AFC North: Andy Dalton


GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It took the Cincinnati Bengals three tries, but they finally walked away with a preseason win Sunday night when they knocked off the Cardinals 19-13 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

While the preseason primarily is about the players and their ability to impress coaches in order to earn spots on the 53-man roster, it is also about generating some cohesion, confidence, rhythm and momentum for the entire team entering the regular season. That's the main reason why coaches and players alike were desperate this week to claim a win after two fruitless attempts to start the preseason.

Thanks to the win, momentum was generated. Confidence? Perhaps it was instilled, too. Only time will tell. As for cohesion and rhythm, it seems the Bengals still have some work to do in those areas. At times Sunday they seemed very out of sync both offensively and on special teams. The no-huddle offense that was so fluid last week against the Jets was syncopated against the Cardinals. At times the first-team offense hummed smoothly along. At others, it had trouble getting settled into its normally quick tempo because of penalties and apparent issues with communication.

Here are a few more thoughts on the Bengals' preseason game Sunday:
  • We might as well extend the story line of Cincinnati's arrhythmic starting offense a little further. Here are two occasions when quarterback Andy Dalton didn't seem on the same page with his receivers. Once at the end of the first quarter, A.J. Green opened up to his left after running wide open into the flat. Dalton, seeing Green break open, threw over his right shoulder, clearly expecting the wideout to turn a different way. The pass fell incomplete and stalled a drive on third down. In the second quarter, tight end Jermaine Gresham cut off a route that Dalton proceeded to throw 15 yards downfield. The quarterback expected Gresham to extend the route. Some of the miscommunication could be attributed to the Bengals' mixing of lineups. Backups were inserted as early as the second play of the game as they rotated with starters for individual evaluation purposes.
  • In addition to their sporadic issues with rhythm, the Bengals had difficulty figuring out where and how to run the football early. Starter Giovani Bernard began the game dedicated to bouncing the ball to the edge. Those carries largely proved worthless. Of his 10 first-half carries, five went to the left and right edges. They gained just 3 yards. The other carries in the middle of the field resulted in 14-yard gains. Those runs came around the same time late in the second quarter when rookie Jeremy Hill came in as a backup. All four of his first-half carries went between the tackles. They amassed 23 yards. Power-run football is part of what offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's new offense hinges on, and it's clear the Bengals were better Sunday doing that than when they went away from it.
  • Field position also was an issue for the Bengals who couldn't seem to get out of the shadows of their own end zone. Of the 10 drives they had, seven started at their own 20 or inside it. Of those, four began inside the 10-yard line. With poor field position, the Bengals' starters had trouble moving the football and converting third downs. They were 4-for-15 on third down.
  • As it has for most of the preseason, the Bengals' defense was sound. The starters primarily played through the second quarter, allowing just one Arizona field goal in their time on the field. The base first-team defense has now allowed just four field goals in its three preseason games. Among the defenders of note: defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who saw extended action for the first time this year after returning from an ACL injury from last season.
CINCINNATI -- In no particular order, the following are six Cincinnati Bengals you'll want to pay attention to during Sunday night's preseason game at the Arizona Cardinals (8 p.m. ET).

Dalton
Dalton
QB Andy Dalton: Pay close attention to how much Dalton plays against the Cardinals in this "dress rehearsal" type of preseason game for him and other starters. Coach Marvin Lewis said this week that he wasn't going to cap the number of quarters Dalton would play. He instead wanted to see how quickly he hit a limit of snaps. It's likely we'll see Dalton late into the second quarter, and he might even sneak into the third quarter, too, if the snaps are within Lewis' range. More important to the Bengals than how much Dalton plays is how well he performs. The team is hopeful he can continue to showcase some of the impressive play that has defined his strong preseason start.

Hill
RB Jeremy Hill: Lewis and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson have both said they believe their rookie running back can play with the Bengals' first-team offense, and they mentioned that they would like to get him more reps with that unit Sunday. That doesn't mean Giovani Bernard won't be getting first-team reps, too. It just means the starting tailback might end up getting a little extra rest this week so that Hill can share a few more opportunities earlier in a preseason game. In the first two preseason games, Hill was the third back on the field, replacing Bernard's previous replacement, BenJarvus Green-Ellis. With Green-Ellis battling a stomach virus and fellow backup Rex Burkhead trying to recover from a knee injury, Hill should have several chances to augment his running backs-leading rushing average of 5.8 yards per preseason carry.

C Russell Bodine: With Dalton expected to be in the game a little longer, look for Bodine to have more reps with a less fluid offensive line. In the first two games, the rookie center remained on the field for a few series after Dalton exited, as he also snapped to backup quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Matt Scott. He also snapped with different rotations of linemen lined up next to him. In this game, he'll probably see more consistent action with the starting linemen dand Dalton as the group continues to fine-tune its timing and rhythm. He's been cleaner in recent weeks. The snap issues that bugged Bodine in training camp faded a bit last week.

Atkins
DT Geno Atkins: The Bengals' Pro Bowl defensive tackle and heralded pass rusher will be making his 2014 debut against the Cardinals, trying to help put heat on Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer, a former Bengal. Atkins has gone through team drills all this week, according to coaches. He's also looked good in them. Lewis said Friday that the lineman has looked like his old self, exploding off the line and maneuvering his way into the backfield. Atkins will be playing for the first time since tearing his ACL last October at Miami. As the Bengals prepare for the regular season, it's important for Atkins to get steady reps in a preseason game in order to boost his confidence in the surgically repaired knee. Definitely keep an eye on how he looks, and how conditioned he appears to be.

LB Marquis Flowers: Sunday's game will be a homecoming for Flowers, who will be playing his first professional game miles from where he grew up. The Phoenix native was drafted by the Bengals in the sixth round in May after starring at the University of Arizona. Also see how he responds to the defensive situations he'll be part of late in the ballgame. Although listed as a linebacker, Flowers also played safety in college and has been noted for his coverage skills. As the Bengals continue harping on the need to find quality backup players, don't be surprised if Flowers continues getting respectable minutes. He played 30 snaps on defense and 13 on special teams last week against the Jets.

CB Chris Lewis-Harris: Lewis-Harris could play a sizable role this week as the Bengals fight through a few injuries in the defensive backfield. Rookie Darqueze Dennard doesn't seem likely to play after missing every practice this week with a hip injury. Had this been the regular season, he probably would end up gutting out the injury. With Dennard out and Dre Kirkpatrick an uncertainty after missing Friday's practice with a stomach virus, the Bengals might be giving a few reserve corners additional playing time. Lewis-Harris would be among those to benefit.
CINCINNATI -- With news late Wednesday that Vontaze Burfict had reportedly agreed to a multiyear contract extension with the Cincinnati Bengals, the organization sent a message it was serious about locking down its stars, and doing what was necessary to keep in place the structure that has made it successful these past three years.

Quarterback Andy Dalton's extension, signed Aug. 4, was the first sign of that this year. Dalton's slated to be behind center for the Bengals through 2020. Two other key defenders, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins will be in stripes through 2018 after inking their blockbuster extensions last summer.

[+] EnlargeVontaze Burfict
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesVontaze Burfict led the league in tackles last season with 171.
On the waiting list of signings, Burfict was always next, with receiver A.J. Green waiting in the wings. While Green might prefer to wait until after this season to get an extension, especially because he's already set to make $10 million next year with his fifth-year option exercised, he could be in position after Burfict's deal and pending cuts to work something out before this season officially begins.

Burfict's deal hasn't been formally announced by the Bengals, although it should be made official sometime Thursday morning. Once that happens, we should learn a few more details. For now, there are conflicting reports on the length of the extension. ESPN's Adam Caplan and Adam Schefter broke news of the signing, saying it was a four-year, $20 million extension. Schefter reported that he'll make $7.6 million this season. Other reports indicate it may be a three-year extension.

Presumably Burfict would have signed Wednesday had he been around. But he felt ill early in the day and was sent home before the afternoon practice.

Regardless of the specifics, we do know this: It was smart for the Bengals to lock up Burfict now and it was smart for him to get paid right now.

It was arguably more important for the Bengals to lock down their Pro Bowl second-year linebacker for what he provides off the field as opposed to what he has done on it. True, he's been a relative terror in between the white lines, blasting any offensive player who comes into his area of the field. He's the Bengals' enforcer, and in the two years he's been on the job, the defense's reputation has gone from good to nasty.

For years, Mike Zimmer's name was the one most associated with Cincinnati's defensive success. But now that the former defensive coordinator has left, it's Burfict. His style of play set the tone for a defense that was ranked third last year. It's the same tone new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther wants to see all season when he puts 11 of what he calls "smart bullies" on the field.

A smart bully -- that's exactly what Burfict is.

Though Burfict may be a trash-talking bully on the field, he is intelligent off of it. Guenther has long considered him his right-hand man, an on-field extension of his own mind. Guenther has often said he hasn't been around a player who can break down game film like Burfict can. When the coach was calling players up to the front of meeting rooms to diagram defenses earlier this preseason, his prized pupil was used the most regularly. Burfict, according to Guenther, knows his scheme better than anyone else around the team.

Guenther lauds the professorial side of Burfict. Combine that value with the talents of Atkins and Dunlap, and it made sense for the Bengals to lock Burfict down when they did.
CINCINNATI -- Marvin Lewis had to pause for a few minutes and file through his memory bank.

"The last time I talked to Carson," the Cincinnati Bengals head coach said, his eyes drifting as he visibly scanned his mind for the exact moment when he previously corresponded with former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, "I guess probably was when we played the Raiders. After that game. I think so."

Aside from one other text-message conversation, Lewis admitted Wednesday afternoon that he hasn't exchanged many formalities with Palmer since the Bengals faced the veteran quarterback when he played for Oakland two years ago. It just hasn't been one of Lewis' top priorities to check in on the quarterback who soured on the team near the end of his tenure, and months before his October 2011 trade to the Raiders. That previous April, the Bengals drafted Andy Dalton, giving a clear sign they were preparing for life after Palmer, as he previously hinted they should.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesCarson Palmer, a former Bengal, has found a home as Arizona's starting quarterback.
So far, that life has been good for the Bengals and for Palmer, who meets his old team in a Week 3 preseason game Sunday night in Arizona.

Last season, his first with the Cardinals, Palmer set a career-high in passing yards and had his highest completion rating since 2007.

"He's gone on, we've gone on and everybody's happy," Lewis said during his Wednesday news conference. "I mean, he's impressive to watch. He's still Carson. That's why it's hard coming in here and every time we look at a quarterback we bring these guys in from the street, man, it's hard to compare."

Added Lewis about Palmer's throwing ability: "It's hard to compare anybody else to [him]. I've never seen anybody like it."

Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith spent parts of three seasons Palmer was a quarterback in Cincinnati's offense. He remembers the drama associated with Palmer's departure quite well, but he wasn't trying to discuss the inner workings of it. Three times he was asked to divulge his true feelings about Palmer's Queen City finish. All three times, Smith stuck with the same answer.

"I don't think anyone on this team has any bad blood against Carson," Smith said. "It was a situation that came up and he bettered himself in that situation and we bettered ourselves in that situation."

After reaching the playoffs in 2005 and 2009, Palmer grew tired of playing in Cincinnati when the Bengals had an abysmal 4-12 showing in 2010. The No. 1 overall 2003 draft pick told the team that selected him he either wanted out or would simply retire.

Months after Dalton's drafting, Palmer got his wish.

In the three seasons since, Dalton has started all 51 games the Bengals have played. He was handed the starter's role entering the 2011 season and hasn't looked back, leading the organization to three straight playoff appearances, and anchoring a top-10 unit last season. This month, the Bengals committed to Dalton long term, signing him to a six-year extension worth up to $115 million.

"Andy's been doing a great job here leading," said safety Reggie Nelson, who was on the roster when Palmer played for the team. "That's just it. I don't think nobody thinks any different, whether Carson was here or not. Andy's doing a great job leading this team and Carson's doing a great job leading Arizona."

Besides, Nelson added: "It's a business. Things happen."

Aside from exchanging greetings with Palmer, the business the Bengals really hope to concern themselves with Sunday involves winning. They are, after all, 0-2 this preseason.

"Whether [Palmer] is out there or not, we've still got a job to do," Nelson said. "Losing is not something we want to become used to."
CINCINNATI -- It was rather surprising to me that on Tuesday, some four days after the Cincinnati Bengals' backup offenses first took blitz after first-team New York Jets blitz, we were still discussing the issue.

Scott
Was it really that big of a deal? Did the blitzes that came long after starting quarterback Andy Dalton was out of the game help fluster third-string-turned-second-string quarterback Matt Scott? Is it possible they played a big role in the Bengals' lack of offensive firepower after Dalton's departure and the eventual 25-17 loss Saturday night?

No, yes and most definitely yes.

I mean, this is the NFL. Teams blitz. Teams try to win by exploiting opposing teams' weakest links. Teams also talk trash -- even in the preseason -- and play extremely physical -- even in the preseason. It happens. So why then did this storyline take on such a life of its own early this week?

The answer to that question is unclear, but what is evident is the fact Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander didn't like the continued blitzing on his reserve-filled offensive line after the first quarter. It's also clear Jets head coach Rex Ryan isn't too apologetic for bum-rushing the Bengals' young backup quarterback and trying to intimidate Cincinnati's overall offense.

"We weren't going to be a punching bag," Ryan told reporters in New York on Monday.

Ryan's defenses have long been known for their physicality and probably had a point to prove after last October's 49-9 loss in Cincinnati. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson even said the week before he and his teammates "owed" the Bengals for the blowout. He vowed aggressive play from his team when it visited Paul Brown Stadium for the preseason game.

The Jets did just that. They were flagged 12 times for 133 yards, including a whopping six penalties that were the result of personal fouls. The most egregious came when the Jets were on offense after offensive lineman Willie Colon roughed up Bengals cornerback Terence Newman after Newman intercepted a pass. Colon contended he didn't hear a whistle and wanted to make sure Newman was down after he got up off the turf possibly untouched. Newman's helmet came off with Colon's shove, resulting in Bengals defensive end Margus Hunt violently shoving away another Jets lineman.

The two New York linemen were tagged with personal foul penalties early in a game that was filled with them.

When the Bengals were on offense, they were given similar rough treatment by a blitz assault that annoyed Alexander.

"Notice he didn't bring that stuff when our starters were out there," Alexander said Monday. "We'd have scored quicker. If he wants to put his starting defense out there and blitz all that garbage against our third-stringers, if he feels good about it, then all the power to him."

Jets defensive starters remained in the game well into the second quarter, and kept coming after Scott. Dalton and the starting offense left the field after just three series and an 8-for-8 performance from Dalton that included a 21-yard pass to A.J. Green in the flat as the Jets brought one blitz. As injured backup Jason Campbell pointed out Monday, once the Bengals beat that blitz, the Jets didn't bring another one on Dalton's crew.

The Bengals also shouldn't worry about the blitzing because it did nothing but prepare the line for what's coming in less than three weeks. Even if rookie center Russell Bodine wasn't on the field for the most intense rushes, other backups such as Mike Pollak, Trey Hopkins and Tanner Hawkinson were. On the off-chance that something happens to Cincinnati's starting linemen this season, the reserves need to be ready to communicate through such blitzes together.

"You try to think all preseason is going to be so vanilla, and then you get in a game like that where you really have to make sure you know who you're responsible for and who the other guys are going to," Pollak said. "It's just a good awakening experience to see those younger guys go through."
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.

Finish!

[+] 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 ESPN.com 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 -- Mohamed Sanu had just changed direction on his route and started running at an angle toward the goal posts when his quarterback, Andy Dalton, let go of the pass.

As Sanu sprinted past the cornerback defending him and tried to maintain separation from the closing safety, he looked to the sky.

Dalton
Dalton
 What the Cincinnati Bengals receiver saw made his eyes get big.

"I was just like, 'Gosh, what a ball,'" Sanu said, adding a giddy, school-girl laugh.

A catch, two steps and a touchdown dance later, Sanu helped preserve Dalton's perfect passing line at the start of Saturday's 25-17 loss to the Jets. By the time his night was over, Dalton added another Sanu pass and six more to Bengals receivers to finish 8-for-8 with 144 yards, one touchdown and a 158.3 passer rating. Those statistics, combined with his numbers from the preseason opener at Kansas City the week before, make him 11-for-13 with 215 passing yards and a 144.4 passer rating in limited action through the two games.

It's all evidence that Dalton really is playing better and more efficiently than he has at any other point in his career.

"I see it every year, but especially this camp," Sanu said. "I haven't seen him throw the ball so accurate, so efficient. Every time you turn around the ball is just there and you're like, 'Wow."

Dalton contends that nothing has changed from last season. In his eyes, he's still playing the same as he did before and is practicing the same. He may have made a few tweaks and modifications to better his mechanics, but he says everything else is the same. He's still having fun, too.

"When you have a game like I did [Saturday], and you have teammates like I have, it's a lot of fun," Dalton said. "It's not like it just started being fun. It's been fun since I've been here."

It's tough to argue that. From the outside looking in, it certainly seems as if he is more calm and more at ease than he's been at any other point in his career. He seems to trust his receivers more than before and has a better understanding of their routes. And he knows when he delivers the ball a particular way, he expects them to be right there to run underneath it.

Coach Marvin Lewis, bothered by the way players at the back of his depth chart allowed the Jets to overcome a 17-3 deficit to win, didn't have as much to say about Dalton's performance as he probably could have. That had nothing to do with the quarterback. Instead, he was ticked because the back-end play, in his words, tainted his starting signal-caller's strong evening.

"He's on top of his game. He's throwing the football and understands what we want," Lewis said. "Guys are doing a good job with him. He continues to play the way we think he should play all the time. It doesn't surprise me because that's the way he practices all the time. He doesn't have to be flashy, he just needs to be accurate and handle the offense. He does his thing very well."

Next Sunday night, Dalton will be challenged by an Arizona Cardinals defense that ranked sixth last season, allowing a QBR of 39.4. By comparison, the Bengals' defense ranked one spot better at fourth, allowing a QBR of just 39.0 last season.

The nationally-televised game in Glendale, Arizona, also pits Dalton against the man he replaced: former Bengal Carson Palmer. On the biggest stage he'll see this preseason, it'll be interesting to see if Dalton continues to grow.
One of the toughest balancing acts for a coaching staff at an NFL training camp is determining how much contact will be allowed in practices -- and how hard the contact can be.

As the Cincinnati Bengals wind down their training camp portion of the preseason Thursday, we can safely say the team had as good a mix of hitting and non-live activity as you're probably going to find in the league these days.

 They never did formally tackle live in practices, but some defenders made just enough contact with various offensive skill players -- primarily rookies and young free agents -- that it caught some attention. It was common for linebacker Vontaze Burfict to give rookie running back James Wilder Jr. a firm thud on a screen across the middle of the field. Burfict did the same thing to the since-released Jeremy Johnson when he'd catch passes in his area.

On Wednesday, safety George Iloka got in on the popping action, delivering a couple of hard forearms to first-year receiver Colin Lockett. Like some of Burfict's hits, those came in a practice that saw the Bengals wearing only shoulder pads and helmets. One of the forearms to Lockett's back came after players all took their pads off in favor of finishing the practice in only their jerseys and helmets.

"We're not playing against the Bengals, they're not on our schedule, but some things happen in practice," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. "You can't tell a dog not to eat red meat."

Still, Bengals coaches hope their defensive dogs know that for now, they only want them nibbling on the offensive prey that are in their way. When they suit up Saturday and the following Sunday and the Thursday after that, then they can deliver whatever hard blows they want to deal.

"We've just got to take care of our guys and continue to be aggressive," Guenther added.

So considering how bad some of the collisions were, should Guenther and his assistants rein in their players?

No.

Again, the group wasn't out to maliciously hurt anyone during this camp. They were primarily out to test the toughness of some of the newest members of the team. If Burfict could hit Wilder or one of the young receivers like Lockett hard enough and they could bounce right up, a message was sent to the locker room that the struck player could match the toughness the rest of the team believed it had.

Not to mention, sometimes, the hitters were just following orders.

"Sometimes I'll tell a guy that if I don't think practice is going the way we want it, to get some stuff going," Guenther said. "It gets everybody into the practice a little bit."

That means there will be no reining in of defenders going on in practices any time soon. Besides, before too long they'll be into the regular-season mode of practicing, meaning their in-practice contact will soon decrease dramatically.

Wilson will play: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said during his news conference Wednesday that backup quarterback Tyler Wilson will end up playing at some point Saturday against the Jets, despite having less than a week of practices.

Wilson was signed last Saturday after brief stints with Oakland and Tennessee. He's excited for this opportunity, and hopes that by the end of camp he can prove he belongs on an NFL roster.

It's tough right now seeing him on the Bengals' roster in three weeks. He's currently the No. 4 quarterback on a team that signed him in response to No. 2 quarterback Jason Campbell's elbow injury that occurred a week ago Thursday. The former Arkansas standout has at least one familiar face in the Bengals' locker room: Cobi Hamilton was his go-to receiver in college.

"When you've been sitting on the street, you learn fast," Lewis said of Wilson.

The coach didn't say how much he might use Wilson this weekend. But with backup Matt Scott working through a sore shoulder and starter Andy Dalton likely limited to 15-25 early snaps, Wilson could see his fair share of action.

"He's been able to learn things to go out and operate," Lewis said. "He handled the verbiage and the terminology well and the adjustments he needed to make. He did a good job."

Bengals Camp Report: Day 14

August, 12, 2014
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CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:
  • Marvin Jones' broken foot has dominated the headlines in Cincinnati this week. There have been questions about when he will return, how healthy he will return and how the Bengals will get by in his absence. On Tuesday afternoon, they got a bit of an answer to the latter inquiry. One day after the Bengals practiced an hour away at West Carrollton High School just outside Dayton, Ohio, tight end Jermaine Gresham was the star Tuesday. He was used in the seam, he was put into his typical tight end drags, and he even went up for fades in the end zone as part of a goal-line passing play. Unofficially, I recorded him with having six catches during the practice. It's possible he caught one more I didn't see. Following one of the six I observed -- a 15-yard touchdown reception near the right pylon in a red-zone segment -- Gresham got immediate kudos from his quarterback, Andy Dalton. "I like it, Jermaine!" Dalton shouted before jogging over and giving the tight end a high five.
  • That touchdown completion wasn't the only pass caught from Dalton's right hand. In all, the starting signal-caller was 23-for-34 passing in one of his most prolific passing practices of training camp. The loss of Jason Campbell to an elbow injury (he still isn't yet practicing) in the preseason opener last Thursday may have had a slight impact. While backups Matt Scott and Tyler Wilson still got their practice reps in, Dalton seemed to be used a little more than he has been in practices before Campbell's injury. Another part of Dalton's extended work had to do with the fact the Bengals were in full pads for only the fourth time this camp. They hadn't worn the full attire since the Saturday before last.
  • Among the work the Bengals got in offensively and defensively were situational drills that pertained to third downs, no-huddle, red zone and goal-line opportunities. The offense owned certain situations. The defense won its share of battles, too. It seemed like the defense was best in one of the red-zone situations, while the offense got into a rhythm on third downs. One of the highlights of the day came when cornerback Leon Hall slipped underneath A.J. Green in a 7-on-7 drill and jumped right in front of a Dalton pass, making a one-handed grab to intercept it. Dalton's eyes appeared to follow Green throughout the route, telegraphing his pass to the defensive player. It was Dalton's worst passing read of camp to this point. After the play, Hall was seen shaking his hand. He may have had difficulty handling the velocity of the short pass. Dalton got his payback, connecting perfectly with Green on two well-placed balls his next two tries. Another pass later in the practice was thrown just ahead of Hall, who couldn't catch receiver Dane Sanzenbacher for a would-be touchdown. The wideout had a step on Hall.
  • Tuesday's injury update: Domata Peko (concussion), Wallace Gilberry (leg) and Andre Smith (concussion) all returned from injuries but were limited. None participated in 11-on-11 drills. Dre Kirkpatrick (hip), Geno Atkins (knee), Brandon Thompson (illness), Sean Porter (knee), Campbell (elbow), AJ McCarron (shoulder) and Jones (foot) didn't practice. Kirkpatrick told me he expects to play Saturday against the Jets. At the end of Tuesday's practice, offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse was carted off. Coach Marvin Lewis wasn't immediately sure what happened.
  • Up next: The Bengals are back on the practice fields Wednesday for a 3 p.m. ET practice. It will be their penultimate open session for the season.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 12

August, 9, 2014
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CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:
  • Paul Brown Stadium was loud Saturday afternoon, and the noise had little to do with the estimated 7,000 who were scattered among parts of its lower bowl. For the first time this training camp the Bengals piped in audio, blaring across their loudspeakers gameday sounds like thousands of screaming fans. Done primarily to get the Bengals to figure out snap calls and to work on silent snap counts, the noise came in the first practice after the Bengals lost 41-39 to the Kansas City Chiefs in a preseason-opening game at the always loud Arrowhead Stadium. An illegal procedure penalty in the game could have been attributed to the volume. During Saturday's practice, the Bengals committed only one infraction. It came when defensive end Robert Geathers jumped offside.
  • Andy Dalton played only one series at Kansas City, but in it the quarterback looked about as good as the Bengals could have hoped. He went 3-for-5 with 71 passing yards, including a 53-yard hookup with receiver A.J. Green for a first down in the middle of the field. The reception was a clear sign that Dalton has made strides since last season. Early in Saturday's practice, though, he didn't look quite as sharp as he has all throughout camp. He wasn't as accurate in the first couple of drills, sometimes overthrowing his receivers. One explanation might have to do with pacing and tempo. In a pads and shorts workout, perhaps his body was still operating at a game pace when his receivers weren't. Regardless of what caused him to be a little out of sync early, Dalton corrected his issues by the end of practice.
  • Three of his pass-catchers got involved in their first true, 11-on-11 team drills of camp. Receivers Marvin Jones and Ryan Whalen practiced in the team drills for the first time after spending Monday and Tuesday's practices -- the last two before the preseason game -- going through limited 7-on-7 and position-specific exercises. Both practiced Monday for the first time after entering the year on the Bengals' injury lists. Along with them, tight end Jermaine Gresham also got his first team action of camp with the first team. He spent last week's practices training with the backup units as he returned from a back injury.
  • Speaking of Gresham, he probably got the practice time he received because fellow tight ends Tyler Eifert and Alex Smith didn't work out. Neither were dressed Saturday, joining offensive tackle Andre Smith (concussion protocol), linebacker J.K. Schaffer (concussion protocol) and linebacker Sean Porter (knee) as players who didn't practice. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who has been slow with his rehab, was dressed, although he still didn't participate in any team drills. Neither did veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, who is still easing back from a calf injury.
  • Among the situations the Bengals worked on were red-zone drills, and ones that began with the offense backed up into its own end zone. One of those plays included the loudest contact of the day, when fullback Nikita Whitlock and safety Shawn Williams met at the line of scrimmage on a Whitlock block. The two created a loud crunch with their pads that had linebackers standing on the sidelines squealing with glee.
  • Up next: The Bengals will take Sunday off before resuming practice at 5:30 p.m. Monday. They'll leave Paul Brown Stadium for the only time this training camp, practicing about an hour north in Dayton, Ohio, at West Carrollton High School. The practice is free and open to the public.
A look at a few Cincinnati Bengals offensive players who made strong impressions in Thursday night's preseason opener at Kansas City:

QUARTERBACKS
Andy Dalton: Cincinnati's starting signal-caller was impressive on his lone drive, going 3-for-5 and 71 yards in the passing game. The highlights of his night were his three straight completions to start the series, including a 53-yard first-down pass to A.J. Green.

[+] EnlargeMatt Scott
AP Images/Ed ZurgaQuarterback Matt Scott had a busy night, going 7-for-11 for 66 yards and rushing for a game-high 68 yards.
Matt Scott: The third-string quarterback played well in relief of fellow backup Jason Campbell, who left in the third quarter with an elbow injury. Scott helped spark a comeback (that still came up two points short) that was capped by two touchdown passes and a two-point conversion. Scott was 7-for-11 with 66 yards in the air. He also rushed for a team-high 68 yards.

RUNNING BACKS
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: Think Green-Ellis' time with the Bengals is done? The veteran subtly said "think again" with his play against Kansas City. He only had four carries in limited action, but he picked up 19 yards to average 4.8 yards per carry. His longest run was 8 yards.

Jeremy Hill: The rookie also had an impressive outing in limited action, running six times for 36 yards. Those yards made him the Bengals' most productive running back. Only Scott had more rushing yards, many of which came on a 25-yard scramble.

Rex Burkhead: Visited before and after the game by Jack Hoffman, the 8-year-old brain cancer survivor (whose tumor, previously in remission, recently started growing) he befriended while playing at Nebraska, Burkhead ran with purpose Thursday night. He picked up 21 yards on his five carries, including a 9-yarder that came after he spun and fell forward a few extra steps while avoiding a tackle. Burkhead continues fighting for a roster spot.

Ryan Hewitt: Technically, Hewitt could be listed with the tight ends, but since he is playing out of the backfield often as an H-back, it made sense for him to be included here, too. It's possible he fills the role the Bengals hoped Orson Charles would have last year. Hewitt caught two passes for 15 yards.

RECEIVERS
A.J. Green: The fourth-year Pro Bowl wideout only caught two passes, but both were spectacular grabs. The first came when he had to reach out into a near-dive as he hauled in a 9-yard reception from Dalton. The second was the 53-yard bomb he caught right in stride after running past Kansas City's secondary.

Dane Sanzenbacher: As he competes for one of the final receiver spots, Sanzenbacher will want to continue having performances like Thursday's. He caught two passes for 46 yards, with one of them resulting in a 26-yard touchdown reception from Campbell. The score came after Sanzenbacher dove from about 4 yards out and hit the pylon with the ball. Along with the touchdown, he also averaged 29.3 yards on his three kick returns; the most any Bengal had. His longest return was 34 yards. He had another 52-yard return that was called back after James Wright was flagged for a block in the back.

Wright: Speaking of Wright, excluding that special-teams penalty, he had a relatively encouraging night. He caught two passes, one of them a 9-yard touchdown.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Trey Hopkins: Since we devoted an entire post to the offensive line Friday morning, we're going to avoid highlighting the entire unit, but Hopkins stood out for the way he handled his first NFL game. Fellow rookie Russell Bodine was good overall, but had a couple of noticeable miscues, including one that led to a sack. Marshall Newhouse also had a noteworthy night protecting Dalton and Campbell.

W2W4: Cincinnati Bengals

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
12:00
PM ET
The Cincinnati Bengals (0-0) and the Kansas City Chiefs (0-0) open the preseason Thursday night at Arrowhead Stadium.

1. Backups and rookies: As is the case for virtually every NFL team this week, this first preseason game will be all about backups and rookies for the Bengals. Preseason openers are always one of the best chances for teams to take a look at the youngest and least experienced players on their roster, to see where they might fit when camp breaks. For that reason, expect starting quarterback Andy Dalton to come out after one or two series in the first quarter, and look for similar stars like A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard and Vontaze Burfict to have short nights as well. Rookies who could get regular playing time this season, like center Russell Bodine and cornerback Darqueze Dennard, likely will see extensive action. Given where he appears to rank on the depth chart at running back, veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis might get a few more opportunities than he has had in his past few preseason openers.

2. Schematic tweaks: Though the Bengals probably will come out with some of their most vanilla offensive and defensive plays, this still is an opportunity for the team to start applying some of the new principles recently promoted coordinators Hue Jackson and Paul Guenther are installing. Jackson is trying to get the Bengals' offense to play at a slightly faster tempo, and he is putting more of an emphasis on physical, aggressive and run-inspired play than the previous coordinator, Washington head coach Jay Gruden. Guenther is looking for more rotations along the defensive front and to create pressures his predecessor, Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer, didn't institute while he was in Cincinnati. Don't expect too many of either side's tweaks to make it into this game. But don't be surprised if you see defensive ends and tackles rotating to different spots on the line, or a little more no-huddle from the Bengals' offense.

3. Ball security: During his news conference Tuesday, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said there were two things he didn't want to be surprised by: ball security and tackling. He didn't want to get caught off guard by seeing turnovers and poor tackling technique. As was mentioned Wednesday morning, this game will mark one of the first times this camp the Bengals will have true game-speed contact with other players. So tackling certainly could be an issue. Ball security could, too. Aside from a couple of poor reads by backup quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Matt Scott, the Bengals haven't had many issues with interceptions during this camp. Fumbles have been a problem for rookie running back Jeremy Hill, who has had three balls hit the turf in camp after not dropping a single one during his two-year college career. Wide snaps also have been problematic for Bodine, who has sent balls sailing over Dalton's head, wide and to his feet. It hasn't been many, but it's been enough to catch Jackson's attention.
CINCINNATI -- By now you've probably read about how the Cincinnati Bengals structured Andy Dalton's contract in a way that works well for both him and the team.

Dalton has a chance to make as much as $115 million over the life of his six-year contract extension. He's at least in line to see $96 million if he remains with the organization through 2020.

It's a deal that also provides relatively easy outs for the team if it ever feels beyond 2015 that it wants to move on from him because his performance didn't meet the expectations it set forth. The agents to whom I've spoken see it as a team-friendly contact, but they also can see where Dalton didn't get fleeced. The $25 million Dalton stands to make in the first two years of the deal is about what had been expected. For a player viewed as arguably a second- or third-tier signal-caller, Dalton's extension has been viewed by player reps I've talked to as a win. Most wish the guaranteed money he received went beyond the first three days of the deal, though.

Dalton
Dalton
Dalton is slated to make $17 million of guaranteed money. He earned a $12 million signing bonus when he signed and will claim a $5 million roster bonus for this season on Thursday. He also has $100,000 coming Thursday for a roster bonus that was part of his rookie deal.

When it comes to awarding guaranteed money early, this is part of the Bengals' contractual practices. They typically give whatever guaranteed money they're awarding up front, while increasing base salaries as the deal continues. Some teams backload contracts with guaranteed money or offer de-escalators and decreasing base salaries. It's a way the Bengals feel they are exercising a measure of loyalty and trust in the player and his agent.

Dalton was set to have a cap value around $1.7 million this season before the deal was struck. Now he'll make just more than $9 million, while averaging $16 million during the life of the deal.

Courtesy our friends at ESPN Stats & Information, here is that year-by-year breakdown of Dalton's contract:

2014
Base salary: $986,027
Proration: $2,973,036
Roster bonus: $5,100,00*
Workout bonus: $0
Cap Value: $9,059,063
Cash Value: $18,086,027
Dead Money: $12,573,036
Guaranteed Money: $5,000,000
Cap Savings: -$8,53,973
Post-June 1 Cap Savings: $1,086,027
*He makes an additional $100,000 reporting bonus from his previous contract.

2015
Base salary: $3,000,000*
Proration: $2,400,000
Roster bonus: $4,000,000
Workout bonus: $200,000
Cap Value: $9,600,000
Cash Value: $7,200,000
Dead Money: $9,600,000
Guaranteed Money: $0
Cap Savings: $0
Post-June 1 Cap Savings: $7,200,000
*He can make up to $3 million with escalators involving playing time, making the playoffs and advancing in the playoffs.

2016
Base salary: $10,500,000*
Proration: $2,400,000
Roster bonus: $0
Workout bonus: $200,000
Cap Value: $13,100,000
Cash Value: $10,700,000
Dead Money: $7,200,000
Guaranteed Money: $0
Cap Savings: $5,900,000
Post-June 1 Cap Savings: $10,700,000
*He can make up to $3 million with escalators involving playing time, making the playoffs and advancing in the playoffs.

2017
Base salary: $13,100,000*
Proration: $2,400,000
Roster bonus: $0
Workout bonus: $200,000
Cap Value: $15,700,000
Cash Value: $13,300,000
Dead Money: $4,800,000
Guaranteed Money: $0
Cap Savings: $10,900,000
Post-June 1 Cap Savings: $13,300,000
*He can make up to $3 million with escalators involving playing time, making the playoffs and advancing in the playoffs.

2018
Base salary: $13,700,000*
Proration: $2,400,000
Roster bonus: $0
Workout bonus: $200,000
Cap Value: $$16,300,000
Cash Value: $13,900,000
Dead Money: $2,400,000
Guaranteed Money: $0
Cap Savings: $13,900,000
Post-June 1 Cap Savings: $13,900,000
*He can make up to $3 million with escalators involving playing time, making the playoffs and advancing in the playoffs.

2019
Base salary: $16,000,000*
Proration: $0
Roster bonus: $0
Workout bonus: $200,000
Cap Value: $16,200,000
Cash Value: $16,200,000
Dead Money: $0
Guaranteed Money: $0
Cap Savings: $16,200,000
Post-June 1 Cap Savings: $16,200,000
*He can make up to $3 million with escalators involving playing time, making the playoffs and advancing in the playoffs.

2020
Base salary: $17,500,000*
Proration: $0
Roster bonus: $0
Workout bonus: $200,000
Cap Value: $17,700,000
Cash Value: $17,700,000
Dead Money: $0
Guaranteed Money: $0
Cap Savings: $17,7000,000
Post-June 1 Cap Savings: $17,700,000
*He can make up to $3 million with escalators involving playing time, making the playoffs and advancing in the playoffs.
CINCINNATI -- AJ McCarron said Tuesday afternoon that he feels fine and his throwing shoulder feels even better.

So why then hasn't the rookie quarterback participated in a single one of the Cincinnati Bengals' practices so far this training camp?

Because apparently his bosses don't want him to.

"Mr. Brown and Coach Lewis just want to give me a lot of rest," McCarron said, referring to team president Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis. "I'm just doing what they say."

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Aaron Doster/USA TODAY SportsAJ McCarron hasn't practiced since June.
McCarron's comments came after Lewis held a mid-week news conference earlier in the afternoon.

The fifth-round draft pick came to Cincinnati with a little arm tightness back in May, causing him to miss time at the beginning of organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp. He eventually practiced before the spring practice session ended in the middle of June, but he hasn't since then. When the Bengals announced their pre-training camp injuries, McCarron ended up on their active non-football injury list with a right shoulder injury. He remains there.

McCarron couldn't pinpoint specifically to what the arm tightness can be attributed to, but it seems that it may simply be a case of soreness from his final college season that needed to be worked completely out. That at least appears to be the Bengals' thinking, as they've shut him down through the first two weeks of camp. When the team starts the preseason at Kansas City on Thursday night, McCarron won't get behind center. Only Andy Dalton, Jason Campbell and Matt Scott will take game reps.

Dalton is only expected to see one or two series.

When asked if he could have been overused at Alabama, McCarron, a two-time national championship game starter, said he wasn't sure.

"It was probably a number of things," he said. "If you've thrown your whole life, you're going to eventually have a sore arm at some point."

McCarron added that like many others before him, he played through his share of injuries while in college.

"That's what I wanted to do. I wasn't going to come out," McCarron said. "It probably wasn't the best for [the shoulder], but that's just what I wanted to do. Nobody made me go out there and play. I wanted to keep playing."

For now, McCarron is participating in a controlled throwing program with head trainer Nick Cosgray. Each day after practice he's been on a side field attempting somewhere between 60-70 throws to Cosgray. The throws seldom travel much farther than 20 yards at this point, but the idea is for him to deliver them with the same velocity and mechanics that he would in a game situation.

McCarron said he hasn't had any issues with the shoulder following those throwing sessions.

The only issue he has had involves the disappointment of being unable to practice.

"The frustrating part is because you're a competitor and you want to compete," McCarron said. "But other than that, again, it's Mr. Brown and Coach Lewis' call. Whatever they tell me to do, I'm just trying to do it to the best of my ability and then show them that I'll do whatever. When my time comes, my time comes."

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