins on July 27:

1. The rookies have upgraded the athleticism, and there's more to come

The Skinny: It doesn't take long to watch rookie running back Joe Mixon, rookie defensive end/linebacker Carl Lawson, rookie wide receiver Josh Malone and rookie outside linebacker Jordan Evans to notice how much they have helped with the overall athleticism.

Mixon has a great burst and can catch the ball very well. Lawson embarrassed a couple of backup offensive tackles while rushing the passer, barely touched getting around them. Malone has looked great on deep balls, although he was inconsistent catching the ball otherwise.

Lawson also had a busted coverage when he was supposed to drop rather than rush and allowed what would have been a long-gainer when quarterback Andy Dalton dumped a pass in the left flat and no one was even close to Jeremy Hill for about 40 yards.

Keep in mind, too, that first-round pick John Ross didn't participate due to him not being medically cleared from his shoulder surgery. So there is even more athleticism to come. Ross is expected to be cleared by the time training camp starts.

2. William Jackson III struggled at times; Dennard got better

The Skinny: Cornerback William Jackson III missed all of last season due to a torn pectoral muscle after being selected in the first round of the 2016 draft, and while he has been back since Organized Team Activity sessions began he showed a lot of rust by getting beaten on a variety of routes. It should be noted that cornerbacks couldn't put their hands on receivers to re-route them, though.

It will be interesting to see how much he progresses in training camp to compete for playing time.

2014 first-round pick Darqueze Dennard appeared to make good progress . He came up with a couple of interceptions and knocked down a couple of other passes during 11-on-11 sessions.

The hope would be that Dennard has progressed enough to start as the nickel corner with Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones on the outside, which would allow Jackson more time to work his way into the mix.

3. Kicking battle should be a good one

The Skinny: The battle for the kicking spot should be quite contentious in training camp as veteran Randy Bullock, fifth-round pick Jake Elliott and undrafted free agent Jonathan Brown all kicked well during OTAs that were open to the media and during the mini-camp.

All three rarely missed and, on the final day of mini-camp on Thursday, both Bullock and Elliott concluded the camp by each drilling a 55-yard attempt -- and Elliott's had significant room to spare.

Brown, a former soccer player at the University of Louisville, is still more of a project who takes a bit long to approach the ball on field goal attempts, which would likely lead to some being blocked if there was a real rush. But he has an extremely powerful leg.

I would give the edge to Elliott, but it should be quite a competition during training camp.

4. Team should be close to full health by time camp starts

The Skinny: The only significant injury suffered during mini-camp came on a freak play at the end of Wednesday's practice when second-year wide receiver Cody Core went down with a lower left leg injury and was carted off the field.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis declined to comment on the injury, but Bengals.com reported that Core should be able to return by the time training camp starts.

He was seen during Thursday's practice with his left leg bent on a scooter (see picture in photo gallery) while watching.

If Core does return the Bengals might have all hands on deck by the time training camp starts.

Running back Giovani Bernard and tight end Tyler Eifert were each seen running sprints together on Thursday and looked good doing so. Bernard is returning from knee surgery and Eifert from back surgery.

Fifth-round pick J.J. Dielman may also be cleared to be a full participant after being a limited participant as he continues to recover from leg and shoulder injuries suffered in college last season.

As I wrote earlier, Ross is expected to be cleared by the time training camp starts, too.

Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was a limited participant in mini-camp after missing OTAs due to a fractured hand, but he will be ready to be a full participant when training camp begins.

5. Kirkpatrick embracing role as leader

The Skinny: While Kirkpatrick didn't participate in OTAs and was limited in mini-camp he was seen at different times being a vocal leader to the younger cornerbacks.

It's a role he says he enjoys after being headstrong as a younger player when he was being mentored by Leon Hall, Terence Newman and Nate Clements.

"They helped me along the way, especially when it got frustrating when I wanted to play being a first-round pick (in 2012)," said Kirkpatrick. "I suffered an injury like Will (Jackson) and Darqueze (Dennard) did and they’re trying to get back on the field. It’s my job to continue to coach them through the things that I went though and try to let them know they have to stay level-headed and ready."

Kirkpatrick admits he wasn't the best at listening to the veterans when he first came into the league.

"There were certain things I may have been stubborn about, I’m not going to lie, but for the most part those things still stick with me and I’m catching myself relating those to the younger guys," he said. "It was all positive at the end of the day and there were things I needed to know, but there were times you got your feelings bent a bit and you just take it in a negative way. I wanted to play so bad and at the end of the day those guys helped me tremendously."

He said he hasn't gotten much push back from the younger corners either when he tries to lend his advice.

"First thing I do is ask them what do they see?" said Kirkpatrick. "As he explains it to me I tell him the correction he needs to know. They take it pretty good."

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