LATROBE, Pa. -- A couple of notes before Pittsburgh Steelers' practice really heats up on Wednesday:
  • The good news for Steelers inside linebacker Sean Spence keeps on coming. Spence said his body responded well Tuesday, a day after his first contact drills in almost two years. The 2012 third-round pick is not limited today with the Steelers again practicing in pads. Spence hasn't played since tearing several ligaments in his left knee and also dislocating his knee cap in a 2012 preseason game. Spence has made remarkable progress and doesn't have many more obstacles to overcome as he tries to return from a career-threatening injury.

    "The test is going to come here in the next two or three days when he's feeling sore," Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. "We've got some live stuff going on and it gives him an opportunity to get confidence in that knee and that's the only way you can do it. I think as time goes along the more confident he's going to get. He's going to be sore a little bit like everybody else is. We'll find out in two or three days how he's holding up."
  • Starting left guard Ramon Foster is practicing after missing the first part of camp because of his mother's death. Foster arrived at training camp Monday night, and he said being at St. Vincent College has restored a sense of normalcy after the loss of his mother.

    "The support I've had from my teammates has been tremendous," Foster said. "It's definitely helped me get through this untimely type of thing that nobody ever wants to experience. The guys and coaches have been great. They were texting and calling, sent flowers. It was a beautiful thing from them."
CINCINNATI -- At one point in the middle of the Cincinnati Bengals' walkthrough Wednesday morning, defensive line coach Jay Hayes decided to stir up the defensive huddle.

Given the OK from the Bengals' training staff, he told Geno Atkins, his long-injured Pro Bowl defensive tackle, to jog out and line up for a drill the unit was working through. It was the lineman's first time participating in a football activity with his teammates in a day shy of nine months.

Initially, Atkins' appearance caught them a little off guard. But the surprise didn't last long.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsGeno Atkins' participation in practice had the Bengals pumped on Wednesday.
"Everybody had big smiles on their faces because they knew then that the big 9-7 [No. 97] was back to work," fellow defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "We are excited around here. Probably the whole city will be, too, once they hear that Geno is back."

When it comes to the city and its Bengals fans, the word "excited" might not be enough. Try "thrilled," "energized," "electrified" ... "relieved." Or, as one tweeter put it in a rapid reply to my initial social media message about Atkins' return: "Hallelujah!!!"

Yes, with good reason, the vibes in Cincinnati are good now that Atkins' 273 days of torture are over. But what about elsewhere? How might the nice people in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Baltimore feel now that the Bengals' All-Pro is back? More specifically, how might the offensive linemen now set to face Atkins again feel about his return?

I'll let Hayes describe what they all are most certainly now thinking.

"If you can get him in one-on-one situations, people are going to have a long day," Hayes said. "Whoever that guy is [who has to block Atkins], he's going to have a bad day."

Double-teams or not, Atkins was having his share of good days last season before he tore his ACL on Halloween night at Miami. He had 20 tackles and six sacks to that point. While the tackle numbers were a little low and may have had many concerned, the sacks were right in line with where he was the season before. He was on pace to possibly reach the 12.5 sacks he had in 2012.

Already an offensive line coach's nightmare from a game-planning standpoint, Atkins' return shouldn't only positively impact him. His teammates ought to benefit from having him back around, too. The double-teams Peko had to fight through after Atkins' injury ought to dissipate. The amount of single-man matchups likely will increase for defensive ends Carlos Dunlap, Wallace Gilberry and Margus Hunt, too.

"It makes things a lot easier when a quarterback can't step up in the pocket or is worried about somebody else in the D-line getting sacks," Dunlap said.

Following Atkins' injury, Dunlap and the Bengals' other starting defensive end, Michael Johnson, noticed quarterbacks stepping up in the pocket a little more as they tried to escape the Bengals' pass rush, which was more externally focused at that time. Before, when Atkins still was able to help clog the middle and put pressure on quarterbacks, the passers would be more apt to rolling to the edges and running into lanes the ends were occupying.

Another unintended byproduct of Atkins' injury was the fact that it got young linemen like Brandon Thompson and Devon Still (before his own injury issues) opportunities to see regular playing time. Gilberry and Hunt were among those who were forced into expanding their roles to include rushing from the inside, thereby increasing the versatility they can provide the defense.

"The injury wasn't a blessing, but it just goes to the adage of next man up," Hayes said. "They all know that. They all know now that at the drop of a hat, 'I have to be ready. I just can't be pigeon-holed as the backup.' If you're a backup, you have to be able to play all the positions to some extent. ... You have to have that position versatility because we just don't have enough people to have a backup for each guy."

As well as his backups may have played in relief last season, neither of them was striking the type of fear in offensive linemen that Atkins will again.

Here's how Clint Boling, the Bengals' left guard who will be facing Atkins often in practice again, described the defender's return: "I'm probably the only guy in the building that's disappointed he's coming back."

Don't worry, Clint. Outside the stadium, you certainly aren't alone.
Ray Rice is scheduled to address the media on Thursday after practice, and it's time for the Baltimore Ravens running back to address the seriousness of domestic violence.

Even though three players recently have been arrested for assault in domestic disputes, Rice is the face of this issue in the NFL. The video image of him dragging his unconscious then-fiancée out of an Atlantic City elevator has put Rice at the center of what is a sensitive and extremely personal topic.

This is his chance to take full responsibility for the incident and not simply his "role," which is how he characterized it in a mishandled news conference two months ago. This is an opportunity to apologize not only to his now-wife, Janay, but all women who have been affected by domestic abuse. Rice has talked about the importance of being a strong role model, and he has to prove it Thursday, when he is expected to take questions for the first time since being arrested for assault in February.

No one needs to hear Rice say that he's failed. He did that at his May news conference, and he reiterated that in a statement released by the team after his two-game suspension by the NFL was announced this past Thursday.

Rice also doesn't need to say he's sorry to the fans or children again, especially after the warm reception he received at a training camp practice at M&T Bank Stadium on Monday night. There were women and children there wearing his No. 27 jersey.

The national perception, however, is that Rice has not been punished justly. Not by the court system, which allowed him to enter a pretrial intervention program. Not by the NFL, which suspended Rice for only two games when repeat drug offenders can be banned for an entire season.

The issue of domestic violence isn't isolated to Rice and the Ravens, which is why someone needs to send a stronger message. Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington and Vikings cornerback A.J. Jefferson all recently have been arrested for assault in domestic disputes. According to statistics from The San Diego Union-Tribune, 21 of 32 NFL teams employed a player with a domestic or sexual violence charge on their record last year.

Rice is just the latest statistic, although no one has been supported more strongly by his team. The Ravens contend this incident is unlike the Rice they've known for the past six years. Rice has been publicly backed by owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh and thousands of fans at that stadium practice.

But this issue goes beyond the team, the city and, quite frankly, football in general. That’s why Thursday’s news conference is such an important step for Rice.

Ray Rice

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Two of the Baltimore Ravens' rookie draft picks were injured on the same play at training camp Wednesday.

Defensive end Brent Urban and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan both got hurt on a running drill against the offensive line less than an hour into practice.

Urban, a fourth-round pick out of Virginia, looks more seriously hurt with what appears to be a right knee injury. He needed to be helped off the field by two trainers and was later carted off.

The Ravens expected Urban to be the primary backup to Chris Canty. Urban missed some early offseason practices after undergoing ankle surgery in February.

Jernigan, a second-round pick from Florida State, suffered a back injury. He followed Urban inside team headquarters but he walked off the field on his own power. Jernigan, who was competing for a starting job, had been one of the more impressive rookies at this year's training camp.

Coach John Harbaugh will be asked about the injuries following practice.
LATROBE, Pa. -- Pittsburgh Steelers right outside linebacker Jarvis Jones stuck with the Twitter handle SacManJones_29 despite notching just one quarterback takedown during a trying rookie season.

That he still embraces the alias is as close as Jones will come to predicting a breakout season for himself, something the Steelers badly need from their 2013 first-round draft pick.

“I’m going to do it my way,” Jones said. “Just keep quiet and work hard and produce on the field. I’ve got to live up to my name.”

It is critical that Jones do that since no player’s development on a defense that has gotten profoundly younger is more critical than his.

The Steelers’ defense has to become more opportunistic after forcing just 20 turnovers last season. Jones and left outside linebacker Jason Worilds providing a consistent pass rush would go a long way toward the Steelers taking the ball away more.

It would also help a secondary that has questions at cornerback.

Jones is poised to make a big jump after improving his strength the offseason and significantly raising his comfort level with the defense.

In addition, new defensive assistant Joey Porter, who played right outside linebacker in seven seasons with the Steelers and recorded 60 sacks, is mentoring Jones. And Jones spent the offseason working on his pass-rushing technique with Kansas City outside linebacker Justin Houston.

The two former Georgia teammates are close friends and trained together in Atlanta. Houston has 21 combined sacks in the last seasons -- he had 11 in 11 games in 2013 -- and Jones wants to replicate the success Houston has had since becoming a full-time starter in his second NFL season.

“I’ve been watching a lot of film of him and just watching his hand placement, his steps,” Jones said. “I feel really good about myself and where I’m at right now.”

Jones admittedly didn’t feel good about himself last season while struggling as learned a complex defense on the job and running into left tackles who were bigger and stronger than the ones he had regularly beaten in college.

The 6-2, 245-pounder recorded just one sack after making 28 of them in the two seasons he played for Georgia, and Jones admittedly got down on himself.

“It hurt because I wasn’t productive and I’m not used to being in that position,” Jones said. “Ever since I started playing football I’ve always been successful. It was humbling and it just makes you work harder.”

The Steelers need that work to produce signifcant returns this season.

General manager Kevin Colbert has said the Steelers will only go far as young players such as Jones take them, and SacMan_29 embraces that challenge.

“We understand that we’re a young group so we’ve really got to take the initiative of being physical, taking advantage of us being together,” Jones said of a defense that has eight projected starters who are 27 years old or younger. “We’re a lot younger than they’re used to seeing. We’ve got to gain our respect from everybody, even our teammates.”

Browns Camp Report: Day 4

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
BEREA, Ohio -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Cleveland Browns training camp:
  • Tuesday was a day for the defense, with offense struggling in major ways. Four passes were intercepted -- by Jordan Poyer, Justin Gilbert, Tashaun Gipson and Josh Aubrey. Only one really strong pass was completed, when Brian Hoyer dropped, threw on time and hit Miles Austin perfectly at the sideline. Pettine ended practice with an offense-defense competition in which the winners were rewarded with orange practice jerseys on Thursday. Doesn't seem like much, but it meant something to the players, who obviously love to compete. "We want to train our guys that it doesn't matter what goes on over the course of a game, we've got to make sure we can finish," Pettine said. "I think that's important to realize that it still comes down to playing at the end." Browns fans remember well that that did not happen last season.
  • It took four days, but Tuesday marked the first time that Pettine was not asked about one of the quarterbacks in his post practice media gaggle. It's amazing how despite the hype and hoopla over a player, eventually a training camp settles into a predictable pattern that has nothing to do with the hyped player.
  • Linebacker Eric Martin was probably as responsible as anyone for starting the tussles that "highlighted" practice. Martin threw Dion Lewis to the ground in a nine-on-nine run drill, then taunted the offense. Shortly after Ben Tate was throwing the ball at Ahtyba Rubin (the two made amends after practice). The nine-on-nine drill was a new one in practicing the run game. "If we can run the ball in that period, then we'll be able to run the ball against anybody," Pettine said.
  • Pettine had some high praise for defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, saying he's as good anyone he's coached at defending the run. Rubin remains one of the team's most active and, along with Gipson, underrated players.
  • Martin Wallace has shown some ability backing up Joe Thomas at left tackle. He's active and nasty, both good offensive line traits. … Wednesday is a day off for the players, with no curfew Tuesday night and nothing required until 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Choose the state you feel Johnny Manziel may be photographed in at your own discretion. ... Inside linebacker Craig Robertson showed up on several defensive plays and on special teams; he and Chris Kirksey continue competing to start alongside Karlos Dansby ... Garrett Gilkey is getting a lot of reps at right guard with John Greco out, but this is what Pettine said about him: "He's been solid. It's still early. He's probably getting some more reps than maybe he would have." Greco, Phil Taylor and Billy Winn continue to miss time. Tight end Gary Barnidge returned to practice and said he was fine after the conditioning test, just dehydrated.
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns and WR Josh Gordon may not know what to expect from Friday’s meeting with league officials in New York.

But this much is clear: Gordon has looked at times in practice as if he expects to lose his appeal of his yearlong suspension.

Either that or he’s just his usual self.

Not to say that Gordon is not giving effort. But his involvement with the offense and his approach to recent practices bring to mind the criticism a year ago that he is lazy in practice. Keep in mind that former Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner blistered that criticism and staunchly defended Gordon, who rarely goes 140 mph in practice but led the league in receiving yards (in 14 games) in 2013.

In short, Gordon presents the same conundrum in the small picture that he presents in the big one: His immense talent brings risks, and because of his immense talent the slightest lackadaisical effort takes on large meanings.

Gordon will argue at an appeal hearing on Aug. 1 in New York that he was the victim of secondhand marijuana smoke and that his test results were questionable and inconsistent between two samples, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. What happens is anyone’s guess. Clearly the public negativity toward Ray Rice's two-game suspension for allegedly knocking out his then-fiancée creates the perception that Gordon’s penalty is excessive. But the substance-abuse penalties were negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement and the personal conduct decisions are up to commissioner Roger Goodell. Gordon has hired a high-powered attorney to plead his case.

On the field, Gordon is not getting all his reps with the starters, and he has loafed through some routes. On Tuesday, he wisely backed off a route that would have led to a serious collision with a safety, something nobody wants in practice. But other times, he has not gone all-out; he has given up on routes; he has not extended himself; and he has let passes go through his hands.

There is no mistaking the reality that the Browns have Gordon practicing with different units. If things were normal, Gordon and Miles Austin would be paired with Jordan Cameron to form an impressive pass-catching trio.

But things are not normal.

Sometimes Gordon lines up with the 2s, sometimes the 3s. It’s only occasionally that he’s with the starters. The team is caught in the middle and has to protect itself if Gordon is suspended. It’s a tough balancing act. The Browns can’t give him all the reps ahead of others who will be around, but they also have to get Gordon ready in case he avoids suspension.

It's understandable if he is distracted and his mind is on the hearing, but Gordon has to cooperate by going all-out in the reps he does receive. Occasionally, he does. On Monday, QB Johnny Manziel badly underthrew Gordon on a fade. DB T.J. Heath was all over Gordon. But Gordon stopped and simply outmuscled and outmaneuvered Heath to make the catch. It was tough to imagine any other Browns receiver making that catch, but it was also tough to see Gordon make it, knowing he might not be around in September to make similar catches in games.
LATROBE, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers might be “open for business” as general manager Kevin Colbert put it Monday, but there are several constraints when it comes to signing some of their own players to new long-term deals.

The Steelers have a little less than six weeks to get signings done because they don't negotiate contracts once the season starts. Colbert said they have less than $6 million under the salary cap, but the reality is the Steelers don't even have that much money to spend on new deals.

They will have to retain a healthy surplus to be used on signings during the season with the inevitability that some of their players will end up on the injured reserve list at some point.

One way in which the Steelers could shore up a critical position long term and also create immediate cap room is by signing outside linebacker Jason Worilds to a long-term contract.

Worilds' cap hit this season is $9.754 million since he signed the one-year contract the Steelers offered him when they used a transition tag on the fifth-year veteran to keep him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

The Steelers could significantly lower Worilds' 2014 cap hit by signing him to a multiyear contract, which would allow them to spread the signing bonus over the length of the deal.

Colbert said Worilds is among the Steelers players who are candidates to receive a new contract, and Worilds has said that he wants to stay in Pittsburgh.

How much the Steelers are willing to give the player who finally came into his own in the second half of 2013 remains to be seen. Colbert said the Steelers won't be leery of making a significant investment in Worilds even though the 2010 second-round draft pick has yet to produce at a high level for an entire season.

"That's what our job is ... to try to predict future success," Colbert said. "It's no different [when] you draft a player out of college and he gets a substantial amount of money in the first round and he's never played a down. A lot of what we do is taking calculated risks."

The risk with Worilds is overpaying a player who has 18 sacks in four NFL seasons -- and getting burned like the Steelers did by the six-year, $61.5 million contract that they gave LaMarr Woodley, whom Worilds has replaced at left outside linebacker, in 2011.

The question the Steelers have to answer is whether they have to see more from their top pass-rusher before signing Worilds to a lucrative long-term deal.
The Baltimore Ravens have gone to the Arena League to add more depth to their secondary.

The Ravens signed defensive back Marrio Norman and waived wide receiver Gerrard Sheppard.

Norman, who turns 28 next month, played the past two seasons for the Cleveland Gladiators and Georgia Force. At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Norman played both safety and cornerback in college while at Coastal Carolina.

He had tried out for the Ravens earlier this year but wasn't signed. The Ravens have grown thin at cornerback since Aaron Ross suffered a season-ending Achilles injury and Lardarius Webb has missed more time than expected with a back injury.

Sheppard, who played at nearby Towson in college, spent last season on the Ravens' practice squad.
A day-by-day and honest look at Johnny Manziel's first training camp with the Cleveland Browns:

THE WORK: Wednesday was not a particularly good day for either quarterback, as the defense responded to prodding from head coach Mike Pettine to produce a much more lively, active and chippy practice. That being said, Manziel has not shown the spark in practice that produced the glittering numbers in college. Any neutral observer who has watched practice has left with the impression that Brian Hoyer is far ahead in the quarterback competition. Manziel has taken steps, but none strong enough to firmly take the job. He looks like a rookie learning an offense and struggling as he goes -- while usually facing the second-team defense.

GOOD THROW: This was a defensive day, with the defense playing aggressive and with energy. The offense did not match that energy, Manziel among them. To say he did not have a good throw probably isn’t fair; coach’s film could probably find one. But there was not one single throw that jumped out live. He did complete a lot of passes in five-on-five (mainly short), when the team drills took place he struggled.

BAD THROW: It might have been a sack live because Manziel stepped up to avoid a rush. But when he stepped up, he had a chance to complete a throw. Instead, he sailed it well over the receiver’s head and into the hands of Jordan Poyer, who would have had a clear path to the end had the pick been in a game.

THE WORD: “I don’t react to that because I want to know the why.” – coach Mike Pettine on how he reacts to interceptions thrown in practice.

START CHART: On a 1-to-10 scale, with 10 being Manziel certainly starts the opener -- Manziel started with a 3, dropped to a 1, went back to a 3 and Tuesday moves to a 2.
A look at a few Cincinnati Bengals offensive players who have made strong impressions through the first five practices of training camp:

Carlos Dunlap: Expectations are high for the fifth-year lineman this season. They're so high that defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has already told him he better be a Pro Bowl selection.

Margus Hunt: The second-year player told reporters in Cincinnati on Monday that he felt more comfortable at his position compared to last season, and that work going against offensive tackles Anthony Collins and Andre Smith as a scout-team rookie helped give him a better idea of how to attack opponents.

Wallace Gilberry: It's easy to forget Gilberry because of the attention paid to Hunt, the native Estonian who had a basic understanding of his position previous to the coaching he received this past year. Gilberry plays with a veteran's savvy and can be used at different spots depending upon the situation.

Brandon Thompson: With Geno Atkins still rehabbing from an ACL tear, and Devon Still slowly returning from a back injury, Thompson has had his share of repetitions on the line's interior so far in training camp. Larry Black and Ross LaKendrick have mixed in at times with him. Thompson's name has been called often during camp, and typically for positive reasons.

Vontaze Burfict: He's still Vontaze Burfict. There's not much else to add, other than the fact he's already in midseason form with his trash-talking and physical style of practice play.

Jayson DiManche: He's been similarly vocal and energetic as he tries hard to earn a roster spot. Like his rookie training camp, DiManche has quite the fight on his hands this year, having to fend off a number of linebackers.

Emmanuel Lamur: It seems clear the Bengals will benefit from having Lamur healthy this year. Primarily a coverage linebacker, he will regularly line up against tight ends and some receivers. With the high number of good tight ends the Bengals will face his year, his return comes at a good time.

The 'Older' Corners: There are too many of them to list individually, so we're going to group the Bengals' veterans together here. Terence Newman and Adam Jones have been particularly impressive, breaking up a number of difficult passes through the first few days. Along with Burfict, they've been the biggest defensive playmakers of the camp. Leon Hall hasn't done much from a gameplay standpoint so far, but he is noteworthy because of his slow and steady return after his Achilles tear last year.

Darqueze Dennard: Cincinnati's first-round draft pick has filled in admirably for whichever of the older corners takes days off while he practices. Since the Bengals have tried taking things slow with Newman, Jones and Hall, Dennard has found himself playing a number of cornerback positions to account for their absences. His best play defensively has come the past two days as the Bengals' schedule has afforded him more chances to showcase his patented lockdown man-press ability. He's looked more comfortable in that regard, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. Dennard also has been part of a variety of special teams units, using his speed on kickoff coverage and his cover skills to hold gunners in check on punt returns.

Reggie Nelson:
The veteran safety hasn't been too flashy this camp, but he's had a solid enough work on the back end.
One of the last things that Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees wants to see is deep passes completed against his players. So what happens in the first week of training camp?

Joe Flacco rediscovers his touch on downfield throws against the Ravens defense. Reducing big plays was a priority for the Ravens defense entering camp, and it's become a major point of emphasis since watching passes sail over the heads of defenders.

"Look, Joe's a hell of a quarterback," Pees said. "We've got a hell of a group of receivers. We're going to see a hell of a group of receivers all year. It's going to happen. They're going to throw some comebacks on you. They're going to throw some balls underneath. What we can't do is give up balls over the top. I'm a little disappointed in the first few days. We've got to do better than that."

To put in perspective how much big passing plays hurt the Ravens, their defense ranked in the bottom three in the league in completion percentage, completions and touchdowns allowed on throws that traveled in the air for at least 40 yards.

The Ravens watched quarterbacks complete over half of those 40 yard-plus passes -- 53.8 percent, to be exact -- on their secondary. They gave up seven completions on such throws (only the New York Jets and Detroit Lions allowed more), including four that went for touchdowns (which tied the Jets for most in the NFL).

"The one thing everybody's disappointed in is the big plays," secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "The one thing about having the responsibility of being in the secondary, whether you're coaching or playing in it, is ultimately on a pass play that is deep, it falls on those guys. We take it personally. We talked about it this morning, as a matter of fact -- the pride of not giving up deep pass completions, even out here in practice. We don't want to do that. I told the guys we don't care if it's a walk-through, a jog-through or full speed -- you don't want to allow it."

The Ravens' secondary has changed since last season. They didn't re-sign safety James Ihedigbo and currently have Darian Stewart penciled in as the replacement. Corey Graham, the No. 3 cornerback last season, is also gone, and there's a battle between Chykie Brown, Asa Jackson and Dominique Franks to fill that spot.

Despite the changes, the returning players say communication and continuity won't be a problem.

"Honestly, I think the chemistry with our back end already is better than it was last year in training camp with the new guys, to me," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "We understand each other, we talk, and [Spagnuolo] does a great job in meetings. He takes time in meetings to make sure everybody gets what we're doing, and everybody can work off each other. That makes all of our defensive players, our DBs at least, communicate a lot better and be more focused on details and the right technique more than on your talent, or how fast you are.”

Giving up big plays has been a bad trend for the Ravens defense. Some might assume the biggest problem was not bringing back Ed Reed after the Super Bowl season. But the Ravens actually gave up more passes over 40 yards (nine) in 2012 than they did last season.

The Ravens will get tested early. Their season opening opponent is Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who led the NFL last season with seven completions on throws that traveled at least 40 yards in the air.

How will the Ravens cut down on the big plays? By using their eyes better.

"If you're in man coverage, your eyes are on your man until he's running down the sideline, then you can turn and look for the ball. If you're playing zone, you've got to read your quarterback and feel the guy in your vision," Pees said. "We're not making mental mistakes. When we get beat deep, generally it's your eyes."
A look at a few Cincinnati Bengals offensive players who have made strong impressions through the first five practices of training camp:

Andy Dalton: The team's top signal-caller was praised by offensive coordinator Hue Jackson on Monday for beginning to make strides with his decision-making. He's seemed to have better velocity and accuracy on some of his deeper passes, too.

Giovani Bernard: So far, he's picked up where he left off last season, serving as the dynamic playmaker in the Bengals' offense. Cincinnati plans to use him in a greater variety of ways this season. Look for him to run a bit more and catch passes both from the backfield and after having been split-out wide or placed into the slot.

Jeremy Hill: Pass-blocking was among Hill's greatest traits as a college back at LSU. When the Bengals first incorporated those drills Sunday, he performed well, holding off linebacker Vincent Rey in blitz pickup. The rookie still appears in line to play the role of No. 2 back behind Bernard.

A.J. Green: He's been to the Pro Bowl every year of his career. Aside from a very rare drop in goal-line work Monday, he's looked well on his way to receiving a fourth selection to the all-star game.

Mohamed Sanu: With Marvin Jones out through the first five practices, Sanu has had more opportunities to prove himself as one of the "three amigos," the group he referenced Monday that includes him, Green and Jones. Sanu wasn't happy with his production last season and hopes to use his versatility as a receiver, passer and rusher to help ignite the Bengals' offense.

Brandon Tate: While much of the chatter surrounding Tate's apparent spot on the roster bubble has revolved around his lack of receptions with the Bengals (he has 14 in his three seasons in Cincinnati), he has tried during camp to prove he's more than just a kick returner. Once on Monday, he drew rookie Victor Hampton into the middle of the end zone before breaking off and peeling in the opposite direction, where he easily caught a touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone. Veteran moves like that will help him keep his spot on the roster as a receiver.

James Wright: Another player whose receiving numbers were down last year, the rookie has been among the biggest head-turners in camp. The seventh-round draft pick is fighting for a roster spot, and has so far done well in that regard. The ball has very seldom hit the ground when thrown in his direction. Cobi Hamilton also had a strong Monday, adding some intrigue to this battle for one of the final receiver spots.

Tyler Eifert: Much like Sanu who has taken advantage of Jones' absence, Eifert has benefited from Jermaine Gresham's training camp injury. As the current No. 1 pass-catching tight end, Eifert has been among Dalton's top targets so far.

Marshall Newhouse: It's not so much that Newhouse has played incredibly well or anything, but he's worth highlighting since he is getting a number of snaps in place of injured left tackle Andrew Whitworth. The increased reps in Cincinnati's offense will only be a positive for the veteran swing tackle who was added in free agency this offseason.

Trey Hopkins: The undrafted free agent has had his share of reps, as well, giving reason to believe he has the best chance of making the team of all the undrafted free-agent linemen the Bengals signed.

Russell Bodine: The rookie continues getting practice time just as he did in the spring. He still needs to hone his snapping ability after a miscue earlier this week.
LATROBE, Pa. -- Another milestone in Sean Spence's remarkable recovery occurred Monday afternoon when the Steelers linebacker practiced in pads for the first time since shredding his left knee almost two years ago.

Spence said his knee held up well on the first day that the Steelers hit and tackled during training camp. The next step for the 2012 third-round draft pick will be how his knee responds when the Steelers start stringing contact practices together.

The players are off today.

"I still have a long way to go," Spence said.

Not nearly as long as he did after tearing multiple ligaments and dislocating his knee in the Steelers' final preseason game in 2012.

The gruesome injury, which occurred when Spence was chasing a quarterback, put his career in doubt. What is telling about the progress Spence has made as he works his way back to the field: Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he didn't even think about the significance of Spence practicing for the first time in pads since his injury.

"We've had a great deal of comfort in where he is for some time," Tomlin said. "I probably went to those feelings of emotion when he came out in the spring and really showed his capabilities in terms of movement and control of body and redirecting."

Indeed Spence took part in all of the Steelers' offseason practices and he didn't show any trace of the injury that had also left him with nerve damage in his left knee. Spence has been playing with the second-team defense and if he can make it all the way back it will only add to the depth that the Steelers have at inside linebacker.

"I know he was glad to be back out there," Tomlin said after the Steelers' first padded practice, "and (he) had a smile on his face."