AFC North: Andrew Whitworth

Undefeated Bengals notice empty seats

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
CINCINNATI -- When ESPN's NFL Power Rankings come out later Tuesday afternoon, there's a strong chance the Cincinnati Bengals will be among the top two teams.

They opened Week 3 of the 2006 season at No. 2, but that's as high as they have ever been ranked. And even if the Bengals fail to claim the top spot, there is no disputing the fact they are among the strongest teams in the NFL right now.

[+] EnlargeReggie Nelson
Aaron Doster/USA TODAY SportsNumerous open seats can be spotted during the Bengals' Week 3 home game against the Titans at Paul Brown Stadium.
But as good as the Bengals have been so far, on the surface, they don't seem to be getting the respect locally that they're starting to receive nationally. Empty seats have filled the upper reaches of Paul Brown Stadium the past two weeks, leaving the Bengals some 10,000 patrons shy of having sold out each of those games. The 65,500-seat stadium has had attendance figures of 58,574 and 56,743.

For a team that has gotten off to the start the Bengals have, the sight has been disheartening.

"We definitely notice it," receiver Marvin Jones said. "We're doing stuff right now to change that. That's on them. We're doing our job on our end."

Not only are the Bengals winning games, but they are doing so in convincing fashion. Cincinnati is scoring 26.7 points per game this season while its opponents are averaging just 11.0. The Falcons and Ravens, the first two teams the Bengals beat, have collected rather impressive wins in the wake of their respective losses to the Bengals. Atlanta last Thursday pounded Tampa Bay, 56-14.

The Bengals beat the Falcons 24-10, and could have had a more lopsided victory had kicker Mike Nugent's made his three missed field goals.

Optimism nationwide is high for the Bengals. In an poll after Sunday's 33-7 win against Tennessee, nearly 150,000 weighed in with their opinions about whether the Bengals are a legit Super Bowl contender. While just 48 percent said "yes," that's a higher number than most would anticipate. Remember, this also is a franchise that has come off three straight seasons of teasing its fans with a first-round playoff exit.

Closer examination of the poll showed -- perhaps unsurprisingly -- that the most optimism comes from Ohio and the states that border it. West Virginians and Kentuckians share the opinions of Buckeye Staters. Indianans are split 50-50, and football fans in Georgia apparently thought the Week 2 win against Atlanta showed how good the Bengals are. They, too, see the Bengals as a legit Super Bowl team.

So why doesn't it seem the local online optimism is manifesting itself in the stands on game day?

"You hear so much in the media about how the owners and the stadiums are really having to compete with DirecTV and everybody sitting at home watching TV," Bengals kicker Mike Nugent said. "It's easier to go to the restroom, it's easier to get a drink out of the fridge [at home]."

Those have been among the chief concerns Bengals fans have had in recent seasons. To address them, the club this offseason came up with a fan-experience strategy that was headlined by improvements to in-stadium wireless. The hope is to allow fans better bandwith to stream video and chat on social media, so they can have a home experience at the game.

Ticket prices also are concerning for fans. But Bengals tickets remain among the cheapest in the league.

According to secondary ticket site SeatGeek, the Bengals have the seventh-cheapest ticket, averaging $83 this season. That's $40 lower than the league average.

ESPN The Magazine also recently ranked the franchise as having the 15th-best bang for fans' buck in all of professional sports. The team was ranked fifth in that same survey among NFL franchises. The "bang for the buck" metric weighed wins during the past three seasons per revenue generated from fans.

While Bengals players have noticed the empty seats, they're growing weary of discussing the issue.

"Honestly, any other year I'd probably sit here and complain about it or whine about it, but this football team is so focused on winning," veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said last week, amid threats of a blackout. "We set out at the beginning of the year with the goal of trying to win the Super Bowl, and that's the only thing we really care about. I can honestly say that about this team. We don't care. We want to play and we want the people that want to be here to watch us play."
CINCINNATI -- It was clear Sunday afternoon in Baltimore that the heat and humidity that sat inside M&T Bank Stadium got to several of the Cincinnati Bengals.

With temperatures hovering near the mid-80s and their bench in the sunlight the duration of the afternoon, the Bengals saw fatigue set in with multiple players a lot sooner than anticipated.

Defensive linemen and linebackers, on the field in the second half for more than 10 minutes longer than they were in the first half, were checking in and out regularly. Constantly they were tapping their helmets asking for a brief rest while they caught their breath and collected their thoughts.

Defensive end Wallace Gilberry was so out sorts after the hot and physical game that he had trouble putting into words how his two sacks on the final stand impacted the outcome of the game.

“I’m going to be honest with you, man. I don’t even remember the last series. I was just in a zone,” Gilberry said. “It was just about hunting and working. I’m so tired right now I can’t even think straight to give you an answer.”

By the end, the Bengals' defense had been on the field for 88 plays.

Gilberry played most of the second half, even shifting into Geno Atkins’ interior line position on the final drive after the Pro Bowl tackle left for the sideline. Minutes later, after the game ended, Atkins was carted into the tunnel and helped into the Bengals’ locker room. Coach Marvin Lewis wasn’t sure immediately after the game what happened to Atkins but said he believed he was simply dehydrated.

That probably was to be an expected ailment for Atkins, who appeared in only one preseason game due to his recovery from ACL surgery last year. He only played 13 snaps in the Week 3 preseason meeting at Arizona two weeks ago.

Safety Reggie Nelson said the team-wide conditioning issue is one that must get straightened out ahead of Sunday’s Week 2 home opener against the Falcons.

“We were blowing a little bit,” Nelson said. “Everybody saw that. We’ll come in Monday and make that happen.”

Injuries also affected the Bengals' snap counts. Starters Tyler Eifert and Vontaze Burfict were run from the game with first-half injuries.

Keeping in mind how much the defense rotated personnel due to the conditions, here is this week’s snap-count breakdown:

OFFENSE (67 plays)*
C Russell Bodine (67), OG Kevin Zeitler, (67), OG Clint Boling (67), OT Andrew Whitworth (67), QB Andy Dalton (67), OT Andre Smith (65), WR A.J. Green (63), WR Mohamed Sanu (62), TE Jermaine Gresham (61), RB Giovani Bernard (58), WR Brandon Tate (41), H-back/TE Ryan Hewitt (11), RB Jeremy Hill (10), TE Alex Smith (9), TE Tyler Eifert (8), WR Dane Sanzenbacher (8), OT Marshall Newhouse (5), RB Cedric Peerman (1).

DEFENSE (88 plays)*
CB Terence Newman (88), S Reggie Nelson (88), S George Iloka (88), LB Emmanuel Lamur (87), DE Carlos Dunlap (76), CB Leon Hall (74), DE Wallace Gilberry (67), CB Adam Jones (64), LB Vincent Rey (62), DE Robert Geathers (57), DT Geno Atkins (49), DT Domata Peko (39), DT Brandon Thompson (33), LB Rey Maualuga (31), DE Margus Hunt (30), LB Vontaze Burfict (23), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (10), S Taylor Mays (2).

SPECIAL TEAMS (30 plays)**
LB Jayson DiManche (21), S Shawn Williams (21), Rey (21), LB Marquis Flowers (20), Mays (18), Peerman (18), Hunt (16), Kirkpatrick (14), K Mike Nugent (13), Alex Smith (10), Jones (10), Peko (10), P Kevin Huber (10), LS Clark Harris (10), Nelson (9), Tate (7), Whitworth (6), Boling (6), Zeitler (6), Newhouse (6), Andre Smith (6), Gresham (6), Hewitt (5), McCalebb (5), Newman (5), Lamur (5), Maualuga (5), Thompson (4), Dunlap (3), Hill (3), Sanzenbacher (2), Hall (2), Geathers (2), Iloka (1), Gilberry (1).

*Snap counts come from Pro Football Focus
**Snap counts come from the NFL Game Statistics & Information System.
BALTIMORE -- At first it was shocking. Then it was galvanizing.

When A.J. Green stalked the Cincinnati Bengals' sideline with about six minutes remaining in Sunday's season opener against the Ravens, he did something he doesn't normally do.

He opened his mouth.

"Hey, we got one play," Green said, looking in Giovani Bernard's eyes.

"Let's make that play," Green followed up as he turned toward Mohamed Sanu.

Momentum had just escaped the Bengals as cornerback Adam Jones got crossed up on a go route the Ravens completed to Steve Smith. The 80-yard touchdown put Baltimore on top 16-15 and gave the Ravens their first lead of the game.

That's when Green got involved.

"I've never seen A.J. talk during the game," Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "He told every single offensive guy that it only takes one big play to get this thing back going the other way.

"And he did it."

Exactly 51 game seconds after Green gave his surprising pep talk, he crossed the goal line with his own go route touchdown, one that put the Bengals back ahead and gave them the game's final lead and the comfort of knowing they can close out a game when they have to.

The reception occurred on just the second play of the Bengals' penultimate drive and came in part thanks to a pregame Ravens roster change. When cornerback Lardarius Webb was declared inactive because of an achy lower back, Green had every reason to believe this was going to be his day to shine.

Green's six catches for 131 yards were a sign he did exactly that.

With Webb absent, the Ravens had just three corners. They mostly rotated them, but on some occasions safeties had to be lined up on receivers. During Green's game-changing reception, fourth-year backup corner Chykie Brown was on him. When the play began, Brown got pushed to the outside by Green, who got inside leverage. Once that happened, quarterback Andy Dalton had a lane to pass.

"We had the look we wanted," Dalton said. "A.J. had been telling me that he felt they were playing him soft and that he could get by them."

As Brown tried to recover, a finger hit the ball. The ball went in the air along with Green's hands. With his back partially turned to the line of scrimmage, Green caught the pass before turning up the field. As Ravens safety Darian Stewart sprinted up, Green juked once to his left and once more to the right before cruising into the end zone untouched.

"There was no way I was going down," Green said. "Like I was telling the guys before that play, 'If we want to be great, we've got to take that next step.' The whole past of the Bengals is that we'll get here and we'll [crack] in big games. One of the biggest things for us was setting the mindset of going into every game [saying] that we can win."
CINCINNATI -- With temperatures around southwest Ohio at their highest in a week and the humidity at similarly elevated levels, Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict had trouble completing Thursday afternoon's practice as a full participant.

According to the Bengals' injury report, the third-year player was "limited" in the practice with a non-injury, heat-related issue. The Bengals didn't provide specifics on what type of heat-related issue Burfict had, but they did say that he was not a full participant in the workout.

Burfict's partial absence came one day after he practiced fully in the wake of a hamstring injury that forced him out of the Bengals' Week 3 preseason game at Arizona. Wednesday was the first day the Bengals had to announce an injury report, and "full practice participation" was the designation they gave him. Burfict said earlier this week that he thought he'd be healthy enough from the hamstring injury to play Sunday when the Bengals visit Baltimore for the regular-season opener.

Along with Burfict, the Bengals also kept offensive linemen Clint Boling and Andrew Whitworth on the sideline Thursday, listed with non-injury related issues. In their case, it was a veteran's day off. Whitworth has been known to have those from time to time in his career, and Boling, who still is about nine months removed from ACL surgery, likely will be taking a few days here and there to keep his knee somewhat rested. The knee itself isn't an issue, but the team still wants to take it slowly with him and not put too much wear and tear on his legs early in the season.

The same goes for offensive guard Mike Pollak, who returned to practice Thursday after being completely sidelined Wednesday. He has a knee issue of his own that the Bengals have been cautious about.

In addition to those injury additions, the Bengals also still listed cornerback Darqueze Dennard (hip) as practicing in a limited capacity. He remains hopeful that he'll play Sunday after missing all but one play in the last three preseason games.

Here's the complete Thursday injury report:

WR Marvin Jones (foot)
RB Rex Burkhead (knee)

Did Not Practice
OG Clint Boling (vet day off)
OT Andrew Whitworth (vet day off)
LB Sean Porter (hamstring)
WR James Wright (concussion)

Limited Practice Participation
LB Vontaze Burfict (heat)
CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)

Full Practice Participation
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder)
RB Cedric Peerman (hip)
OT Andre Smith (concussion)
CINCINNATI -- A.J. Green is currently the second-best receiver in the NFL -- one pass-catching tight end notwithstanding -- and Geno Atkins is the fourth-best defensive lineman in the league, according to ESPN's #NFLRank project that concluded on on Friday.

Are we shocked the Cincinnati Bengals duo is so highly regarded? Are we stunned? Did we really expect anything more?

No. No. And no.

 Respectively, Green and Atkins were ranked the ninth- and 10th-best players on their side of the ball. Only eight players were ahead of Green, including the top overall offensive player, Detroit wideout Calvin Johnson, and New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham. Atkins was surpassed by nine other defensive players including Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, the player tabbed in this survey as the top current defender in the league.

Atkins actually fell to 10th after being ranked seventh last year. Still, it's rather amazing he still was included in the top 10 after missing half of last season with an ACL injury. That's a testament to his past success and the optimism many share this season as he comes off the serious injury. He's set to open the season next weekend with the Bengals when they travel to Baltimore. Green remained at No. 9, where he was the year before.

Green and Atkins joined linebacker Vontaze Burfict (No. 32, defense), defensive end Carlos Dunlap (No. 86, defense), running back Giovani Bernard (No. 88, offense) and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth (No. 92, offense) as Bengals to appear on the countdown. Only two players in that group haven't been to the Pro Bowl, Bernard and Dunlap. A former undrafted free agent, Burfict attended his first Pro Bowl at the end of his second season last year.

All but two of those players also have negotiated big second deals with the Bengals. Green and Bernard are the only ones who have not. Bernard can't start speaking with the Bengals about a contract extension until after next season. Green and his representatives can begin those conversations now, but it's not likely he'll receive a long-term deal for some time. Earlier this year the Bengals exercised their fifth-year option on him, meaning he's slated to make more than $10 million next season after playing out the final year of his original four-year rookie contract this season.

Green and Atkins have been among the best at their positions in recent seasons. An survey of players earlier this year actually considered Green the No. 2 receiver in the league behind Johnson. If you classify Graham as a tight end and not a receiver, the same holds true in the #NFLRank survey.

The #NFLRank series, which debuted last Monday, ranked the Top 100 players in the league. Players were separated into offense and defense.

Earlier this summer, many of the people behind ESPN's NFL coverage, including myself, made individual rankings for the overall project.

You can read the full series here.

Below are blurbs from the series on Green and Atkins:
Green was the most-targeted receiver in the NFL last year, leading the league with 178 targets. Green's eight touchdown receptions on passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield last season were the most in the NFL.
-- ESPN Stats & Information (@ESPNStatsInfo)

Despite missing nearly half of last season, Atkins leads all defensive tackles with 29 sacks since he entered the league in 2010. Atkins is the first Bengals defender selected to consecutive Pro Bowls since David Fulcher (1988-90).
-- ESPN Stats & Information (@ESPNStatsInfo)
CINCINNATI -- If you had the opportunity to watch the Cincinnati Bengals' open training camp practices earlier this month, you probably heard one word shouted more frequently and more emphatically than any other.


[+] EnlargeBengals offensive line
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanThe blocking by the Bengals' offensive linemen won't just be focused at the line of scrimmage in 2014.
It was a command most often given by offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, receivers coach James Urban and running backs coach Kyle Caskey. Their goal: to get the skill players on offense to continue running downfield even if they had been "tackled" or stood up by a defender or series of defenders who had touched them down. That encouragement was referenced in this story last month on running back Rex Burkhead, the now-injured back who was upheld as an example of finishing practice-play runs even after he got knocked down.

Running backs and receivers weren't the only ones prodded to keep going, though. Offensive linemen were, too. If the 300-pound blockers get up and down the field the way they have so far this preseason, the Bengals believe they will be in good shape when the regular season starts.

"It's an emphasis every team has this time of year, but the key is we're working hard to actually get it done," right guard Kevin Zeitler said. "As you know, we had a couple of fumbling issues at times last year and it would have been nice if we had been there to pick them up."

Fumbles and the possibility of having linemen there to help scoop them up aren't the only reasons behind the added push to get linemen downfield. By getting linemen automatically running downfield, the pace of the Bengals' no-huddle offense could get quickened, too. Additionally, Jackson believes that by getting all of his players to flow to wherever the football is, he'll enhance the intensity and aggressive nature he's trying to instill in Cincinnati's offense.

"That's how you get bigger runs," he added.

In a recent film session he showed evidence of what downfield blocking can do. He put on screen one lengthy Bengals run that was sparked in part by receiver A.J. Green, who rode a defender into the sideline, helping open an alley.

"To me when our star players do that, it shows that they're into it like everybody else," Jackson said.

"It's just got to be the mindset. It's my mindset," he added Monday. "You've got to become that and do it every day. It can't be a sometime thing. I told the guys this morning, if you're going to play on our offensive football team, you've got to demonstrate those characteristics, and they have."

One of the in-game instances of finishing that Zeitler was proud of came in the first quarter of Saturday's 25-17 loss to the Jets after he and center Russell Bodine had trouble holding off defenders at the line of scrimmage. As a result of their issue at the snap, a screen pass to the right to tight end Jermaine Gresham very nearly resulted in a lost-yardage play. But because Zeilter and Bodine didn't resign themselves to the play being over, they cleared a post-catch hole that Gresham scooted through to turn an apparent negative play into a 9-yard gain.

Quarterback Andy Dalton has noticed the extra attention his linemen have made in trying to get down the field even after the ball has been thrown, and believes it's paying off. So does veteran leader and Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who echoed Jackson's sentiments when he pushed Jackson's desire to get the entire unit to showcase that scrappy style of play.

Whitworth would rather point to some of the less recognizable intangibles like players finishing to Jackson's liking, as a theory behind why the first-team offense has looked so impressive through two preseason games. Dalton's stats, including his perfect passer rating last weekend, are good, Whitworth said. But they wouldn't be so high if it weren't, in part, for some of what Jackson is reinforcing.

"That kind of thing," Whitworth said, "is the kind of mentality that helps you win football games."
CINCINNATI -- Preseason games are usually boring, uninteresting, uneventful and, aside from perhaps five plays in the first quarter, are mostly lacking in entertainment value.

That might not be the case in Cincinnati this weekend. If New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson gets his way, there ought to be a few fireworks going off inside Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday night.

Five days after Richardson told his team's website that he felt the Jets needed retribution this weekend for last season's 49-9 regular-season defeat against the Cincinnati Bengals, two Bengals players embraced the comments, saying they will be glad to see an opponent who doesn't plan on taking them lightly.

[+] EnlargeMarvin Jones
John Grieshop/Getty ImagesThe Jets surrendered four TD catches to Marvin Jones in a 49-9 loss against the Bengals in October.
"That's good," Bengals Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "We want their best. Sometimes for older guys -- especially myself, who have played as much as I have -- it's kind of disheartening when you go out there and guys are playing, but not really playing. You want people to bring their best. You want to get better. That's what [the preseason] is for."

Whitworth was responding to comments Richardson made Saturday when, according to the Jets' website, he said, "We owe them one. We owe them one big time."

Richardson continued, adding: "That was pretty much the only team that dog-walked this defense like that."

The Bengals dominated both sides of the ball that October afternoon. Receiver Marvin Jones, who won't be playing Saturday because of a foot injury, caught a franchise-record four touchdown passes in the game. Quarterback Andy Dalton completed just 19 passes, but he threw for 325 yards and the Bengals racked up 402 total yards. Cincinnati's offense was so strong in the red zone that it converted five of its six series that made it there into touchdowns. The defense was so stout that it didn't allow the Jets a red-zone possession.

"That game got really out of hand at one point," Bengals defensive end Margus Hunt remembered Wednesday.

It was the ugliness of the game that had Whitworth unfazed by Richardson's comments.

He knows teams often remember the bad more than they remember the good.

"You remember the last time you played a team and how it went. It sticks in the back of your mind," Whitworth said. "It doesn't mean they're going to come out and do something cheap or something different. It just means they remember that, 'Hey, last time these guys got the best of us and this time we plan on reversing it.'"

Even though it is the preseason and he doesn't anticipate Richardson to play for long, Hunt still is glad to hear the emotion coming from his fellow defender.

"We need that," Hunt said. "We need to be physical and we need to match their physicality or set the physicality first and foremost. We need to be the aggressors and we need to set the tempo."

Despite knowing they will only see New York's first-team units for a few plays in the first half, the Bengals hope to still match the intensity they had last October. The trick, Whitworth added, will be maintaining it all game with the second- and third-team groups seeing action.

"For these young guys it'll be a good opportunity to get in there and play against a [good] group -- [Jets head coach] Rex Ryan's D-lines are always going to be some of the best you're going to play," Whitworth said. "They're excellent with their hands, they're physical. Every year they're a great-run defense, and it'll be no different this year."

Bengals clear five to practice

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
CINCINNATI -- Five Cincinnati Bengals were cleared to return to practice by the team's medical staff Monday.

All five participated in some capacity.

Receiver Marvin Jones, offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth and receiver Ryan Whalen were limited to participating in primarily position-specific drills. Jones did take part in some seven-on-seven work, but was not part of the 11-on-11 exercises the Bengals went through.

Tight end Jermaine Gresham and defensive tackle Zach Minter, however, did participate in full-squad activities. Gresham mostly worked with the second- and third-team units. His diving catch at the goal line during a red zone segment was the team's final play of the workout.

Four of the five began training camp on the active physically unable to perform list. Only Jones began on the active non-football injury list for an ankle ailment he wanted to make sure was 100 percent healthy before he practiced again.

"It went well," Jones said. "As the days go on, I'll get more and more out there. It's just good to get the pads on and to get the helmet on again."

He said he wasn't expecting to play Thursday when the Bengals open the preseason at Kansas City.

Only three players continue to have some injury designation. Quarterback AJ McCarron remains on the non-football injury list with a shoulder issue, and offensive tackle Andre Smith and linebacker J.K. Schaffer are still under concussion protocol.
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.
CINCINNATI -- Andrew Whitworth believes he's in the best shape of his professional career.

But he has yet to show it at this training camp.

A late addition to the Cincinnati Bengals' physically unable to perform list, the veteran offensive tackle has spent the first eight practices on the team's rehab island; a corner of a practice field that's separated from the other two fields the Bengals regularly use. He's been nursing a bad calf, one that got strained during conditioning drills one day before camp opened.

Speaking for the first time since camp opened, Whitworth said he's "extremely" ready to get back to practice.

"I also have to realize that I have to be smart," he said. "I'm in fantastic shape; the best I've ever been in. I feel great. I just have to make sure it's OK and it's 100 percent before I get going."

On the point about his shape, Whitworth added that he spent more time working out this offseason than he had in any other year of his career.

In practice, the Pro Bowl left tackle has been replaced by swing tackle Marshall Newhouse, the veteran who was acquired in free agency after having last played in Green Bay.

While he hasn't had a chance to train with the team yet this preseason, Whitworth knows that being able to do the rehab work he's gotten in so far is light years beyond any activity he was able to do last preseason.

"No question," he said.

Last preseason, Whitworth was working through a knee injury that had been re-aggravated at the start of camp. He couldn't do anything for a few weeks, and even missed the Bengals' regular-season opener at Chicago because he was still getting healthy.

As for this injury, Whitworth still is taking his full recovery slowly because he doesn't want to run the risk of re-injuring himself once the season begins.

"It's no different than pulling a hamstring," Whitworth said. "It's something where if you rush it, it could be a six-month injury, and if you take your time, you can be fine. Just trying to take my time and be healthy and ready to go when it's time."
CINCINNATI -- At the close of their first day of training camp, the Cincinnati Bengals made a series of roster moves that included signing two players, releasing another and placing a fourth on the active physically unable to perform list.

Pro Bowl offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth was the PUP list addition, the result of a calf injury. Like the rest of the PUP list players, he counts against the team's roster limit and can be activated to practice as soon as he's cleared medically.

Whitworth wasn't the only one who sat out Thursday's practice. Tight end Jermaine Gresham (back), quarterback AJ McCarron (shoulder), offensive lineman Mike Pollak (knee), receivers Marvin Jones (ankle) and Ryan Whalen (hamstring), linebacker Marquis Flowers (hamstring), and defensive tackles Devon Still (back) and Zach Minter (back) also didn't practice. Each had been placed on the active PUP or active non-football injury lists before training camp began.

While the Bengals were making those injury designations, they also made alterations to their roster. Backup punter T.J. Conley, who was signed earlier this offseason to primarily give the Bengals an extra practice body to keep starting punter Kevin Huber's leg fresh, was released. In a corresponding move, they added two receivers, Jeremy Johnson and Conner Vernon, who was acquired from Cleveland after clearing waivers.

Johnson is a rookie from SMU who signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent last month. He was released by New England on July 17.

Vernon entered the NFL in 2013, signing with the Raiders as an undrafted player. He had four catches for 42 yards in four preseason games last year before getting cut the final weekend of camp. He was signed by the Browns on Dec. 26, and remained part of their offseason roster.

With Jones and Whalen out for now, the Bengals needed a pair of receivers to take their places until they return. Although Johnson and Vernon will try to make the 53-man roster, they were added primarily for camp depth concerns.
CINCINNATI -- Russell Bodine has yet to send back a snap in an NFL game, but the Cincinnati Bengals rookie center has already learned an important lesson about playing his position: Avoid drawing too much attention.

[+] EnlargeRussell Bodine
AP Photo/Michael ConroyThe Bengals like what they see in their fourth-round pick, center Russell Bodine.
"If they don't even know my name, that's all right," Bodine said. "Don't mess anything up. That's about the only way they figure out who you are."

Bodine has nonetheless drawn his share of attention in the month that he's spent in Cincinnati. A fourth-round draft pick out of North Carolina, the young center had his share of eyeballs during this spring's organized team activities and minicamp practices. With veteran Mike Pollak nursing a knee injury, Bodine made an early push to win the team's starting center position battle.

Since the Bengals concluded their on-field practices Tuesday, Bodine and other possible starting centers have to wait until sometime in August before they figure out exactly where they stand in the coaches' minds. For now, we at least know that offensive coordinator Hue Jackson believes Bodine is a good prospect who has all the potential in the world to factor into the Bengals' offensive future.

"He has the characteristics we are looking for in a center," Jackson said.

Among the areas that Bodine struggled at times with this spring was his ability to snap the ball cleanly to quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Jason Campbell, the two signal callers he spent the most time snapping to during OTAs and minicamp. During Monday's open OTA, Bodine sailed one snap over Dalton's head and sent another to the quarterback's feet. After talking through the miscues with Dalton and offensive line coach Paul Alexander, Bodine finished the practice much cleaner.

"He's got to get the ball to the quarterback right," Jackson said. "He can't play center if you don't snap the ball correctly. He's working at it and he's done a good job. But he's got to become a little more consistent on an everyday basis."

Bodine, a member of NFL Draft Report's All-American Sleeper Team earlier this year, agreed with Jackson's assessment. Part of the problem, Bodine said, has been the fact that he's still learning the audible calls and line checks that will be unique to the Bengals' new offense under Jackson. As an offense that wants to get plays called quickly and to the line of scrimmage early in the play call, the Bengals' scheme will rely on a bevy of pre-check reads and the quarterback and center's ability to make sure the play is perfectly set up before it gets run.

That's a little different than what Bodine is used to. In college, Bodine's Tar Heels liked to get to the line quickly, too, but they often snapped the ball right away and ran a play. There weren't as many pre-check assignment reads and changes as he's been dealing with since getting drafted.

"In the offense I ran in college, we didn't change plays. We'd call a play, we'd get up there and our goal was to run a play every 12 seconds," Bodine said. "So there wasn't a whole lot of checking and audibiling at the line of scrimmage or anything like that. Handling those checks is big for me. It's definitely the most difficult aspect right now. When that play changes, all my calls change and I've got to get everybody on the same page, and that's been the most difficult thing."

When Jay Gruden was still the Bengals' offensive coordinator, he used to regularly say that one of the more underrated aspects of longtime Bengals center Kyle Cook's game was his ability to see the field and to make the proper pre-snap calls. Cook may not have been the best center physically speaking -- which led to his release earlier this offseason -- but from a cerebral standpoint, he was considered a star among his peers.

The Bengals are hoping that Bodine, who has been praised for his brute strength and savage physicality, will become even sharper at the mental aspects of the position.

"I don't think anything's jarring to him. He's doing well," said right guard Kevin Zeitler, who lined up next to Bodine often this spring. "He's got the basics down. A lot of offenses are very similar from college to the NFL, it's just different terminology. Sometimes it's just making the right call, or if there isn't the right call to make, it's just communicating."

For Zeitler, a lineman not known for being verbal at the line, having the rookie next to him had an unintended positive impact. Zeitler was forced to open his mouth and talk more.

"It was Whit who was saying it's given Zeitler a chance to come out of his shell because he was having to make some calls," Pollak said. "The last couple of years he's had Cook to rely on. Now he has to make sure Bodine is doing the right thing, which is good for Zeit."

Pollak expects to be at full health late next month when training camp starts, but he knows he'll have a real position battle if coaches put him at center. For now, the recently re-signed lineman isn't sure whether he'll be called upon to play center or guard. He has experience at both positions, although he's never made a starting snap from center. With Clint Boling possibly out for most if not all of training camp, Pollak could find himself at left guard when the Bengals return to Paul Brown Stadium.

"I'm just ready to come wherever they need me to go," Pollak said. "They brought in Bodine and he's doing a great job, and if they want to go with him at center, great. But I'm going to be ready to go at center or guard, wherever they need me."

When Bodine practices next month, he doesn't want to be coddled like a first-year player.

"My goal is not to be a good rookie," Bodine said. "My goal is to be a good player. The rookie thing doesn't really mean anything to me. I'm going to go out there and I'm going to try and make strides in the right direction. I'm going to learn everything there is to learn as quickly as I can learn it."
CINCINNATI -- The mandatory minicamp portion of the Cincinnati Bengals' offseason has come to an end, meaning summer is well within view.

Following three voluntary organized team activity practices next week, the Bengals are off until July 24, when they take to Paul Brown Stadium's practice fields for the start of training camp. The only day next week media are permitted to watch the team practice is Monday. After that day, we won't see all 90 players on a field together until training camp.

That makes Thursday's final minicamp practice an important last step in springtime football.

Here are a few brief observations from the workout:
  • As they continue experimenting with offense and defense combinations, the Bengals shuffled players around all practice. Linemen who had been getting some run with the second- and third-team units were practicing with the first-teamers. The same went for reserve running backs and receivers, who were taking handoffs and catching passes from starting quarterback Andy Dalton. It was the coaches' chance to see which backup players could shine with the first-teamers, and which starters could play alongside which backups. It's all part of the tinkering that goes on in June.
  • That said, undrafted free agent Trey Hopkins was among those backup players who got some playing time with the first-team offense. The offensive lineman played both left tackle and left guard during the practice. Running backs Cedric Peerman, Rex Burkhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis also were among those who played with the first-team units. Since rookie Jeremy Hill was drafted, Green-Ellis has slid from running with the first team alongside Giovani Bernard, to the lower quadrant of the backfield depth chart. On defense, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was one of the backups who mixed in with the first-teamers on both sides of the ball.
  • Like we mentioned Wednesday, rookie quarterback AJ McCarron has been cleared to throw after dealing with "arm tightness" during the first two weeks of OTAs. He threw a little bit more and threw deeper passes Thursday. One of his best of the day was about a 15-yard comeback route to Cobi Hamilton, who broke sharply away from his defender thanks to a quick cut. McCarron also was picked off late in the practice when the Bengals were going through a two-minute drill. Safety Shawn Williams jumped a short throw.
  • Finally, after missing Wednesday's practice, Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth was back Thursday, getting his normal reps.
OK, it's only late May, and the Cincinnati Bengals still haven't held an offseason organized team activity (OTA). Still, that doesn't mean we can't try to break down their depth chart.

Now that the draft is over and a few additional signings have been made, we're spending this week looking at the three phases of Cincinnati's game, and taking a stab at how the team's position-by-position rotations may look when training camp opens July 24 (NOTE: the original date was July 23, but the Bengals last week pushed the camp's start back a day).

We're starting with the offense:

1. Andy Dalton
2. Jason Campbell
3. AJ McCarron
4. Matt Scott
Analysis: Dalton, Campbell and McCarron are likely to be the only quarterbacks the Bengals keep on their 53-man roster, but Scott will provide them an extra arm to help keep the others fresh before the season starts. A 10-year veteran, Campbell was signed this offseason specifically to give Dalton a mentor -- one he hasn't had on the field before. McCarron, a rookie, isn't expected to see significant playing time this year.

Running back
1. Giovani Bernard
2. BenJarvus Green-Ellis
3. Jeremy Hill
4. Cedric Peerman
5. Rex Burkhead
Others: James Wilder Jr., Jeff Scott
Analysis: Green-Ellis is and will be the player in this group to really watch for the next several days, weeks and possibly months. His rather lackluster performance last season, coupled with the Bengals' second-round drafting of Hill seem to be signs the end in Cincinnati may be near for Green-Ellis. Regardless, Bernard certainly looks like the team's starter at the position, with Hill anticipated to earn some playing time after being drafted so high. The other four have opportunities to play on special teams or aid in the Bengals' new rush-heavy offense.

1. Orson Charles
2. (Tyler Eifert)
Others: Ryan Hewitt, Nikita Whitlock, (Domata Peko)
Analysis: Cincinnati likely will keep its H-back setup from last season, only occasionally running out an extra backfield blocker for certain situations. Last season, Charles and Eifert, the Bengals' rookie tight end, played the position. Hewitt was a fullback and tight end at Stanford. Whitlock was a defensive tackle at Wake Forest. An undersized tackle, Whitlock's conversion to offense is reminiscent of what the Bengals did last season with Peko, the defensive tackle who was used as an extra blocker in goal-line and short-yardage situations.

1. A.J. Green
2. Marvin Jones
3. Mohamed Sanu
4. Dane Sanzenbacher
5. Brandon Tate
6. Ryan Whalen
7. Cobi Hamilton
8. James White
Others: Colin Lockett, Alex Neutz
Analysis: There's no way anyone other than Green takes over the No. 1 spot, and after his breakout second season, Jones appears to have taken over at No. 2 opposite Green. Sanu also has a chance to be used at the No. 2 spot. The Bengals hope to use him a little more often this year than they did in the last. With Andrew Hawkins now gone in free agency, Sanzenbacher is the likely slot receiver, with others expected to participate. The Bengals are hoping this will be a breakout year for the players on the bottom of the depth chart, such as Whalen and Hamilton.

Tight ends
1. Jermaine Gresham
2. Tyler Eifert
3. Kevin Brock
Analysis: Gresham earns top honors here strictly because he has more overall experience than any of his fellow tight ends. He and Eifert, however, play complementary roles and should be on the field often at the same time. Brock was an end-of-season acquisition when Gresham and Eifert both had late-season injuries. He could be a candidate for release later this offseason.

1. Mike Pollak
2. Russell Bodine
3. Trevor Robinson
4. T.J. Johnson
Analysis: Don't be surprised if by the end of training camp Bodine ends up in the No. 1 spot. It's not completely out of the realm of possibility. Bengals coaches really liked the young center during the pre-draft process, and praise his strength and physicality -- two traits the offensive line will need in offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's scheme. Coaches still like Pollak, too, and the Bengals re-signed him to a two-year deal for a reason. He also gives them some veteran experience at the position.

1. Kevin Zeitler (RG)
2. Clint Boling (LG)
3. Mike Pollak
4. Tanner Hawkinson
Others: Dan France, Trey Hopkins
Analysis: The offensive line is one of the thinnest position groups on the team. While the Bengals may need more help at tackle than at guard, they still could be in a position of signing either France or Hopkins. Without those two and with Pollak possibly starting at center, the Bengals only really have three true guards on the roster. Given the rate of injury that can occur at guard -- look no further than Boling's season-ending ACL tear in Week 13, and Zeitler's foot injury late last season -- Cincinnati needs more blockers. There seems to be a chance Boling could miss at least a portion of training camp, meaning France and Hopkins have an even more legitimate shot to make the team.

1. Andrew Whitworth (LT)
2. Andre Smith (RT)
3. Marshall Newhouse
Others: Curtis Feigt
Analysis: Like with the guards, the Bengals need tackles. Feigt has a decent shot of making the 53-man roster because the team is deficient in that area. Newhouse takes over Anthony Collins' role as the rover who can play both the left and right tackle spots if Whitworth or Smith aren't able to play. Twice last year Collins had to start for Whitworth, who fought through nagging knee injuries.