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Bengals wake-up call: Three areas to watch

8/2/2014

CINCINNATI -- As the Cincinnati Bengals get going with Day 9 of training camp, here are three items we are going to be watching:

Emphasizing penalties. Among the items I'll be keeping my eyes on Saturday is the Bengals' ability to negotiate some of the added emphasis the league is placing on certain penalties this season. Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth spoke at length Friday night about how he didn't quite understand what an offensive lineman was to do now that the NFL is pushing harder on penalties involving linemen engaging the player rushing them with a shot to the head. Before, the rule stipulated that contact could be made, but it couldn't be prolonged. Now, even if an offensive lineman's hand slips and accidentally makes subtle contact with a defender's helmet, the lineman could be penalized. As defensive ends start bull-rushing more, Whitworth believes all a tackle can do to protect himself is put his hands up. Along with that rule tweak, we saw cornerback Terence Newman trying to get clarification from an official Friday about the emphasis on contact downfield. It's a rule alteration that, for now, seems to really favor offenses.

Rookie watch: Nikita Whitlock. He hasn't had the number of reps overall that some of the other H-backs or other blockers have had, but the undrafted rookie free agent has caught my attention through the first eight days of practice. While I'm still not sure a roster spot will come open for him, I do believe he'll make a very real push for it. From my vantage point, he's been solid in blitz pickup. As a former defensive tackle, you have to imagine he has a unique approach to pass- and run-blocking that other fullbacks or H-backs may not have. Another young blocker to watch is tight end Ryan Hewitt. The undrafted rookie has had his share of time with the first-teamers in recent practices with Jermaine Gresham and Kevin Brock both injured.

Going live? Coach Marvin Lewis contended the Bengals didn't go live on their final six plays of Friday's practice, but might they add just a tad more contact Saturday? Since the team is heading into an off day Sunday, it's possible. But it's also not all that likely. As part of the "Family Day" festivities, they will hold a few mock, simulated-game drills inside Paul Brown Stadium to push up the excitement level for fans attending. But don't expect the type of contact you may associate with a true scrimmage. After getting a number of players banged up and placed under concussion protocol last week, they seem to be taking it a little easier with the contact this week.