Cincinnati Bengals: jason campbell
BenJarvus Green-Ellis was cut.
Those days officially ran out Friday afternoon.
Green-Ellis' release means the Bengals have turned to the next chapter of their backfield plans, and that they are embracing having Hill as an option out of the backfield. It's safe to say that in Cincinnati, the Jeremy Hill Era has begun.
You actually could rewind your clock back to Thursday night in order to pinpoint the exact moment Hill's tenure with the Bengals began. During a 35-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts, the running back shouldered the load, receiving 26 touches. He ran 20 times for 90 yards and caught six passes for 63. With the star rookie playing until deep into the third quarter, many criticized coach Marvin Lewis for not taking him out sooner.
There was a method to Lewis' apparent madness.
"Jeremy has to understand what it's like to be an NFL running back," Lewis said. "We aren't five deep. When we get to Sundays and we got down to 46 guys, and if he's going to be the guy, then he's going to have to be able to shoulder the load."
It should be pointed out that he won't be the only guy for the Bengals this season. Second-year back Giovani Bernard also will be contributing out of the backfield. Bernard is expected to see the bulk of the touches out of the backfield, but Hill should have his share, too.
Bernard is more of a shifty, outside runner who can punch the ball inside if he needs to. Hill is more of a power-running ballcarrier who happens to have next-level speed, too.
Green-Ellis no longer had that combination, and it factored into the reasons he had to go.
When you saw Green-Ellis and Hill run in practices during the spring and earlier this summer, it was a night-and-day difference in how fluid Hill looked compared to the veteran. The rookie's cuts were sharper. His feet were quicker. His strides were longer. Matched with Green-Ellis' comparatively plodding pace, Hill looked more like an NFL rusher than Green-Ellis. There was no contest.
After Thursday night's game, Hill was asked about getting such an exhaustive workload on a warm, humid night. He said he felt fine with it because it was good preparation for what's to come.
"Bigger backs are always accustomed to getting the workload," Hill said, adding that he still wants to work on his conditioning a little more.
A physical runner himself, Green-Ellis has gotten his share of carries in recent seasons. In his two years with the Bengals he averaged 249 carries. Prior to that, though, he never had more than 229 in a single season with the New England Patriots, the only other team Green-Ellis has played for.
You won't ever hear Green-Ellis admit it, but perhaps his slower, less effective play last season was partially the result of overuse. He was, after all, the primary back on the roster in 2012 when he had 278 carries. Last season he had Bernard to share the runs with, but he still far outpaced any other Bengals rusher, collecting 220 carries.
While coaches won't say how often they expect to use Hill this season, based on Thursday, it's clear they expect to use him in a variety of ways. The rookie ran up the middle, hit the edge a few times and even caught a number of screen passes.
"He likes to attack every corner of the field," backup quarterback Jason Campbell said.
Now that Green-Ellis is no longer ahead of him, Hill will be able to touch as much of the field as he wants.
QB Tyler Wilson. Just like Campbell, the emphasis for Wilson will be to eliminate turnovers. The Bengals offense did an admirable job of that Sunday at Arizona. They didn't have a single interception or fumble. They retained possession, all while battling horrid field position all night. Wilson hasn't played since the Week 2 loss to the Jets after suffering a concussion late in that game. Now that he's been healthy enough to practice, look for extended action from Wilson, assuming he has been cleared to play. Not all of the players on concussion protocol this preseason have made it on the field. Offensive tackle Andre Smith still hasn't played despite practicing the past two weeks.
RB James Wilder Jr. With a battered and bruised running back group, the Bengals probably will turn to Wilder much earlier than they have at other points this preseason. Look for the undrafted rookie free agent to get heavy action in the second half as Cincinnati tries to save second-round draft pick Jeremy Hill's legs. He'll probably see extensive action in the first and second halves as the Bengals try to ease starter Giovani Bernard through a very non-taxing evening. Remember, the goal is to keep everyone healthy, particularly the starters. Since that is the case, Wilder ought to see significant action since Cedric Peerman, Rex Burkhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis may be missing in action. All three were held out of Tuesday's practice, the only one the Bengals had this short week.
DT Christo Bilukidi. While I'm still not sure Bilukidi will end up earning a spot on the 53-man roster later this week, he's still a player worth paying attention to. Coaches have liked some of what they've seen out of the backup defensive lineman. He has helped contribute to the Bengals' pass rush when he has been in the games, even coming away with one sack through the first three preseason contests. He has three total tackles in his appearances. On Sunday, Bilukidi was on the field for 23 plays, one of the higher snap counts of the team's reserve linemen. This will be his last chance to prove where he belongs: on the 53-man roster, on the practice squad, or released for another team to grab.
DE Sam Montgomery. Like Bilukidi, Montgomery has spent the preseason lining up both at tackle and end as the team tries to test out places it could use him if he makes the team. Also like Bilukidi, I'm not high on Montgomery making the final roster, but he does have tools that could be useful for the Bengals' pass rush. A lineman who has stand-up end ability, Montgomery could give Cincinnati's defense an added dimension from its standard rushes. Dontay Moch also has some of that same playing style and ability. It will be interesting to see how both fare when the roster gets set Saturday.
LB Sean Porter. One of the more impressive players on the back of the depth chart, Porter has caught the coaches' attention now that he's had a chance to play. Placed on injured reserve all last year, the former Texas A&M standout is just now getting an opportunity to show what he can do. The fourth-round 2013 draft pick filled in for Vontaze Burfict in practices last week when the starting weakside linebacker was out sick. He also capped Sunday night's 19-13 win with a final-play interception. He could be a special-teams addition to this year's 53.
At the very least, defensive tackle Geno Atkins and quarterback Jason Campbell will be good to go after working their way back from injuries this week. Coach Marvin Lewis said Friday afternoon that both would be in the lineup this weekend.
For Atkins, Sunday's game will be the first one he has been a part of since last October when he was lost for the 2013 season with an ACL tear on Halloween night. Campbell will be returning after spending the past two weeks sidelined with a bruised elbow. He took a shot in the third quarter of the Bengals' preseason opener at Kansas City when a defender's helmet made contact with his throwing elbow after an attempted pass.
Atkins was held out of Friday's practice, but Lewis said that inactivity had no bearing on his playing status Sunday.
Among other players whose status Lewis and the training staff will be keeping an eye on between now and kickoff are offensive tackle Andre Smith and receiver Dane Sanzenbacher. Smith said earlier this week that he hoped to get some extended snaps in at some point during one of the two upcoming preseason games following a concussion he was diagnosed with near the start of training camp. He hasn't appeared in either of the first two preseason games because of the injury.
"We have to see where Andre is, he and Sanzenbacher yet," Lewis said. "They've gone through the week and done what they're supposed to do that way, and now it's just up to the other people to make their judgments."
Sanzenbacher's injury was never disclosed, but he took one hard shot last Saturday against the Jets when he delivered a hard hit on a punt return. It's unclear if that play was related to his problem. After missing Monday, Sanzenbacher practiced the rest of the week.
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis also are worth keeping tabs on after both missed practice time due to a stomach virus that has been spreading around the team the past two weeks. It's the same virus linebacker Vontaze Burfict has had, and one that could keep him from playing in a type of homecoming game. Burfict played at nearby Arizona State in college.
With the aforementioned injury issues in mind, here's a rundown of the players who were out during the early and open-to-media portion of Friday's practice, one that was attended by several Atlanta Braves including Chris Johnson, Gerald Laird and Ryan Doumit. The Braves are in Cincinnati this weekend as part of a three-game series against the Reds.
As you read this list of injured players, remember that teams aren't required to publish a daily injury report during the preseason:
Did Not Practice
DT Geno Atkins (knee)
LB Vontaze Burfict (stomach bug)
OT Andrew Whitworth (undisclosed)
RB Rex Burkhead (knee)
QB Tyler Wilson (head)
LB J.K. Schaffer (head)
WR Marvin Jones (foot)
CB Dre Kirkpatrick (stomach bug)
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (hip/stomach bug)
CB Lavelle Westbrooks (undisclosed)
CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
Returned to Practice
DE David King (undisclosed)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
But the Cincinnati Bengals have to be feeling good about their first-team offense's impressive performance to this point in the preseason, right?
The starting offense was so good Saturday night against Rex Ryan's always strong first-team Jets' defense that quarterback Andy Dalton stood behind a clean pocket for most of his 17 plays, passing a flawless 8-for-8 and connecting with his receivers for 144 yards and a touchdown. He had a perfect passer rating of 158.3, and seemed as poised as he has ever been.
That performance followed up a similarly impressive, albeit shorter, outing at Kansas City the week before. Dalton went 3-for-5 for 71 yards in his lone drive against the Chiefs. All four drives he has led in limited action these two preseason games have resulted in scores. His offense has converted two touchdowns (one of them was a 1-yard Giovani Bernard rush) and two field goals. Combined, he is 11-for-13 with 215 passing yards and one touchdown. This also marks the first time in Dalton's career that he's had an average passer rating (131.3) over 100.0 through his first two preseason games. It's also the first time he has thrown for more than 200 yards through two preseason games.
So what is it that has changed? Is it Dalton? Is it the offense? Is it both?
"Right now, from a stats standpoint you can say the offense looks good, but there's a lot of offenses in the league that are good in the preseason," Pro Bowl offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "It's the little things that you see -- guys hustling to the football, guys getting each other's backs, guys [doing] the stuff that we're saying is a point of emphasis that week, and guys going out there and executing the play not just because the play worked, but because it was executed correctly."
Whitworth added: "It's efficiently ran plays."
Three of Dalton's 11 completions have gone for more than 30 yards. Each of them traveled that far in the air, giving the Bengals a series of chunk plays. The two throws of that ilk Cincinnati had Saturday resulted in touchdowns. One of them, a 35-yard bomb to A.J. Green, put the Bengals in goal-line territory ahead of Bernard's dive. The other, a 43-yard strike in stride to Mohamed Sanu, was a touchdown itself, complete with a Sanu dance.
"The two throws down the field were tremendous," injured backup quarterback Jason Campbell said. "It's fun to watch, because these guys are in their fourth year together and this is kind of the year where you kind of start springing forward."
So is it better attention to detail? Is it chemistry? It actually appears to be a combination of both.
But whatever the case may be, the Bengals' first-team offense certainly appears to be rolling. Now for the big question.
Can it sustain its success for more than one quarter?
We'll find out Sunday night at Arizona when the starters presumably play a bit longer than they have been.
Late Monday morning, before practice, Campbell told reporters he was hopeful about playing Sunday when the Bengals visit Arizona in arguably the most important game of the preseason. The Week 3 game typically is the one in which the starters and second-string offense see their most extended action of the preseason. Since Campbell hasn't had many opportunities to play and practice in the past week, he's hoping to play to show he's better than the two-interception performance that spoiled his brief outing against the Chiefs two weeks ago.
"That's my goal, is to be able to get some reps and get back on the field," the Bengals' No. 2 quarterback said. "I really want to get back out there and build some chemistry with these guys. I know I have a lot of experience, but at the same time timing is everything in the passing game."
Campbell went 6-for-15, passing for 72 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions in the preseason opener at Kansas City. He had a passer rating of 55.4 when he left after being struck hard in his throwing elbow by a defender's helmet.
He said that he would not have been able to play in last Saturday's game against the Jets because the swelling in his elbow hadn't quite gone down. When he arrived for treatment early Monday, he said it had gone down considerably.
During the open portion of the pad-less, shorts only workout -- the Bengals' first practice since training camp ended last week -- Campbell was throwing like the other quarterbacks. He didn't seem to be visibly favoring his elbow.
"I'm doing a lot better," Campbell said.
Here's a look at the rest of the Bengals' unofficial injury update (the team isn't expected to put out an official report until the regular season begins):
Returned to practice
CB Dre Kirkpatrick (hip)
RB Jeremy Hill (shoulder)*
Appeared to be limited
LB Sean Porter (knee)
QB Jason Campbell (elbow)
At practice, in jersey but not practicing
CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)*
TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder)
DE Dontay Moch (undisclosed)
WR James Wright (ankle)*
QB Tyler Wilson (head)*
LB J.K. Schaffer (head)*
WR Marvin Jones (foot)
QB AJ McCarron (shoulder)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
RB Rex Burkhead (knee)*
*Denotes injury that occurred in Saturday's game against the Jets.
The team announced Saturday afternoon that it signed first-year quarterback Tyler Wilson, affirming a move coach Marvin Lewis alluded to in a news conference about an hour before the announcement. The move was made to help the Bengals account for the hit it will take with backup Jason Campbell expected to miss some practice time because of an injury he suffered in Thursday's preseason opener at Kansas City.
Waived by the Titans on Thursday, Wilson will be part of his third organization since entering the league in 2013. He also spent time on the Oakland Raiders' roster. In college at Arkansas, he had 52 career touchdowns and had two 3,000-yard passing seasons. With the Bengals, he's expected to strictly serve as an arm to help the Bengals' offense get meaningful practice and preseason game reps behind starter Andy Dalton for as long as Campbell is out, which might not be long.
Lewis said Campbell has a bruise on his throwing elbow. Campbell received it when a Chiefs defensive lineman's helmet made contact with his right arm on his follow-through.
Campbell, wearing a black arm sleeve Saturday morning when he spoke with reporters, wasn't sure exactly when he would be ready to play again. Still, he's optimistic he will be in uniform next Saturday when the Bengals host the Jets in their second preseason game.
"We're taking it one day at a time. I know the doctors; that's their analogy," Campbell said. "But at the same time, everybody's body works different. So we'll see how fast the week goes. But I look forward to getting back out there."
For now, third-string quarterback Matt Scott -- who earned his share of respect around the locker room for his performance at Kansas City -- 7 for 11 and 66 yards passing with one touchdown and a game-high 68 yards rushing -- appears as if he will slide into the No. 2 spot. Rookie quarterback AJ McCarron still hasn't been cleared off the non-football injury list and has yet to practice. It's possible he could get listed on the physically unable to perform list this season so the Bengals can rest his sore shoulder and retain a roster spot that can be used for keeping a player at another position. As part of the PUP list, McCarron wouldn't count against the 53-man regular-season roster limit.
Campbell's injury came on top of a performance that he wasn't completely proud of. Along with his two touchdown passes, Campbell also was intercepted twice. The pickoffs "take away from all the good plays that you had," Campbell said.
Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said he's not panicking over Campbell's struggles, but he does know one thing: "He can't throw interceptions anymore."
As Lewis said, it was "rookie, rookie, new guy, new guy, new guy."
Well, technically, one of the new guys was not new. Third-year lineman Kevin Zeitler started at right guard.
Early in the game, you could barely notice the youth and general inexperience of the first-team unit. There were no negative plays on the Bengals' first offensive series of the game. No penalties, either. There was one 53-yard bomb from Andy Dalton to A.J. Green and the Bengals scored three points. All in all, it was a successful run for the group charged with protecting Dalton.
He took note of that, and credited the group of mostly rookies and offseason free-agent additions.
"Obviously, not everyone is in there," Dalton said. "[But] I trust them. They did a good job and I didn't get hit. That's all that matters."
The first-team line consisted of left tackle Marshall Newhouse, left guard Trey Hopkins, center Russell Bodine, Zeitler and right tackle Will Svitek. Newhouse and Svitek were free-agent additions, and Hopkins and Bodine were playing college football this time last year. Bodine was a fourth-round draft pick in May while Hopkins went undrafted.
Zeitler is a lock to start this season, while Bodine appears in place to start at center. Hopkins was playing in relief of Clint Boling and Mike Pollak, two left guards who have been rehabbing from knee injuries this offseason. Newhouse played for Pro Bowler Andrew Whitworth, who is slowly coming back from a late-July calf injury. Svitek was playing in place of veteran Andre Smith, who is still on concussion protocol.
As much as the Bengals would rather not have all the injuries and rehabbing linemen, they are proud of the fact they're getting valuable game and practice reps for the men comprising their patchwork line. This time could prove invaluable for Hopkins, who is starting to appear a virtual lock to make the 53-man roster. At times, he's looked like the best blocker on the offensive line.
Bodine also is getting good growth opportunities with his time blocking for both Dalton and backup quarterback Jason Campbell. He had one glaring hiccup against the Chiefs, though: an early snap that came out slightly higher than Campbell was expecting. Bodine's only real knock this camp has been snapping too quickly or sending snaps wide of their intended marks. It's something the Bengals hope to correct before the regular season begins.
On the whole, this O-line played fairly clean. The group had just one illegal procedure penalty that came while Campbell was behind center. He barks with a cadence that is good at drawing defenders into the neutral zone, but one that also can be difficult to hear in a noisy environment like Arrowhead Stadium.
"[Thursday], in general, without having but the one procedure penalty, was pretty good," Lewis said. "We were backed up right away, right in the first drive. With that big, new speaker they've got out there, you can't hear anything until you get down on the play clock and break the huddle. So you really have to focus in."
Going deep. While Dalton was in the game, the Bengals and their hodgepodge of linemen moved the ball 81 yards on eight plays before a 30-yard Mike Nugent field goal gave Cincinnati an early lead. Of those 81 yards, 53 came on a bomb to Green that was thrown with Dalton comfortably stepping up in the pocket while under extreme pressure. Something that has been lost in talking about Dalton's apparent passing improvements has been his improved footwork. He's been gliding around pockets just as smoothly and confidently all training camp.
"We knew their front was good, but they gave us the look we wanted," Dalton said of the long pass. "We knew we had a good chance at it so that's why that play was in. It was good to go out and execute."
Challenge or no challenge? Around the time James Wright caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from third-team quarterback Matt Scott, I had a back-and-forth on Twitter with someone curious as to whether the Bengals ought to challenge the play (that had originally been ruled incomplete), or to let it go and give the Bengals' offense more red zone work.
My response? Challenge and give the rookie his score.
My reasoning? While preseason games are good times to work on red zone situations, a team also can devote more time to them in practices if they wish. In this instance, you had to give the rookie what was clearly a touchdown. (He had two feet in before falling out of bounds.) You have to imagine making such a tough catch over a defender's back will boost Wright's confidence. That's what you want. It was, after all, the first ball he has caught in a game of any kind since 2012.
He first heard during the spring that he was going to take on a greater share of the offensive load. He should be on the field more regularly and be put in better situations to see his number of touches increase from the 226 he had last year to somewhere closer to the neighborhood of 300.
By the extension of his position, quarterback Andy Dalton will play the largest role in the Bengals' offense this season. Receiver A.J. Green will be a big contributor, too. But no other skill player will be used like Bernard will.
"I don't know if it's the workload that's going to get more, it's more the type of plays that we're going to run with him in the game," running backs coach Kyle Caskey said after Sunday's practice. "We're going to expand his portfolio of plays and find different ways to get the ball in his hands in space. You get the ball in Gio's hands in space, he's dangerous."
That's not much of a secret. Take a look at film from Bernard's first home regular-season game last year against Pittsburgh on "Monday Night Football." He ripped off a 27-yard touchdown reception that was powered by his speed, agility and the positioning of his blockers deep downfield. It was his only catch in that game, but the screen pass and big gain set the tone for how well he can play if put in the right spaces.
Caskey, new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and the rest of the offensive coaches hope to put Bernard in those situations as often as possible this year. That could mean lining him out wide as a receiver, placing him into the slot or positioning him elsewhere on the field where he can catch passes. The same could be said for rookie Jeremy Hill, who has also been lauded for his ability to catch passes even if he isn't quite as explosive as Bernard.
"You don't necessarily have to hand it off and say, 'Hey, Gio got 260 touches last year out of the backfield.' Maybe he gets 260 to 300 touches but he gets them some other way," Caskey said. "Maybe he gets 200 out of the backfield but he catches 100 passes or however it is. We'll find a way to get the ball to him."
That said, does it really matter exactly how many rushes and receptions he has?
"No," Caskey said. "Of course we're going to limit certain parts of his game. It's a long season, sixteen games. And you don't want him to get hurt. Besides, we've got a huge talent pool in our running back room with the other guys we've got there. So it's not like he has to go in there and take all the reps."
But the Bengals still want him to take as many as he can. That's something Bernard is looking forward to.
"Whenever I have the ball, I feel explosive," he said. "I'm not going to say I don't get tired, but there's always that thing where when you have the ball, you've got to go full speed. The more opportunities, the more things you can do with the ball."
Here are a few other quick items to be aware of as the Bengals kick off Week 2 of camp:
Green-Ellis gets support. Veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis got a bit of a boost from Caskey, who said he was "still one of our guys." While some in the media, myself included, have said the writing seems to be on the wall for Green-Ellis and his stay in Cincinnati, the coach contends that nothing has changed as far as the staff is concerned. It has also been interesting to hear the type of support Green-Ellis has received from his teammates in practice this camp. Typically when he's got the ball in his hands, offensive and defensive players are shouting more encouraging words to him than you hear for anyone else.
Campbell part of project. Found it interesting over the weekend that The Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Northeast Ohio Media Group were in the middle of a summertime project that saw them catch up with all the men who played quarterback for the Browns since 1999. Yes, that's a long list. Be happy that you've had relative consistency at that position over the years, Bengals fans. Ranking 20th on the Plain Dealer's list was current Bengals backup Jason Campbell, who spent part of last season in Northeast Ohio. You can read about Campbell's post-football plans there, too.
@ColeyHarvey: To answer your question, Jarrett, I'll give a simple "No." Chances are there won't be any competition between Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron at quarterback, at least not this year. The Bengals have stated rather emphatically this offseason that they believe Dalton is their man at the position. Although that hasn't yet translated to a contract extension for him, I'd still listen to their insistence about that if I were you or anyone else. That of course probably annoys some Bengals fans, but the fact of the matter is that the franchise chooses to cling to the good memories their star has given them. They think he can build upon them this year; not McCarron and not fellow backup Jason Campbell. It is worth noting that the additions of Campbell and McCarron behind Dalton give the Bengals greater assurance about the depth at the position than they have had in some time. It's also worth noting that during minicamp and organized team activities, McCarron was never in a position to challenge Dalton. He was recovering from an arm injury and learning his playbook. Campbell got his share of snaps, but the bulk of the reps went to Dalton. That might change a little in training camp, but don't read too far into it. Dalton probably will be sharing a lot more practice reps with the others, but that's only so the Bengals can keep him as fresh as possible for the regular season. It's much the same reason as to why you'll see other punters and kickers participating in camp as much as, if not more than the actual starters, Kevin Huber and Mike Nugent.
@ColeyHarvey has there been any competition between Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron yet?— Jarrett Feldhaus (@JarrettFeldhaus) July 18, 2014
@ColeyHarvey: I actually think the tight end production has been rather sound of late, Bill. As an example, here's a blog from earlier this offseason about just how good Jermaine Gresham has been in the red zone. That said, did the Bengals' production from their tight ends decrease over the course of last season? Absolutely. After catching a combined 54 passes through the first eight games, the tight ends had only 35 in the second eight. They also had three drops in the second half of the year, as opposed to two in the first. But none of that suggests there's something wrong with the position, the players or the coach, assistant Jonathan Hayes. I'd say the combination of scheme alterations and injuries affected a lot of what the Bengals were able to do with their tight ends down the stretch last season. Remember both Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham missed time in the season finale with injuries. It also didn't help their cause much that other playmakers like receiver Marvin Jones emerged in the second half, taking some of their opportunities. The Bengals definitely would like greater production from their tight ends and believe they'll get it. Expectations are high for Eifert to emerge here in Year 2, and Gresham could very well be playing for a contract as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. While the Bengals are hoping to get more efficient plays via deep passes to outside receivers and yard-after-catch-generating screens to players out of the backfield, you can be assured they will have plays drawn up for the tight ends. Will you see either of the tight ends put up Jimmy Graham-like numbers? No. But don't worry, they ought to be effective, but primarily in certain situations.
@ColeyHarvey We need more production from our TEs. Why haven't they played very well? Do we need better TE coach? or better designed plays?— Bill Dan (@billdan9000) July 18, 2014
@ColeyHarvey: Interesting that you ask about Kevin Zeitler, NatiBuck513. We profiled him in this story from Friday. Zeitler told me last month that he dedicated his offseason to getting in better shape than he was last year. That's not to say he was in awful shape in 2013. He just felt that he was a little heavier than normal, and not as lean as he knows he can be. So, to get back to an old version of himself, he worked on his diet. It seems to have paid off. You know how jarring it is sometimes when you see someone you haven't seen for a while and they look noticeably different -- for better or for worse -- when you do see them again? That's how it was with Zeitler when I saw him at the start of the OTA schedule back in May. Why do I mention all of this? Well, because I do think that he could be in for a solid year as long as the mental matches the physical. If he's able to hone his play like he's honed his body, and if he's able to be a little more vocal and assertive on the line, then he's got a good chance to have that type of season. The question is, will Pro Bowl voters across the country recognize his exploits in Cincinnati? If the Bengals play well enough offensively, they will.
@ColeyHarvey Zeitler ready for a pro bowl year?— NatiBuck513 (@NatiBuck513) July 18, 2014
@ColeyHarvey: I'm not 100 percent, TRL, but I don't believe ESPN is the only outlet with writers and commentators who see the AFC North having other legitimate contenders. I will say that I have gone on record a couple of times this summer as having said I believe the Steelers are improved and that I just can't see Pittsburgh's coaches, players, ownership and fans standing much more for the types of seasons the franchise has had the last two years. Offensive line injuries and a horrid rushing attack hurt the Steelers the most last season, and they devoted part of the offseason to bolstering that. They also added a solid outside linebacker in Ryan Shazier in the draft. In short, they may not have made themselves drastically better, but the Steelers have the pieces to be a better team this year. That, combined with the Bengals' slightly more challenging 2014 schedule makes me think the division will come down to the Dec. 28 regular-season finale at Pittsburgh. As for the Ravens, they'll be competitive, but the Bengals' real threat for the division crown is in the Steel City.
@ColeyHarvey My ? Is, why does ESPN hold PIT and BAL as immediate contenders. They both look like the same teams from last year. Thoughts?— TRL (@CNATI87) July 18, 2014
According to the 26 NFL insiders who voted in Sando's poll (which you need ESPN Insider access to fully read), Dalton is neither a first- nor second-tier quarterback. He's a third-tier starting signal-caller whose nice guy attitude at least one source thinks might not mesh with the Bengals' brash and confident new offensive offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson.
I'm personally not sold on Jackson deciding to do that. The only way Dalton gets uprooted in favor of Campbell, in my opinion, is if the Bengals are at the end of an abysmal season, are out of playoff contention and are looking to move on from Dalton (this, of course, is assuming the Bengals don't re-sign him to a longer term contract extension this summer. As the days continue to ticking by, it's beginning to look like that might be the case). Even though he's open to having some competition during training camp and practice, Jackson has made it quite plain to me and other reporters on the Bengals beat that he wants Dalton to be in singular command of his offense. Head coach Marvin Lewis also has made that clear.
Campbell is in Cincinnati for two reasons: to help mentor Dalton and rookie AJ McCarron, and to push Dalton if the Bengals reached a point of no return with their young starter. It doesn't seem the 26-year-old Dalton, whose wife gave birth to the couple's first child Tuesday, is suddenly in line for a collapse. If anything, judging from these comments from Jackson, it appears the quarterback could be preparing for his best campaign so far. Mechanical improvements have been noted, and the Bengals are hoping to put Dalton in better situations than he might have been at times earlier in his career. The heavy run focus of Jackson's scheme should help, as should the development of the quickened tempo the offense began implementing this spring. If Dalton can get into a rhythm more quickly in each game, he has a better chance of limiting the bouts of inconsistency and the turnover problems he has had at earlier points in his career.
It's possible that after playing like a third-tier quarterback for three years, Dalton could perform much better in Year 4.
At least one GM isn't buying that.
"The ceiling for Dalton is a three," a GM said for Sando's blog. "There is not enough about him. With a Colin Kaepernick, does he read coverages well? No, but if things are clicking for him, he can throw fastballs. Dalton cannot do that."
Another GM called Dalton a "poor man's Russell Wilson" because of his dedication to playing the position and the respect that hard work can earn around a team. That same GM questioned Dalton's physical talents as a passer, and if he'd be able to continually lead his team to the postseason. The GM said, "if he is your quarterback for 10 years, you'll go to the playoffs five times and say he's a good QB."
Dalton has been to the postseason all three years he's been in the league. He just hasn't won a playoff game yet.
As a so-called third-tier quarterback, Dalton ranked in a tie for 19th among the league's 32 anticipated starting quarterbacks who were used for the poll. He's right on par with Robert Griffin III, the voters said. Dalton also finished two spots higher than former Bengals quarterback and current Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees all shared the rankings' top spot.
"Now that AJ McCarron has been drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, will they keep three quarterbacks on the roster this season?"
That question got a little added spice Monday afternoon when the player who had previously held the title of likely No. 3 quarterback in 2014,Josh Johnson, was released. It was largely expected when chatter about the Bengals looking to draft a quarterback became real several months ago. After realizing they were able to make their pick with McCarron's fifth-round selection, Johnson was gone.
The three-quarterback question is where we begin this Tuesday's Bengal Quick Takes.
1. Keeping three QBs? To answer that question, you've got to start by throwing out another: Why wouldn't the Bengals keep three quarterbacks on the roster this season? It only makes sense that they'll have a triplet at the position this season with Andy Dalton entering the final year of his rookie deal, veteran Jason Campbell around for a season to serve as a mentor and McCarron coming in as a rookie who will be expected to learn the offense right away. While he may not end up receiving a large financial windfall because of where he was drafted, McCarron still will command his share of attention between now and the end of training camp. It's the fact that they drafted him in the first place and the success that he exhibited in college that makes it pretty plain that he's not going anywhere anytime soon.
2. But why keep three? The Bengals brought McCarron in for a reason: They believe he can contribute if needed and learn. If he's part of the 53-man roster, he's able to learn not only how to be an NFL quarterback, but he's able to get a feel for opposing stadiums and crowds and at least getting the experience of being inside buildings that might be reminiscent of the intimidating road venues that he torched through while playing for Alabama in the SEC. As part of the main roster, McCarron would be forced to keep challenging for playing time. If he doesn't make the 53-man roster, he still will be part of the team, attending every meeting and practice session as the likely practice-squad quarterback. So, no, don't expect to see him get cut. Don't expect to see Campbell cut, either. He was brought on earlier this offseason for a reason: To give Dalton and the new draft pick a chance to actually have an in-room mentor. That's something Dalton hasn't really yet had. Campbell may have had his troubles winning in the playoffs, too, but he at least has been there. It will be helpful for the Bengals to have that added experience in the room as Dalton tries to uncover ways to get the Bengals past the first-round hump. They haven't yet won a game while he's been the starter. Oh, and they aren't cutting him, either. He's the starting quarterback for a reason, and the Bengals are deep in talks with him to ensure he remains their leader for years to come.
3. Updated contracts. As NFL teams start preparing for the start of OTAs and minicamps, their rosters are, by extension, getting larger. In the past when we've talked about contracts and the Bengals' salary cap here, it has all primarily been seen through the lens of the top 51 contracts on the team (technically in the Bengals' case, of late, it has been the top 59 because of free-agency additions). With expanded rosters coming as a result of the camps, ESPN Stats & Information late last week released contract numbers for the additional bottom-earning players. Ten additional Bengals were added. Rookies, whose deals are still being worked on, have not yet been added. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Onterio McCalebb, David King, Cobi Hamilton, T.J. Johnson, Quinn Sharp, Bruce Taylor and Brandon Joiner will be making base salaries of $420,000 this season. Chris Lewis-Harris, Zach Minter and Kevin Brock will make $495,000. Back in January when they signed future/reserve contracts, McCalebb, Hamilton, Johnson and Minter agreed to two-year deals that end in 2015.
4. NFL Nation TV. We're back at it this Tuesday afternoon with "NFL Nation TV," the new, interactive video chat that yours truly is helping host with ESPN Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez. This is the show's fifth straight week. It has been growing exponentially from the beginning. We'll be chatting some about the Bengals and the quarterback situation, and we'll be wrapping up the entire draft in this latest installment that begins right here on ESPN.com at 1 p.m. ET. Along with Paul and I this week will be Jets reporter Rich Cimini and Giants reporter Dan Graziano. Please join us.
Two days after the conclusion of last week's NFL draft, Johnson's time in Bengals stripes finally came to an end. The team announced Monday afternoon it had released him.
Johnson is scheduled to enter his sixth season later this fall. He joined the Bengals last offseason as a free agent and ranked second on the depth chart behind Andy Dalton all last year. He appeared in just two regular-season games, rushing seven times for 20 yards. He didn't complete a pass.
Johnson's release comes on the heels of AJ McCarron's selection in the fifth round of the draft. In addition to joining Dalton, the former Alabama quarterback will be in the same meeting room as veteran Jason Campbell, another backup who was added via free agency earlier this offseason. Campbell was brought in on a one-year deal and is expected to help mentor Dalton. McCarron likely will play this season as the No. 3 quarterback behind the two, learning from both.
At Alabama, McCarron was a three-time national champion and Heisman Trophy runner-up. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said his staff was most impressed by McCarron's touchdown-to-interception ratio. He completed 77 touchdown passes to 15 interceptions during his college career.
Dalton is now the lone returning quarterback on the Bengals' roster. Along with Robinson's departure -- the reserve spent all of last season on the physically unable to perform list -- practice-squad quarterback Greg McElroy retired earlier this offseason. The fellow former Crimson Tide signal-caller had been in the league since 2011.
The team announced it was waiving Robinson under the category of "failed physical." He spent the entire 2013 season on the Bengals' physically unable to perform list due to an elbow injury that predated the start of the season's training camp. He was joined on the PUP list by fullback Chris Pressley, who was waived himself late last season.
Robinson's release gives the Bengals a cap savings in 2014 of $570,000. He is the second player the Bengals have waived this week. On Monday, practice squad center Scott Wedige was cut.
The releases also come one week before the Bengals are expected to draft both a center and a quarterback. With starting quarterback Andy Dalton's future in Cincinnati beyond 2014 somewhat uncertain, the Bengals are likely to draft a quarterback who could become a long-term option down the road in case a deal isn't reached that will keep Dalton in town. The drafted quarterback also would be brought on to help give the Bengals some added depth at the position behind veteran Jason Campbell and new third-string signal-caller Josh Johnson.
Robinson, who has been in Cincinnati the past two weeks for part of voluntary workouts, had been listed behind Dalton, Campbell and Johnson.
Earlier this offseason, Bengals practice squad quarterback Greg McElroy announced he was retiring. He later joined ESPN as an analyst for the new SEC Network.
In their three-round mock draft Thursday night, ESPN draft insiders Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay picked center Marcus Martin (USC) for the Bengals in the second round. The third-round pick went to quarterback AJ McCarron (Alabama).
Campbell said during a news conference welcoming him to Cincinnati that he embraced that role. Does he still? That's where this Tuesday's Quick Takes begin:
1. Backing up Dalton. We turn to the Cincinnati Enquirer to find out how Campbell still is looking forward to giving advice to his young teammate and helping him understand what principles make Hue Jackson's offensive scheme run the most efficiently. Jackson was promoted to Bengals offensive coordinator from running backs coach in January. He came to Cincinnati in 2012 after one season as Campbell's head coach in Oakland. During a media availability period Monday, Campbell spoke to the Enquirer's Tom Groeschen about Dalton. (Yours truly was part of another pack interrogating defensive end Margus Hunt for a couple of other stories; Campbell was gone once Hunt's interview was done.) Here's a bit of what Campbell said about playing with the team's 26-year-old starter: "You just want to make sure he's as relaxed as possible, that he can just go out there and play the game he wants to play. For us all in the quarterback room, we have to prepare the same way and help each other out."
2. Why Campbell is good for the job. There are numerous reasons as to why Campbell is the right man for the job of backing up and mentoring Dalton. For starters, it ought to be understood that Dalton has never truly had a "mentor" in the quarterbacks room during his career. Carson Palmer was in the process of getting out of town when Dalton arrived as a rookie. After that, Bruce Gradkowski was an older quarterback who was around, but not one with real week-by-week starting experience. Gradkowski also had never played in the playoffs and couldn't have been a good resource for helping Dalton understand how to lead a team when the postseason arrived. As Campbell can attest, the playoffs are different than the regular season. The single-elimination nature of the postseason raises the stakes and increases the pressure. Campbell's free-agency addition was perfect for Dalton and the Bengals because not only has he been to the playoffs, but the veteran knows Jackson's inner workings. A self-proclaimed "fiery" coach, Jackson will get in all his players' faces and may come off on occasion as being the bad guy. After two seasons of playing for him, Campbell believes he has a handle on Jackson's personality, and can be a good intermediary for Dalton, if the need arises. Campbell's also the right guy for this job because in the event Dalton for whatever reason misses time this season -- something that hasn't happened his entire career -- then the Bengals have a longtime starter who can take right over for him. Yes, a longtime starter likely nearing the end of his career, but one with more in-game experience than the rest of the Bengals' quarterbacks room combined.
3. Mocking Ealy early. We're approaching the one-week countdown for the NFL draft -- finally! -- meaning mock draft season is nearing its end. Dayton Daily News Bengals reporter Jay Morrison got into a little mock draft action over the weekend, going a slightly different route at No. 24 than most draft analysts. With the Bengals looking to start addressing their long-term depth at cornerback, many have believed they will take a cornerback with that pick. There are too many top-end corners available early in the draft for the Bengals to wait, most draft analysts say. Personally, I agree. But Morrison's pick, Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy, makes sense, too. Cincinnati's two-deep depth is such that the team isn't really looking for instant impact players at any position. But Ealy's addition would help the Bengals add to their end rotation following Michael Johnson's free-agency departure earlier this year. It's not the first time someone else on the Bengals beat has mocked Ealy. Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson also suggested Ealy on an earlier mock draft.
4. On A.J., Wedige, Sterling. Among the other news items that came from Monday's availability was receiver A.J. Green saying he was glad the Bengals exercised their fifth-year option on him. He admitted that he knew it was coming (like the rest of us). ... Center Scott Wedige also made Bengals news after the team released him. A practice-squad player, there's very little to read into about his release, but it could have been interpreted as a sign the Bengals do indeed want to draft a center this year. They do need another one, and by cutting Wedige, they have a spot on the full roster for another. ... Green and team NFL Players Association rep Andrew Whitworth addressed the situation involving Clippers owner Donald Sterling and his purportedly racist recorded comments. Whitworth said he wouldn't have played Sunday after the audio tapes surfaced over the weekend.
5. NFL Nation TV is back. Again, a Tuesday plug for "NFL Nation TV," an all-NFL Web show yours truly is helping host with ESPN's Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez. This week our guest is Seahawks reporter Terry Blount. The fun starts at 2 p.m. ET. Make sure to come back to ESPN.com to see it.
Twenty-seven Bengals have workout bonuses provisions in their contracts related to their attendance at strength and conditioning workouts and voluntary OTAs. Combined, the group has $3,205,000 at stake just for appearing and participating in the optional practices. The latest collective bargaining agreement places stipulations on the types of team-sanctioned practices and the number of them that players can take part in during the offseason. Participation, in many cases, still can lead to additional compensation.
Defensive linemen Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins have the most at stake when it comes to the bonuses. They both stand to earn $300,000 in 2014 for participating in the workouts.
Both were spotted Monday when the locker room was opened to reporters. There are other workouts continuing this week, but the media are only permitted to meet with players on Monday. Players won't be available again until next Monday.
As a result, it's hard to tell who has made it back for voluntarily workouts. Players were in and out of the locker room during the time it was open, but many who weren't seen could have been in other parts of the building.
It should be noted that even players who don't have bonus provisions in their contracts will still show up just to work out. For example, receivers A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu aren't due workout bonuses this year, but each was at the stadium Monday.