5 observations/notes from Aug. 8 Bengals camp: First depth chart not surprising... and is
CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Here are five observations and notes from the Bengals' 10th day of training camp which was held on Tuesday at the practice fields adjacent to Paul Brown Stadium (click here if you missed the Aug. 7 camp report):
1. First depth chart has no real first-team surprises; Mixon listed fourth string
The Skinny: The Bengals usually list incumbent veterans ahead of rookies on their first depth chart of preseason, and that was the case on Tuesday when the first depth chart of the 2017 preseason was released.
Rookie running back Joe Mixon was listed as fourth string behind not only starter Jeremy Hill and backup Giovani Bernard, but also behind Cedric Peerman, who still hasn't been cleared to practice.
Mixon was listed as one of the top two kickoff returners along with Alex Erickson, who led the AFC in kickoff return average last season.
Erickson led the Bengals in punt return yards, number of returns and average last season. But cornerback Adam Jones, who has been a dynamic returner in his career, although he struggled last season, is listed first string.
The first string offensive line had as expected Cedric Ogbuehi at left tackle, Clint Boling at left guard, Russell Bodine at center, Andre Smith at right guard and Jake Fisher at right tackle. Trey Hopkins has been pushing for a starting spot ahead of Smith throughout camp, and offensive line coach Paul Alexander said after Saturday's scrimmage that he was still looking for the five best out of those six to start the regular-season opener against Baltimore.
Smith missed Tuesday's practice due to an arm injury. He suffered a triceps injury in 2014 while playing for the Bengals that knocked him out for the season after the 11th game, and then against last season in Minnesota, which limited him to four games with the Vikings.
Rookie Carl Lawson was listed as a backup at "SAM" linebacker, but is likely going to spend a good chunk of his time as a defensive end in nickel pass-rushing situations.
Likely nickel/slot corner Darqueze Dennard was listed as a third-team corner behind William Jackson III and Josh Shaw. Jackson has had a spectacular training camp and is on pace to start in place of Adam Jones in the regular-season opener while Jones sits out due to a one-game NFL suspension. Dennard has played very well as the nickel corner and will likely be the first player tried there in the opener.
2. Mixon hits yet another home run
The Skinny: Mixon seemingly has made a big play or two in every practice since training camp began, and on Tuesday he raced 80 yards untouched for a touchdown in an 11-on-11 drill that even had him saying to fans as he slapped hands with many as returned to his offensive teammates. "too easy, too easy."
On the play, which occurred in a drill in which the defense was stacked with linemen and linebackers trying to prevent an opponent from gaining a game-clinching first down, Mixon started right, stopped abruptly, cut left, turned the corner on Lawson, who got sucked in while playing outside linebacker, and then outraced the rest of the defense without ever being touched.
"You don’t coach certain things and he made a play knowing the situation," said running backs coach Kyle Caskey. "It was wide open so he took it. He does have some instincts you can’t coach and you let him run with those instincts and try not to coach it out of him."
There are plenty of fans probably wondering how Mixon hasn't yet moved ahead of Hill or Bernard, but it's a matter of doing things other than just running the ball.
"The big thing is overall consistency in everything he does: run game, protection, routes, the things right now we trust Jeremy and Gio 100 percent to do," said Caskey. "He’s learning and he’s coming along well. He’s got a knack for the game and he understands the game so it’s not hard to coach him."
While Mixon may not have moved ahead of Hill and Bernard yet, even Caskey admits how well he's played in camp has been fun to watch.
"We knew he had that ability so seeing it out here it’s fun to see it translate to our level of football," said Caskey. "He’s got a long way to go because of the other things that we have to get him to do. Running the ball, I think he’s done a good job and gotten a good start to it. It is exciting to see the things we saw on college film start to translate over against the the speed of the game of the NFL."
3. Lawson dominates in ridiculously good sequence
The Skinny: Aside from getting sucked in on Mixon's run and a couple of mistakes in coverage while playing linebacker, Lawson, who was a fourth-round pick, has easily been one of the most impressive defensive players in training camp, and during an 11-on-11 drill he dominated veteran reserve tackle Eric Winston and undrafted rookie free agent tackle Landon Lechler on five straight plays that in a game setting probably would have resulted in sacks. The Bengals aren't tackling live and quarterbacks are never supposed to be hit.
Lawson beat Winston on the first three plays - one of which was a blitz in which cornerback Darqueze Dennard also got there at the same time to "sack" backup quarterback AJ McCarron - and then whipped Lechler on the next two plays.
Winston was so mad at what transpired that after the third time he got beat he slammed his helmet down as he walked toward where the other offensive players were standing and then kicked his helmet as well.
Lawson has also beat projected starting left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi at times as well during camp so it will be interesting to see how he performs in Friday's preseason opener against Tampa Bay.
4. Tight end Uzomah has severely sprained ankle; other tight ends play well
The Skinny: Tight end C.J. Uzomah has been diagnosed with a severely sprained left ankle after he injured it early in Monday's practice and had to be carted off the field and will be out for an indefinite period of time.
Uzomah, a 2015 fifth-round pick who made eight starts last season, is battling with 2015 third-round pick Tyler Kroft, 2017 seventh-round pick Mason Schreck and undrafted rookie free agent Cethan Carter for the two spots behind starting tight end Tyler Eifert.
Kroft had an especially good day on Tuesday as did Schreck.
Kroft caught two touchdown passes from McCarron during a red zone drill, one in which he was hit and tackled to the ground by linebacker Vontaze Burfict only to hold on to the ball, and the other with a high point grab in the back of the end zone.
Schreck made a couple of nice grabs during early drills and then in an early half line 7-on-7 red zone drill he beat starting safety Shawn Williams for a touchdown reception.
Eifert had touchdown receptions on back-to-back plays in a later 11-on-11 red zone drill, the first in which he split out wide right and boxed out rookie linebacker Jordan Evans near the front right pylon for a two-yard TD catch, then crossed from tight on the left to the right and was wide open to snare another two-yard TD catch.
5. This and That
The Skinny: In addition to Smith, Peerman and Uzomah, most of the same recent players who have missed practice of late also missed practice on Tuesday: safety George Iloka (sprained knee); linebacker P.J. Dawson (cast on right hand); wide receiver Jake Kumerow (left foot/ankle); safety Brandon Wilson (hamstring) and cornerback Tony McRae. ... Cornerback KeiVarae Russell recorded an interception of No. 3 quarterback Jeff Driskel. ... Christian Westerman played briefly with the first string at left guard. ... McCarron and Mixon messed up a handoff that led to defensive end Chris Smith scooping it up and in a game likely scoring. ... Wide receiver A.J. Green narrowly missed what could have been a catastrophic injury when after catching a pass in traffic he almost got hit at the knees accidentally by Shaw, who had fallen to the ground. ... Kickers Randy Bullock and Josh Elliott were both perfect on four field-goal attempts (38, 48, 43 and 45 yards out). ... Attendance was announced as 1,000.
UPCOMING TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE FOR FANS
- Aug. 9: 3:15-4 p.m.
- Aug. 10: Practice not open
- Aug. 11: Preseason opener vs. Tampa Bay, 7:30 p.m. in Paul Brown Stadium (Local12 will televise).
- Aug. 12: Team will meet, but no practice.
Training camp closed to fans after Aug. 9.