Cincinnati Bengals: clint boling

CINCINNATI -- Slowly but surely, the Cincinnati Bengals are getting their offensive line back.

And the timing couldn't be better.

Britt
Whitworth
Five days before their second preseason game, the Bengals on Monday worked once-injured Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth back into full team drills. It was the first action he received in a live 11-on-11 exercise all this training camp, and it came as formerly injured left guards Clint Boling and Mike Pollak have started getting more live practice opportunities.

It's still unclear if any of the three will be ready to compete in their first preseason game Saturday night when the New York Jets come to Paul Brown Stadium. Even if the trio doesn't play, at the very least it appears all are trending toward making the Week 3 preseason Sunday night game at Arizona on Aug. 24.

Perhaps more than playing this weekend, it will be important for the veteran offensive linemen to play with the respective first- and second-team units by the third preseason game so they can build chemistry.

"It's important for the group to be together," offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. "It's important for those guys to be able to feel each other, feed each other and then follow [quarterback] Andy's [Dalton] lead. As we continue to move forward, it's important to get the unit together."

The Bengals are still missing one big piece to their starting line group. Right tackle Andre Smith has been out of practices for about two weeks, placed under concussion protocol. He made his first appearance on the practice fields in that time when he showed up, not dressed, for Monday's practice at West Carrollton High School just outside Dayton, Ohio.

There has not been a timeline set of when the Bengals believe he'll be able to come off the protocol, but his rare appearance Monday may be a promising sign the symptoms that have held him out are beginning to lessen. Whenever Smith returns, Cincinnati will be back at full line depth.

As for Whitworth, the veteran whose presence moved swing tackle Marshall Newhouse from left tackle over to right tackle where he's relieving Smith, Monday's milestone was exciting.

"I felt like a little kid who hadn't had a chance to get on the playground," Whitworth said. "To get a chance to get out there and get in with everybody felt good."

Whitworth said his calf, which was injured one day before training camp began late last month, feels fully healed. That's exactly what Jackson has been waiting to hear.

"We're getting some of the animals back," he said. "Hopefully we'll get Andre back soon. I told these guys, we've got to get these guys back to playing. They want to play. That's the good part."

Another Kirkpatrick injury? At some point late in Monday's practice, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick left with an undisclosed injury. He had practiced for most of the day before pulling himself out of the action and getting part of his left leg and groin wrapped in ice. If Kirkpatrick misses Tuesday's practice, it will be the second injury he has had this training camp.

The backup receiver was sidelined the first week of camp with a right hamstring injury after battling receiver A.J. Green for a ball deep downfield. It was a good contest as the ball fell incomplete. Kirkpatrick didn't seem to noticeably favor the injury during the route, but walked slowly over to trainers after the play was over. We'll be monitoring Tuesday to see if his latest injury isn't anything to worry about, or if it is more serious than it originally appears.
CINCINNATI -- If this were October, and Andy Dalton's offensive line was going through the attrition it is currently facing, the quarterback would have responded differently.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
AP Photo/Al BehrmanAndy Dalton is taking a training camp offensive line, one that's been depleted by injuries, under his wing.
But since we're still barely into the second week of the Cincinnati Bengals' training camp, it's easy for him to laugh off the fact that he has had an undrafted free-agent rookie, a fourth-round rookie and two recent veteran free-agent additions protecting him in practices the last eight days.

"Right now, this is what you want," Dalton said. "You're getting a lot of guys experience and playing. If it were in the middle of the season and we had a different left guard every week, it might be a little bit different."

Trey Hopkins, the undrafted rookie from Texas, spent most of Thursday at left guard while the two players ahead of him on the depth chart, Mike Pollak and Clint Boling, took the day off as they continued to slowly get back into the flow of daily action. Both are coming off significant knee injuries. Boling tore his ACL last December and Pollak tweaked a knee earlier this offseason.

In addition to missing the veteran interior linemen, the Bengals have also been forced into playing around the absences of veteran tackles Andre Smith and Andrew Whitworth. Smith suffered a head injury Monday and has been under concussion protocol ever since. Whitworth is battling through an offseason calf injury, and has spent all of training camp to this point on the active physically unable to perform list, rehabbing with other injured stars.

Marshall Newhouse, Dalton's former left tackle at TCU, joined the Bengals this offseason from Green Bay. He has spent his camp taking Whitworth's place, earning significant reps blocking on the left edge. Longtime tackle Will Svitek took Smith's place.

As the line continues practicing with the backups and experimenting with varying rotations, Dalton has been there to provide support. Primarily, he's been working with rookie center Russell Bodine in making sure he understands plays, and his responsibilities in them.

"That's one thing where he is a rookie and he's learning all this stuff, and so I'm just making sure he's learning the right thing," Dalton said. "Sometimes he's going to one spot when we need him to go to another. I'm just making sure he and I are on the right page. I'm letting him do his thing and if I need to correct him, then I will."

None of that is to suggest that Dalton thinks the player who appears to be his starting center isn't playing well.

"He's done a really good job," Dalton added.

Ahead of the start of training camp, it appeared Pollak was going to battle Bodine for the center job in the wake of Kyle Cook's release during the offseason. So far, no such battle has materialized. To this point, Pollak has only taken reps at guard when he's been on the field. T.J. Johnson has also been working at center with Bodine.

One of the areas Bodine still needs to hone is his snapping. He had issues late in the organized team activity practices in June and has sent a couple of snaps either whizzing over Dalton's head or too low to his feet. Dalton this week cautioned fans about worrying that the center-quarterback exchanges could be problematic this season.

"It's going to get eliminated," Dalton said. "We can't have that. That's the easiest thing you do on the football field is get the snap."

Dalton said in order to eliminate the snap issues, he and Bodine have to talk.

"I've just got to get him calmed down," Dalton said. "It's more conversations than anything. He knows how to snap. It's not like we're teaching him how to snap.

"He's going to be fine. I'm not too worried about him."

Bengals Camp Report: Day 7

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
6:30
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CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:
  • As compelling, edge-of-your seat excitement goes, Thursday's practice, from an observer's standpoint, ranked somewhere around a 3 on a 0-to-10 scale. I'm sure it's possible for coaches and players to view it much differently. During what was a special teams-heavy workout, there were very few 11-on-11 drills that featured as much worth noting as there had been in days past. When the Bengals did get into offense vs. defense action, they did so at a rather conservative pace. There was no hitting (players were in shorts and shoulder pads for the second straight day), and plays were run at a significantly slower speed than how they'll be executed in games. We ought to point out that while the players might not have been running at the same speed they soon will be, they still got into a bit of a hurry-up pace as coaches had them go through a few two-minute-drill plays.
  • To be sure, a day like Thursday had probably long been on the schedule as the Bengals try to mix in light, low-speed days with their hit-filled afternoons. It couldn't have come at a better time, too. Cincinnati is dealing with a couple of camp injuries, including four players sidelined with head issues. Linebackers J.K. Schaffer and Jayson DiManche, offensive tackle Andre Smith and tight end Kevin Brock remained on concussion protocol.
  • One day after receiving medical clearance to practice again, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins was back on the sidelines. He didn't participate in any of Wednesday's team drills, only really taking part in the position-specific exercises that came before practice. Coach Marvin Lewis said Wednesday that Atkins wouldn't be rushed back into the line rotation. Coaches and trainers want to ease him back into the mix. When I asked defensive coordinator Paul Guenther after practice about Atkins, he indicated there wasn't anything to worry about. The day off was part of the slow process of getting Atkins back onto the field fully, he said.
  • To close out the day's injury report, it's worth noting that both Mike Pollak and Clint Boling took a day off. They had been trading off days at left guard until this point. In their place, undrafted free agent Trey Hopkins got repetitions at the position. Hopkins is beginning to look like the undrafted free agent who stands the best chance at making the 53-man roster. While Pollak and Boling didn't even dress, defensive tackle Domata Peko and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick did. Both participated fully in the practice after not working out Wednesday. Kirkpatrick hadn't practiced since Saturday.
  • As mentioned before, Day 7 was all about special teams. In particular, the Bengals were working on their kickoff coverage and kickoff returns. Routine deep kicks, squib kicks and onside kicks were part of what they practiced. After the bulk of the kickoff activities, in an 11-on-11, quarterback Andy Dalton was nearly perfect, going 9-for-10. His lone incompletion came when defensive end Robert Geathers broke up a pass at the line of scrimmage. Dalton might have had another incompletion had safety George Iloka been able to sprint at game speed. Iloka had closed on tight end Tyler Eifert, who barely caught a pass in the seam before Iloka pulled up. Later in that drill, on the very last play, came the highlight of the day. Seventh-round receiver James Wright, who didn't catch a pass last season at LSU, caught a key first-down pass on a third-and-5 play. A.J. Green gave him a high-five after the reception.
  • Up next: The Bengals won't practice until 6 p.m. Friday, in a workout that's open to the public.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 6

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
7:15
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CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:
  • There's only one place to begin Wednesday's practice report: with the fireworks. Twice, members of the offense and defense had to be pulled apart as emotions and tensions ran high outwardly for the first time. First, linebacker Emmanuel Lamur and offensive guard Clint Boling came to blows at the end of a goal-line drill. Lamur was seen grabbing Boling's face mask as pushing and shoving ensued around them. A.J. Green then came in, appearing to help calm and subdue Lamur in the back of the end zone. The linebacker misinterpreted the Pro Bowl wideout's actions and swung a punch at him. Fans who saw the blows started shouting, "No! Not on A.J.!" Later, linebacker Marquis Flowers and center T.J. Johnson exchanged words briefly, but that scuffle was stopped quickly before it became anything bigger.
  • After practice, Lamur walked up to a grinning Hue Jackson and gave the offensive coordinator a hug. Lamur also exchanged a jovial fist-bump with Boling as he walked off the practice fields. When Lamur was asked to comment on the near-brawl, he simply said: "It's over." Defensive end Wallace Gilberry said it's just a sign the Bengals are ready to get to their first preseason game next week at Kansas City. "We're ready to hit somebody else, but at the end of the day, we're a team first and foremost," Gilberry said. "Coach [Marvin Lewis] hates it, but it gets us fired up."
  • Flowers, a noted trash-talker, told me he doesn't want to rein in his on-field actions too significantly, but he added that he wants to monitor what he says and does a little better. In addition to all the smack he was talking to his offensive counterparts, the rookie began practice with a pop when he gave receiver Cobi Hamilton an unexpected forearm shiver as Hamilton ran out of the backfield in a low-speed drill. The hit was so hard, it sent Hamilton to the turf instantly, caused fans nearby to gasp and made noted hard hitter Vontaze Burfict holler his support. "I've got to watch it," Flowers said. "I thought the run was coming at me, but obviously I didn't want to do that. I just wanted to tag off. We don't want nobody on the ground, but at the same time, I was just trying to protect myself."
  • Flowers said that after his interview, he was headed straight to Hamilton's locker to apologize. Flowers' actions probably are best chalked up to first-day excitement. After beginning camp on the active physically unable to perform list, he was medically cleared along with defensive tackle Geno Atkins earlier in the day. While Flowers had a chance to mix into some of the team drills, Atkins was noticeably absent. The bulk of his work came just before practice, when the team walked through position-specific drills. For now, the Bengals plan on taking things slowly with Atkins.
  • Mohamed Sanu was the clear MVP of Monday's practice, passing the football, catching it and running with it out of the backfield. He didn't do all of that Wednesday, but he still began the workout in a unique way, taking the ball on a pitch from Green on a double reverse. The Bengals also tossed in a flea-flicker during their opening drills. Plays like that are all to show those watching that Jackson's offense has the potential to showcase several bells and whistles this season.
CINCINNATI -- At one point in the middle of the Cincinnati Bengals' walkthrough Wednesday morning, defensive line coach Jay Hayes decided to stir up the defensive huddle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't worry, Clint. Outside the stadium, you certainly aren't alone.
Clint Boling's return from New Year's Eve ACL surgery is arguably the most intriguing injury recovery story the Cincinnati Bengals had entering training camp.

Boling
More intriguing than Leon Hall's return from a second Achilles tear? Yes. And I only say that because in Hall's case, the cornerback had a rough idea of what the timeline of his return might be after dealing with the very same injury two summers before. Boling couldn't have truly known in January that he'd be back to near 100 percent by the middle of July.

That's still not to discount Hall's injury. It, too, was a serious one and credit to the training staff for the way they got him back on his feet.

The recovery time for most ACL injuries has decreased in recent years thanks to advancements in modern medicine, but it still seems unheard of to think that seven months after the injury a player could be jumping, cutting and running the same he did just prior.

"You can't look at something online and let that be the determining factor," said Boling, the Bengals' starting left guard. "I just listened to the doctors and they gave me a general time frame. Everybody's different."

Indeed, they are. All you have to do is juxtapose Boling's return with defensive tackle Geno Atkins' to see that. Atkins went down a month prior to Boling's original Dec. 1 injury. The defensive lineman was lost for the second half of last season when he collapsed trying to finish a tackle during a Halloween night game at Miami. He still hasn't been cleared for full activity, although he has been rehabbing with other injured players since the spring.

Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said last week Atkins would be back before Week 1.

"It's all about how you feel and how the knee responds," Boling said.

As for his own quick recovery, Boling contends he isn't surprised to be at training camp.

"The whole process went really well," he said. "[Trainer] Nick [Cosgray], our rehab guy, really did a good job. I was here a majority of the offseason. To be ready for Day 1 of camp was kind of my goal all along, and just a little extra motivation of something to be ready for. I was able to achieve that, so I was pretty happy with the way everything went."

Head coach Marvin Lewis was pleased, too, adding that he continues to have full faith in Cosgray's rehab methods with his players.

After excelling at the cone drills, and short-burst drills at earlier parts of the offseason, Boling said the logical next step was to get back into playing football and building up the confidence in his knee.

"I feel confident in what I'm doing, so I know I can get stronger between now and training camp, and I can continue to gain that confidence," Boling said. "There's a lot of things I can continue to do, but for now, it's about gaining that confidence. I'll continue to do rehab on some of the same stuff I was doing this offseason, and hopefully get my knee better and stronger."

For now, the Bengals are still taking his return, as well as fellow guard Mike Pollak's return from his own offseason knee injury, slowly. Both are trading practice days until the team feels confident they are ready to more fully contribute.

Quickly, here are a couple other takes for the morning:

A few camp notables. Hopefully you had a chance during Tuesday's off day to check out the offensive and defensive camp notables. That doesn't mean others haven't caught my attention. These were just lists of a few players who have made an early impression on me, and who likely have done the same with coaches. We'll see who makes the next set of lists during the team's next off day Sunday.

Quickening the pace. As part of its off-day coverage, the Cincinnati Enquirer took a look at the Bengals' offensive pacing, featuring comments from offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who believes his unit hasn't quite reached the tempo he'd like it to play. As camp progresses and preseason games start coming into focus, we shouldn't be surprised to see the pace quicken. Still, as the Enquirer's Richard Skinner pointed out, the offense seems to be taking shape.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 3

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
6:15
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Cincinnati Bengals' training camp:
  • Offense was the big story for the Bengals through the first two days of training camp, but on Saturday, defense stole the headlines. Cornerbacks Adam Jones and Darqueze Dennard had a few key pass breakups and interceptions in a practice that hinged largely on third-down play. Jones rebounded after giving up a few receptions in one-on-one drills with receivers. By the end of the 11-on-11 portion of practice, he was stopping most everything that came his direction. Arguably his most noteworthy pass breakup occurred off a play-action fake from quarterback Andy Dalton. As Dalton threw off his back leg and hung a deep pass to A.J. Green, Jones turned and jumped in the path of the ball, knocking it down. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said Jones has played with good technique through the first three days. He added that veteran Terence Newman has as well. "It's good for our younger guys to see how they play and how they're out here competing every snap."
  • One of those younger players, the rookie Dennard, had the play of the day when he dove full length for a Dalton pass that flew wide of its mark. It was hard to tell whether Dalton threw the pass to the wrong spot or if the receiver ran the wrong route, but Dennard, playing in the familiar lockdown style that was his hallmark at Michigan State, saw the ball heading toward the sideline even as the receiver didn't. Players and fans both reacted favorably to the pickoff. "Saturday] was the first day we could play press-man on the receiver, and that's what he did at Michigan State, so he's back in his comfort zone doing what he does. He's just got to continue to get better and work on his technique, and going against good receivers every day will help him."
  • One of the cornerbacks who did not take part in the live offense vs. defense portions of the workout was Leon Hall. The veteran is still rebounding from an Achilles tear that ended his 2013 season in Week 7. It was out of an abundance of caution that the Bengals held him out of most of the practice, even though he still participated in position-specific drills early in the session. Although he's fully recovered from the serious injury, the staff still wants to ease him back into action.
  • Along with Hall, the Bengals are taking a similar slow approach with offensive linemen Clint Boling and Mike Pollak. The left guards are rotating days on and off for the foreseeable future. After Boling started at the position Thursday, Pollak took his share of snaps Friday. Keeping with the rotation, Boling claimed the starting reps at the spot Saturday. Both still dressed in the shoulder pads-and-shorts attire the rest of the team sported as the full-gear acclimation period begins to slow down. The team will be in full pads Sunday.
  • The Bengals had two injuries during Saturday's practice. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick pulled up, holding his right hamstring, after using good coverage to prevent Green from catching a pass from Dalton off a deep go route. Kirkpatrick was stretched out but didn't return to practice. Defensive tackle LaKendrick Ross had a minor injury as well, jogging off the field at one point for treatment. He ended up returning and finishing the practice.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 2

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
7:30
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CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Cincinnati Bengals' training camp:
  • Dalton
    Dalton
    We're only two days into training camp, but already the Bengals are showing a few wrinkles that could find their way into the offense when camp breaks at the end of August. On Thursday, they incorporated a no-huddle offense. It seemed that very rarely did they get a play called from a huddle before executing it. While the no-huddle was evident again for parts of Friday's practice, it wasn't the only recent addition made to offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's new scheme. The Bengals also worked on shovel passes at times during the workout, slipping the quick screens to their backs in the middle of the field. Few around the team are talking about what all the no-huddle is all about. Believe me, myself and others have tried to get folks talking. At the very least, the up-tempo pacing will have the benefit of helping the defense prepare for the number of no-huddle schemes it will face this season, even if the Bengals seldom run it offensively in games themselves.
  • After a relatively clean first day with few drops and no fumbles or botched snaps, the Bengals were slightly messier Friday. Twice they fumbled. Once running back Giovani Bernard and quarterback Andy Dalton had trouble with an exchange during an offense-only drill. Later, during an 11-on-11 exercise, Bernard couldn't hold on to a low pitch from quarterback Jason Campbell. There also was one false start in the full-team drills. Offensive tackle Will Svitek moved early. Even with those miscues, both the offense and defense had their positive highlights. Cornerbacks Adam Jones and Terence Newman were among those who broke up their share of passes after getting burned for a couple catches from A.J. Green the day before. Green took his revenge, though, beating Newman on one reception off an out route.
  • Speaking of coverage, once during an 11-on-11 drill I noticed that outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur was split out wide, lined up against tight end Tyler Eifert who was set up like a receiver. Just like the Bengals will do with Bernard, they might at times move Eifert outside. It will provide just another dimension to what we're beginning to see could be a more dynamic and more expansive offense than before. In the meantime, it could make for good practice for Lamur, who will be charged with covering pass-catching tight ends like New Orleans' Jimmy Graham later this season. Lamur's experience as a safety in college also makes him an ideal candidate to play such coverage positions.
  • Another interesting offensive development revolved around the flip-flopping that linemen Clint Boling and Mike Pollak will be doing for at least some part of camp. After Boling practiced Thursday at left guard, Pollak played there Friday, giving Boling the day off. Presumably, Pollak will be getting Saturday off while Boling will practice again. According to Pollak, the changes are the coaches' way of attempting to keep the linemen fresh. Both are coming off knee injuries and are still slowly easing their way back into the regular flow of things.
  • And yes, you read that correctly: Pollak played left guard. All offseason the expectation has been for him to battle rookie Russell Bodine for playing time at center. Pollak said he has no idea if those plans have changed. He told me after practice: "I was told to play guard [Friday]. So that's what I'm going to do. If they tell me to play another position, then I'll do that. I'm kind of in the dark. ... Things can change. All I can do is get back on the field healthy 100 percent."
After a hectic Day 1 of Cincinnati Bengals training camp, the action will slow down ever so slightly for yours truly Friday as we get into the rest of the preseason practices.

Hopefully you had a chance to catch a few of our live Bengals TV hits on ESPN Thursday. There's a good chance you'll be seeing more Bengals TV coverage in the coming months, and I can assure you it won't all revolve around Andy Dalton's contract.

Which takes us to Friday's Quick Takes.

With all the talk surrounding Dalton and the injury updates that came out of Thursday's workout it was easy to overlook the players in front of Dalton who were giving him the time he needed to look sharp in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.

Left guard Clint Boling, who missed part of the past six games the Bengals played last season (including the wild-card playoff loss) after suffering an ACL tear on Dec. 1, was back in the starting rotation. Because of how late the serious injury occurred last season, it seemed rather unlikely that he would be ready by the opening day of camp. The recovery time for ACL tears is much shorter than it used to be, but even a nine-month recovery initially seemed overly optimistic, even though Boling never doubted that he would be ready.

His return took just less than eight months. Recovery times can vary from person to person. It's important to remember that not all ACL tears are the same.

Take another Bengals veteran who suffered an ACL tear, defensive tackle Geno Atkins, for example. He's still rehabbing from his injury that came nearly a month before Boling's. He was working with the rest of the rehab squad on a side field Thursday.

Boling wasn't the only notable addition on the offensive line. Rookie Russell Bodine, who battled in the spring for a chance to start, was snapping to Dalton as veteran Mike Pollak went through a rehab regimen from a knee issue that popped up early in the offseason. Pollak didn't practice during minicamp and organized team activities (OTAs), but had hoped he would be ready in time for Day 1 of training camp.

In Pollak's place, Bodine got meaningful reps, and delivered cleaner snaps to Dalton than he did during the final open OTA of the spring. They had enough poor snaps in that practice that offensive line coach Paul Alexander pulled Bodine to the side and worked a little harder with him with his technique. Who knows? Depending on how long it takes Pollak to get all the way back, and depending on how comfortable the Bengals get with Bodine at the position, the rookie could end up winning one of the team's more intriguing position battles.

We still have five weeks before we'll know whether he's won that starting spot or not.

Let's get to a few other Quick Takes:

A.J. Green, the romantic. When the football world thinks about A.J. Green, leaping catches, one-handed grabs and touchdown receptions are most likely the first images that come to mind. When you read this piece from Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson, you'll see he's got a little flair for the romantic, too.

Dalton brings out Noah. After practice Thursday, Dalton and his wife, Jordan, showed off their month-old son, Noah. It was the first practice for the baby who wore a black Bengals onesie that featured Dalton's name and No. 14 on the back. While holding Noah, Dalton spoke about how the baby's birth has been a bit of a distraction from the big distraction of the summer: his contract extension talks.

"That's the big thing. I have so much support from my family, my loved ones. People can say what they want," Dalton said. "I get to go home to an awesome wife and an unbelievable son."
CINCINNATI -- Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins was one of nine Cincinnati Bengals to be placed Monday on the team's active physically unable to perform list. Another three, including backup quarterback AJ McCarron and receiver Marvin Jones, made it on the active non-football injury list.

Since the dozen players are on "active" lists, they will still count against the team's roster limit, but they can be activated to practice as soon as they are cleared medically. The list designations only stipulate they they aren't cleared medically as of Monday, but they still can be cleared by Thursday when training camp officially starts in Cincinnati. Rookies arrived Monday.

Along with Atkins, the Bengals placed offensive guard Clint Boling (knee), linebacker Marquis Flowers (hamstring), cornerback Leon Hall (Achilles), punter Kevin Huber (neck), receiver Colin Lockett (hamstring), defensive tackle Zach Minter (back), defensive tackle Devon Still (back) and receiver Ryan Whalen (hamstring) on the active PUP list.

Atkins (knee), Boling, Hall, Huber and Still's injuries go back to last season, when they missed games late due to season-ending injuries. Atkins and Boling tore ACLs, Hall tore an Achilles, Huber hurt his neck on a violent blindside hit, and Still battled through a disc injury. The expectation has been for all to be healthy in time for the start of the regular season.

Boling may be the furthest of the group from full strength since his injury occurred so late in the 2013 season. His ACL tear came Dec. 1 at San Diego. Still, he's remained optimistic all offseason about returning in time for some portion of training camp.

McCarron (shoulder), Jones (ankle) and cornerback Onterio McCalebb (knee) were placed on the active/non-football injury list, but still can practice Thursday if they get cleared by then.
As we mentioned Saturday, we have another two-part mailbag this weekend.

After primarily discussing running back Giovani Bernard in Part 1, we're going to start Part 2 by chatting about receiver A.J. Green. Then, we'll get to a few other offense-related questions that were on your minds late last week. As always, if you asked a question and it didn't make it on the mailbag, fret not. Keep asking questions and we'll try to get you in the queue the next week. Many thanks for all the questions you send in each Friday.

Now let's get to A.J.:

 
A day-by-day look this week at five position groups where the Cincinnati Bengals have draft needs. We started with quarterbacks, then looked at defensive ends, outside linebackers, running backs and defensive backs. Now, a weekend bonus: offensive linemen.

Offensive linemen lost: OT Anthony Collins, signed with Tampa Bay in March. C Kyle Cook, cut in March.

Offensive linemen added: OT Marshall Newhouse, signed in free agency in March.

Draft likelihood: High.

Rounds drafted? Any.

Analysis: OK, we spent the first five days this week looking at a few of the more glamorous positions on a football team and the Bengals' draft-weekend needs at them. But we couldn't let this exercise disappear without taking a look at the one unit that most specifically dictates a team's offensive success and identity. One of the unwritten rules of the game goes something like this: You can never have too many offensive linemen.

Games are won and lost in the trenches. It's where offenses fight for first downs on the ground and have to scrap and claw in order to keep their quarterbacks standing upright long enough to deliver passes downfield. The Bengals have long known that. Like most teams, they've tried to keep centers, guards and tackles part of their annual drafting rotation. Cincinnati has drafted at least one offensive lineman every year since 2001.

While they seem to have adequate depth after adding Newhouse and re-signing Mike Pollak last month, the Bengals still would like to take at least one more lineman into training camp with them. It's possible they could spend any one of their nine picks on a lineman. Guards would probably top that list seeing as how the Bengals still never really addressed finding an alternative backup for left guard Clint Boling. Pro Bowl tackle Andrew Whitworth played for Boling at the end of last season after Boling was lost for the year with an ACL injury. The guard believes he'll be back to 100 percent in time for the start of the season. Beyond just bringing in an additional guard, the Bengals are looking at players who can be versatile -- linemen who can play some combination of tackle, guard and center. There is a thought that they could add a true center, but Pollak, for now, appears to be the front-runner to start at the position following Cook's release.

The draft hopefuls the Bengals could be looking at span the gamut. If he's there (and because of legal issues, he could fall to late in the first round or into the second), Michigan's Taylor Lewan could be a decent fit at tackle. As could Virginia's Morgan Moses. Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama) has generated some buzz as a second-round option at tackle, while Stanford's Cameron Fleming has turned heads since the combine. At guard, Clemson's Brandon Thomas is an interesting study following his ACL tear suffered at a private pre-draft workout earlier this month. Even though he won't be able to compete for several months, he could slip into the third round or later, where he would be a veritable steal for whichever team took him and got him healthy in time for 2015.

Also worth watching, Penn State's John Urschel and Baylor's Cyril Richardson.

Potential picks: Taylor Lewan (Michigan), Morgan Moses (Virginia), Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama), Cameron Fleming (Stanford), Brandon Thomas (Clemson), John Urschel (Penn State), Cyril Richardson (Baylor).
CINCINNATI -- We've talked often in this space about the Cincinnati Bengals' recent draft efforts and the inroads they have made toward building their roster.

So, with exactly a month until the 2014 draft, we've been taking a look back at how those draft classes came together. Thirty-two players on the team were drafted by the Bengals in the past 10 drafts. Robert Geathers is the oldest homegrown product; he was selected in the fourth round in 2004.

We started this look at the Bengals' recent drafts last week with the 2006 class. Then followed it with reviews of the 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 drafts. Tuesday is all about the 2011 group headlined by A.J. Green and Andy Dalton.

We're using Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value statistic to help evaluate how valuable a pick each player has been. The AV statistic is a unique metric that assigns value to each season of a player's career, and averages it out. The higher the number, the better.

First-round pick: No. 4 overall (A.J. Green, WR, Georgia ... on roster)

Number of picks: 8

Highest player AV: Andy Dalton, AV of 36 (Dalton's career AV ranks fifth in the draft class; Panthers QB Cam Newton has has highest AV with a 49)

Green
How they fared: Green and Dalton (second round) are the headliners of this Bengals class, but five of the eight selections are still playing in Cincinnati. Third-round defensive end Dontay Moch, actually spent the 2013 season in Arizona before coming back to the Bengals via waivers last month. Only one 2011 pick is completely out of football. Two more weren't on teams in 2013. Seventh-round running back Jay Finley didn't play a game in his lone season in the league. Safety Robert Sands (fifth round) and defensive back Korey Lindsey (seventh round) played one game between them in their two seasons of service. Sixth-round pick Ryan Whalen is among those still on the Bengals' roster, but he has mostly seen action as a backup in a deep receiver rotation been headed by Green. The fourth-round pick, offensive guard Clint Boling, is coming off ACL surgery. He has appeared in 33 career games, and started all but two.

Dalton
Dalton
Pivotal pick: Since it continues to be a bit of a controversial pick, Dalton's selection could be considered the most pivotal. It was a pivotal selection for the Bengals, because perhaps more than any other player the past four years, Dalton's drafting has helped establish Cincinnati's identity in recent seasons. Quarterbacks are like the weather vanes of the offense. Whichever directions they are going, that is where the rest of the offense goes. Dalton's inconsistency in big games over the years has rubbed off on the overall team. His ineffectiveness in playoff games, for example, has been a real contributing factor to their three straight first-round playoff losses. The controversy surrounding Dalton's selection heated up in 2012 when the quarterback taken one pick after him, Colin Kaepernick, came off the bench in the middle of his second season and guided the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Bengals coaches continue to stress that Kaepernick didn't match what they wanted in a quarterback in 2011, and that they needed a player who could start right away. Dalton has been in the starting lineup all 48 games of his career.

Best pick: Green was just declared Monday as one of the NFL's elite pass-catchers in this piece from ESPN insider Matt Williamson Insider. There are few receivers who possess Green's combination of size and speed, and fewer who can simply dominate a game the way he can. Still, he has a few concerns, like his lack of running underneath a ball during a pivotal part of January's wild-card round playoff loss to San Diego. He and Dalton aren't always on the same page, as Green has cut routes shorter than Dalton anticipated, causing overthrows and interceptions. Those are problems new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is confident will fade this season. Regardless, Green is the jewel of this Bengals draft class. His overall play has been that of a first-round pick. He already has more than 3,800 yards receiving and came close to setting some Bengals' single-season records last season.

Worst pick: It can be rare for a seventh-round pick to pan out for a team, so calling one the worst pick of a team's draft class is a stretch. But Finley had the shortest career, so he might fit the bill here. Some, angered by Dalton's inconsistency, might say him. Either way, we're still in the early days of these players' careers. With plenty of time left to play somewhere, it's tough to label any of them busts just yet.

Combine countdown rewind: Bengals OL

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
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Last week, in the days leading up to the start of on-field workouts at the NFL combine, we counted down five of the top position needs for a Cincinnati Bengals team that will go into May's draft looking to build depth instead of trying to find immediate starters.

As part of the countdown, I listed three players from each position who I said I would have my eyes on during the interview and testing portions of the event. Now that the combine is concluding, wrapping up Tuesday with defensive back workouts, I figured this would be a good time to go back and look at the numbers posted by the players who were part of the countdown. Each day this week, we'll be doing a rewind of the countdown, analyzing how well the players who were in it worked out.

After running backs Monday, up next: Offensive line

Questions still loom with respect to the Bengals' plans about their rotations at left guard and left tackle. They likely won't be answered until free agency begins in two weeks, and some resolution begins to occur regarding tackle Anthony Collins' ability to either re-sign or ink a contract elsewhere. Guard Mike Pollak also is an unrestricted free agent and might not be in Cincinnati next season, although the odds are more favorable for him to stay. Until any type of resolution is made with respect to these two rather important free agents, there will continue to be some uncertainty about what the Bengals might do as far as drafting an offensive lineman or multiple linemen.

The age of some of the Bengals' current linemen also gives the organization reason to want to add to their depth on the line. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's push for a more physical, run-based scheme this fall certainly would warrant more depth on the line to account for any injuries that might occur. At this point, though, who the Bengals draft on the offensive line depends solely on the types of players who are around when they make their selections. Body size, ability and a previous understanding of Bengals line techniques are factors that could influence draft decisions here. Versatility has always been key for Cincinnati offensive line coach Paul Alexander, too. He'll be looking for players who can fill multiple roles and play multiple positions in times of need.

Two of the three linemen I looked at last week, Clemson's Brandon Thomas and Alabama's Anthony Steen, are those types of versatile players. Thomas played tackle in college, but may be making the move to guard in the NFL. His shorter arms (34 3/4 inches) project better for playing guard than tackle at the next level. His experience at both positions, though, could make him attractive to teams in the middle rounds of the draft. Steen was a guard throughout his time with the Crimson Tide, but he has been told that teams are interested in moving him to center at the next level. While the Bengals seem comfortable with Kyle Cook's ability as their starting center, they also have Trevor Robinson and T.J. Johnson who are listed as backup centers. Pollak could play the position in a pinch, too. Either way, Steen's desire to play either center or guard could make him attractive.

The other lineman, Morgan Moses (Virginia), is a bigger bodied tackle who projects into the first two rounds. He might be gone before the Bengals are ready for him, but he could be a solid enough addition for an offense trying to run more efficiently.

Here are numbers (per NFL.com) from the trio's workout Saturday:

Morgan Moses (Virginia)
40-yard dash: 5.35 seconds
Vertical: 21.5 inches
Broad jump: 106 inches
3-cone drill: 7.93 seconds

-- Moses was included on the pre-combine list mainly because I just liked him. He has good size, good arms and really made a name for himself at the Senior Bowl. He looked rather clean in run- and pass-block situations during that game. If the Bengals decided to go offensive lineman with their late first-round pick, he'd likely be there. Overall, he didn't test well Saturday. His 40 time wasn't one of the best among offensive linemen, his vertical was tied for the worst and his broad jump and cone drill numbers didn't wow, either.

Brandon Thomas (Clemson)
40-yard dash: 5.09 seconds
Bench: 35 reps (at 225 pounds)
Vertical: 29 inches
Broad jump: 98 inches
3-cone drill: 8.13 seconds

-- Compared to Moses, Thomas had a better day of on-field testing, turning in the 10th-fastest 40-yard time among linemen, having the sixth-most bench reps and a vertical that tied with others for the fifth highest. The mid-round projection may have boosted his draft stock slightly with those numbers. His greatest asset moving forward, though, will be his versatility.

Anthony Steen (Alabama)
40-yard dash: N/A
Bench: N/A
Vertical: N/A
Broad jump: N/A
3-cone drill: N/A

-- A shoulder injury that was finally operated on late in Alabama's season forced Steen to sit out the physical portion of the combine. He participated in interviews and met with teams, but didn't bench or run. He expects to be healthy enough for Alabama's pro day in April. Another mid-round projection, his versatility will be his biggest asset this spring.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Marvin Lewis is tired of hearing them. Andrew Whitworth is, too.

But the questions about whether Whitworth, the Cincinnati Bengals' veteran Pro Bowl offensive lineman, will end up playing left guard or left tackle next season likely will continue until mid May, the time when the team ought to settle its O-line roster following the NFL draft and free agency.

So as much as the head coach and his versatile, team-first lineman may hate being asked them, both ought to know that for now, the questions won't completely disappear.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Whitworth
AP Photo/David KohlWhether Andrew Whitworth suits up at left guard or left tackle in 2014, the Bengals will still rely on the experience of their eight-year veteran.
At the NFL combine Friday, during a nearly 30-minute session with Bengals media, Lewis told reporters he felt the inquiries about Whitworth's status had already been overdone.

"Too much has been made of it. Andrew Whitworth has said many times during the season he'll play where he needs to play to make the football team win, which is the same statement he made to me, and then now, someone gets one little thing and makes a mountain out of a molehill. Whit will play wherever he feels is best for the football team. He loved playing inside at guard, and he's been our starting left tackle. He continues [to be] and will be a player for us somehow, somewhere."

Earlier this offseason, Whitworth made it evident that until he was told otherwise, he considered himself a left tackle.

"I've been a left tackle here and will continue to be the left tackle, and if not, there's something we have to do," Whitworth told ESPN.com. "That's the spot that I've been playing and I played it really well."

Whitworth began the 2013 season the same way he did the previous four: as a left tackle. It's the position that earned him a postseason trip to Hawaii in 2012.

But last December after left guard Clint Boling tore his ACL at San Diego, Whitworth asked coaches to let him switch back to the position where he was used for two of the first three years of his career. After opening enough holes to help the Bengals rush for 164 yards, the second-highest rushing total they had last season, the move stuck. Whitworth stayed at left guard through the playoffs.

By having Whitworth at that position, the Bengals saw their blocking increase, new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. Before transitioning to his current role last month, Jackson served as running backs coach.

"It looked like London Bridges out there where everything was getting knocked down," Jackson said. "He brought that mentality, and to me, that is how we have to play every play. In the game in San Diego when Boling got hurt, he went out there and didn't blink. We had one of our best rushing days and that tells you a lot."

Boling hopes to be fully healthy by September.

As selfless as Whitworth's decision to move to guard was, Jackson and Lewis hold the final word on where the lineman plays next season. They contend they will only place him there if it's the right fit for where their new offense plans to go. Those plans also hinge in part on Anthony Collins' free agent future. Cincinnati would like to bring the backup tackle back, but may ultimately be unable to. If Collins isn't on the team next season, Whitworth's status as a left tackle seems assured. If Collins stays, the Bengals have good reason to debate whether to keep Whitworth at the spot he shined late last year, or to return him to the place he believes he's best suited to play.

"We'll see how things shake out and what's good for the Bengals," Lewis said. "We have an opportunity to have some depth. We'll continue to try to work hard toward having that kind of depth on our football team."

Exactly how will that depth come together later this offseason, though? Will it be through the draft, retention of key free agents or the placement of Whitworth? The Bengals ought to be able to provide a few answers by the middle of May.

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