Cincinnati Bengals: mike pollak
As always, take the grades with a certain grain of salt because they can end up being later amended. They can also sometimes be the byproduct of particular schemes or coverages or setups a team happens to play that week.
Here are a few Bengals grades and notes following the 42-21 loss:
- With Boling blocking on the edge, Mike Pollak came off the bench and started at left guard. He was part of 54 snaps, and didn't allow a single pressure. At plus-2.7 and plus-2.2, respectively, Boling and Pollak had some of the highest overall grades for Bengals linemen.
- Veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth also has been strong much of the season in pass protection. PFF's Nate Jahnke tweeted Tuesday Whitworth hasn't allowed a sack or a quarterback hit in his past 11 games. The lineman also has yielded just four quarterback hurries in that stretch. Per Jahnke, in Week 14 alone, 17 tackles across the league allowed four or more pressures.
- Reserve receiver Brandon Tate's play-making opportunities grew exponentially Sunday with rookie James Wright out nursing a knee injury. Tate played 32 snaps after participating in just 29 on offense over the previous four weeks.
- Quarterback Andy Dalton saw pressure on seven of his 32 dropbacks (21.9 percent), a figure that closely resembles what he has faced all season. PFF said he has a pressure percentage this season of 23.2 percent. By comparison, Atlanta's Matt Ryan has been pressured on 35.6 percent of his dropbacks, and Russell Wilson on 44.8 percent of his this season. He went 5-for-7 for 117 yards and two touchdowns on those plays.
- Dalton's 75.9 percent accuracy percentage was eighth best among quarterbacks Sunday. Of his 29 passing attempts, 22 were on target. He had 21 completions and a dropped ball to Mohamed Sanu.
- Per PFF, running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill did not force a missed tackle, and combined for only 15 yards after contact.
- In the last four games, A.J. Green's receiving grade has been a plus-10.2. On Sunday, he received a plus-3.5 receiving grade for catching 11 of 15 targets for a career-high 224 yards and a touchdown, earning him a spot on PFF's Week 14 team of the week.
- No Bengals lineman had a positive pass-rush grade.
- Veteran cornerback Leon Hall also gave up two catches on four targets in coverage, including the 94-yard touchdown late to Martavis Bryant. Hall had a minus-1.1 coverage grade.
Either that team just won a game in blowout fashion, or it lost a game in blowout fashion.
For the Cincinnati Bengals, it was the latter Sunday afternoon. But for three quarters, with the Bengals holding a one-point lead, it seemed they would be participating in a second straight game that would come down to the wire. A series of fourth-quarter plays that didn't go their way, however, led to a 42-21 loss to the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers, helping shake up the AFC North race.
What's most evident looking at the Bengals' snap counts is the fact across the Bengals' final two offensive drives, backups filled the ranks. Most notably, recently signed Eric Winston came in off the bench and played right tackle. According to Pro Football Focus, he was part of 11 snaps, one fewer than quarterback Jason Campbell, who finished the game. Campbell originally came in during the Bengals' third-to-last drive following a hard hit on Andy Dalton that forced the starter out of the game briefly.
Dalton returned momentarily but didn't come back on the last two drives with the game out of reach. He said after the game he left simply because he had trouble catching his breath after the hard shot to his midsection. He acknowledged that he was fine.
Another backup saw extensive action on the offensive line. Mike Pollak, who came off the bench to play left guard, was part of 54 of the Bengals' 65 offensive plays. That meant he played 83.1 percent of their snaps. Pollak was taking the place of Clint Boling, who moved from his left guard spot to get his first career start at right tackle. Several times, notably once Winston came in, Boling went back to left guard.
Marshall Newhouse, who replaced Andre Smith (placed on injured reserve two weeks ago) at right tackle in the previous game, played 11 snaps, per PFF. Often, he came in as part of an unbalanced, heavy offensive line that featured him as an eligible extra blocker on the right edge.
At running back, Giovani Bernard barely edged Jeremy Hill in snaps this week, 35-33.
Defensively, linebacker Vincent Rey led the way appearing on all 73 snaps, and even six others on special teams. He had a career-high 15 tackles as he started once again for the injured Vontaze Burfict.
OFFENSE (65 plays)*
OL Clint Boling (65), OG Kevin Zeitler (65), C Russell Bodine (65), WR Mohamed Sanu (64), OT Andrew Whitworth (59), WR A.J. Green (58), TE Jermaine Gresham (57), OG Pollak (54), QB Dalton (53), RB Bernard (35), RB Hill (33), WR Brandon Tate (32), H-back Ryan Hewitt (17), WR Greg Little (15), QB Campbell (12), OT Newhouse (11), OT Winston (11), TE Kevin Brock (9).
DEFENSE (73 plays)*
LB Rey (73), S George Iloka (72), S Reggie Nelson (70), CB Leon Hall (68), DE Carlos Dunlap (65), LB Emmanuel Lamur (59), DE Wallace Gilberry (56), LB Rey Maualuga (53), DT Geno Atkins (52), CB Terence Newman (47), DT Domata Peko (45), CB Adam Jones (40), DE Robert Geathers (36), DT Brandon Thompson (21), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (15), DT Devon Still (10), DE Will Clarke (8), CB Darqueze Dennard (7), S Shawn Williams (3), LB Nico Johnson (2), S Taylor Mays (1).
SPECIAL TEAMS (35 plays)**
Williams (32), Johnson (32), Mays (26), RB Cedric Peerman (26), RB Rex Burkhead (26), LB Marquis Flowers (26), Dennard (22), Hewitt (19), Kirkpatrick (18), Brock (17), Litte (13) P Kevin Huber (11), LS Clark Harris (11), Nelson (10), Tate (10), Clarke (9), Nugent (7), Dunlap (7), Hall (6), Rey (6), Lamur (6), Geathers (6), Peko (6), Gilberry (5), Jones (4), Pollak (3), Boling (3), Zeitler (3), Whitworth (3), Gresham (3), Newhouse (3), OG T.J. Johnson (3).
Note: *Counts come from PFF. **Counts come from NFL's GSIS.
One week after keeping just two true offensive tackles on their active game-day roster, the Bengals kept three true tackles this week, while also deciding to move left guard Clint Boling to right tackle. He'll be starting in place of Marshall Newhouse, the backup who had played parts of the last two games at right tackle in place of Smith, who was lost for the season two weeks ago with a triceps tear.
Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, Boling played parts of two drives at right tackle. Until its finish, the first of the two drives was one of the Bengals' better series of the game. They moved the ball efficiently for 58 yards to the Bucs' 20 before quarterback Andy Dalton threw an interception while targeting A.J. Green in the end zone. That drive also included three straight misdirection type plays that included a direct-snap run by a receiver, a sweep screen to another and a reverse.
Boling's move also comes after the Bengals signed veteran tackle and NFL Players Association president Eric Winston earlier in the week. He hasn't played since training camp when he was with the Seahawks. Winston likely wasn't considered to start at the position because he hasn't yet had time to fully learn the Bengals' offense, although he and coaches contend he's made rapid progress since signing Tuesday.
With Boling switching to the right edge, Mike Pollak is slated to come off the bench to play left guard.
In addition to those changes, the Bengals also declared another tackle, Tanner Hawkinson, inactive. It's the fourth straight game he's been inactive. A pair of receivers also aren't playing in Dane Sanzenbacher and James Wright. The latter suffered a knee injury at Tampa Bay and didn't practice all week. Wright arguably just had his best game, too. He caught three passes for 59 yards against Tampa Bay. Each of them resulted in third-down conversions.
Here are the full lists of inactives for both teams:
WR Dane Sanzenbacher
CB Chris Lewis-Harris
LB Vontaze Burfict
LB Chris Carter
OT Tanner Hawkinson
WR James Wright
DE Margus Hunt
RB Dri Archer
LB James Harrison
OT Marcus Gilbert
WR Justin Brown
CB B.W. Webb
DE Clifton Geathers
QB Landry Jones
What's up their sleeve? As you may have read in this package of stories Friday afternoon, teams around the league are beginning to pose similar questions to themselves when they begin their preparations for the Bengals. Trick plays have become a staple in their offense since Hue Jackson took over as offensive coordinator, and it's almost a certainty that they will run some unique formation or unexpected, misdirection-type play in hopes of catching New England's defense off guard. As mentioned in the link above, they have had at least one different offensive wrinkle in the past three games, with each executed to perfection. The past two in particular -- receiver Mohamed Sanu completing a 50-yard pass to fellow receiver Brandon Tate off an end-around pitch from quarterback Andy Dalton in Week 2, and in Week 3, Sanu taking a pitch from Dalton, then throwing back across the field to Dalton for an 18-yard touchdown. Will we see anything that catches the eye this week? The odds are high that we will. The real question is: what will it be?
Playing with attitude: The Bengals have had a slightly different edge about them this week. Some players who normally make themselves available for interviews brushed them off. The ones who did speak didn't say much, offering very little as they prepared for arguably the biggest game they have played this season. Suffice to say, there was a little attitude in the air around Paul Brown Stadium this past week as the stakes have been considerably raised. The Bengals know how important this game is to their season. Even if they might have talked around it this week, they do know exactly what a win would do for their postseason hopes and their confidence. If they pull off the prime-time road win, they will silence critics and prove once and for all that they are the best team in football right now. In order for any of that to happen, though, they have to play the way they have acted all this week -- with attitude. That means approaching this game like it is a playoff contest. It also means attacking New England's offense early with an aggressive pass rush and showing a physical, relentless offensive rushing attack.
Game of matchups: There will be several interesting matchups, including the one involving Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. He will likely draw linebacker Emmanuel Lamur for much of the night, but don't be surprised if safety George Iloka drops down and handles him in zone scenarios. Taylor Mays also could get some meaningful snaps off the bench if the Bengals want to mix the looks on Gronkowski and confuse him and quarterback Tom Brady with the switches between man and zone coverage that the Bengals are bound to implement. Also keep an eye on the outside matchup of Bengals receiver A.J. Green and Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis. It isn't uncommon for Revis to match up with a team's best receiver, like Green. In the trenches, the matchup between New England defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and Bengals interior linemen Russell Bodine and Mike Pollak will be worth tracking.
You can read more about his issue here.
It also is worth noting that the Bengals, already down right guard Kevin Zeitler for a few weeks because of a calf injury, were without linemen Andrew Whitworth and Mike Pollak when practice resumed Wednesday ahead of Sunday's Week 3 tilt against Tennessee.
Neither injury appears too serious for now, though. Both players expect to be in good enough shape to play this weekend. Still, they are worth watching. Both were listed as having knee injuries. Pollak has been kind of off and on with his practice regimen since the preseason. Whitworth has been healthy all season but left Sunday's game against the Falcons with a lower left leg bruise. It's unclear right now if that injury is related to the one that caused Whitworth to miss the practice.
The group of non-practice participants also included receiver A.J. Green, who said earlier Wednesday that he was going to wait until Thursday to test his toe.
Aside from those additions, safety Shawn Williams also made the injury report, going in a limited capacity.
Here's the full Wednesday injury report:
WR Marvin Jones (foot)
TE Tyler Eifert (elbow -- short-term IR)
TE Alex Smith (biceps -- long-term IR)
DID NOT PRACTICE
LB Vontaze Burfict (concussion)
WR A.J. Green (toe)
OT Andrew Whitworth (knee)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
DT Brandon Thompson (knee)
RB Rex Burkhead (knee)
LB Sean Porter (hamstring)
OG Kevin Zeitler (calf)
S Shawn Williams (groin)
He was the Cincinnati Bengals' interior rover. He got more experience lining up at the various interior line positions than any other player. Whenever one of the starters at left guard, center or right guard went down, he had to know all three positions so that he could come right in and play them with the exact same level of execution.
When Pollak got thrown into last Sunday's game against the Falcons at Kevin Zeitler's right guard position, it took a little time to get reacclimated to the spot. He filled in there extensively once before. It appears he may be doing more of that in the next few weeks as Zeitler will probably be injured for a long time.
"It took me about a series to kind of get refocused back there," Pollak said. "Last year when I had to fill in for Kevin toward the end of the season, I got a lot of reps over there."
The Bengals haven't announced anything official on Zeitler's status moving forward just yet, but there's a chance coach Marvin Lewis addresses it during his news conference Wednesday afternoon. Dave Lapham, the color analyst on the Bengals' radio team and a former Cincinnati offensive lineman, said during a radio show Monday night that he had been told Zeitler had a calf strain and was going to be out a month.
If Zeitler is out for four weeks, he'll miss games against the Titans, Patriots and Panthers. That's three games for Pollak to take over and prove that he can build the same wall of protection quarterback Andy Dalton has provided.
"As a backup, you've got to know that when your number's called you've got to perform," Zeitler said.
Zeitler suffered the injury in the second quarter of a game that saw five Bengals end up leaving due to serious injuries. Zeitler's happened at the end of a goal-line run when he pushed a pair of defenders as running back Giovani Bernard tripped in for a 4-yard touchdown run. With his left arm, the guard turned the defensive tackle across from him and then pushed back another lineman who was chasing Bernard with his right arm. The block opened a wide hole for Bernard to score, but came with a price.
Zeitler tried to hobble off the field, but went down in pain almost instantly before told to gingerly head through the nearby tunnel and into the locker room. He told me he felt his leg simply give out when the apparent strain occurred.
One could make a case that Zeitler was playing at an early Pro Bowl level. He had a 2.1 overall grade from Pro Football Focus through two games and hadn't allowed any pressures.
Pollak didn't allow any himself when he took over. He'll have to keep that going, especially considering Dalton is one of two quarterbacks in the league who still hasn't been sacked.
"It's one of our key emphasis each week, to keep the quarterback clean," Pollak said. "Two weeks in a row. We've got to keep it going. It's not going to be perfect throughout the season, but it's definitely good confidence."
As always, take the grades with a certain grain of salt because they can end up being later amended, and they can sometimes be the product of particular schemes or coverages or set ups a team happens to play within a respective week.
- Rookie center Russell Bodine was given the worst grade of any kind for an offensive player. He received a minus-5.0 overall grade and was credited with having a minus-4.7 showing in run blocking. The overall grade is weighted in large part by the poor run-blocking performance, but it still seems rather extreme. He did, of course, help keep quarterback Andy Dalton clean for the second straight game. Dalton still hasn't been sacked this season. Bodine also seemingly did an admirable job helping communicate line switches at the line of scrimmage.
- Backup guard Mike Pollak received positive pass-protection grades after coming in for injured right guard Kevin Zeitler. PFF said he didn't allow a pressure after stepping in for Pollak late in the second quarter. Pollak was in on 37 snaps. He's likely to get a few more in the coming weeks. Reports indicate Zeitler may have been lost for a month with a serious calf strain. Since the injury occurred he's been in a boot and on crutches. He still wasn't putting pressure on the boot Monday when he was seen hobbling through the locker room.
- Running back Jeremy Hill tripled his playing time, appearing in 33 snaps after playing just 10 the week before at Baltimore. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said last week that his production would increase.
- PFF reported that entering the Colts' and Eagles' Monday night game, Bengals running back Giovani Bernard ranked eighth in its elusive rating. That rating tracks missed tackles skill players force. The site said Bernard forced three misses Sunday.
- On 39 of the 46 snaps in which defensive tackle Geno Atkins was on the field, he rushed the passer, per PFF. He had two pressures in the game. Despite all of that, though, he still ended up with a negative grade, registering a minus-1.1 mark. Perhaps it was because he didn't record any sacks off his pressures that prevented him from drawing a better grade.
- Defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who did get credited with a sack in the game, had a positive grade of 3.4. PFF said he led the Bengals' defensive line in pressures with three quarterback hits -- including an apparently controversial one late -- and two hurries. He also had a positive grade against the run.
- If you couldn't tell just by watching the game Sunday, PFF's grades do indicate that George Iloka and Leon Hall had impressive performances in coverage. Hall allowed five catches for 31 yards in addition to deflecting a pass and intercepting one on a play that completely turned the momentum in Cincinnati's favor. Iloka didn't allow a single catch, even breaking up one touchdown try to Julio Jones deep at the goal line. Just as Jones flashed in front of Iloka and appeared to make the catch in the end zone, Iloka stripped the ball out. Two other passes that came near Iloka he intercepted.
- Linebacker Emmanuel Lamur still has a perfect tackle efficiency. He hasn't been credited with a missed tackle versus the run or pass in the first two weeks. He has 18 tackles total.
At 8 p.m. ET, they will take on the Arizona Cardinals in their third preseason game.
To help you get ready for the game, here's a little pregame reading. For the second straight day, we open up the mailbag and answer your questions. After discussing linebacker Vontaze Burfict's contract extension situation Saturday, we're spending today breaking down other items, beginning with the Bengals' plans at center:
@ColeyHarvey: That's an interesting and really good question, Wanderer. I'm going to say, "Yes." Rookie Russell Bodine would indeed have entered training camp as the Bengals' starting center, even if Mike Pollak and Clint Boling -- especially Pollak -- had been completely healthy when camp began. I'd venture to say that even if both veterans were healthy during organized team activities and minicamp that Bodine would have begun the fall as the team's starter at center. Why? Because the coaching staff is enamored by the young, sturdy and strong lineman. They like his power and strength and believe he will grow into the system quickly. They've believed that since the draft process, and continue to hold him in high regard. All of that said, had Pollak been fully healthy this spring and summer, there might actually be a little bit more of a position battle than we're seeing. It certainly appears Bodine will win the starting job, even though Pollak has taken some backup reps at the position. As for Boling, healthy or not, he'd have been at left guard. If he weren't healthy and Pollak was, Pollak would have started at left guard while probably taking a few backup center reps just to keep fresh there.
@ColeyHarvey If Boling and Pollak had come into camp not coming off injuries, would Bodine be the starting center?— The wanderer (@thewanderer2020) August 22, 2014
@ColeyHarvey: Iloka's been fine, NotoriousGIB. He has been one of the more impressive defenders this preseason, even if he hasn't quite gotten the attention you'd expect. He began camp talking about how the Bengals wanted to be "smart bullies" on defense, and that's precisely the way he's practiced and played in games to this point. At times he's been an enforcer, giving receivers hard forearm checks in games at the end of routes, or knocking down young wideouts at practice. Iloka always has been a tough safety, but it seems as if he's become even more measured in that regard this preseason. The one area he still needs work on, though, is creating turnovers.
@ColeyHarvey How's George Iloka doing so far? There hasn't been a lot of news on him.— NotoriousGIB (@Notorious_GIB_1) August 22, 2014
@ColeyHarvey: On his very first play last Saturday against the Jets, cornerback Darqueze Dennard left the game with a hip injury. He said he ran onto the field to block on a punt return unit, did his job and then started jogging off the field when he felt some discomfort. He was shut down immediately. There just was no reason for the Bengals to rush their first-round rookie back in the game at that point. If this were a regular-season game, there's a chance Dennard would play. Since this is a preseason game and he hasn't practiced all week -- he was going through some conditioning and rehab work Friday -- there's a good chance he might not. The only reason you might actually see him on the field is if the Bengals believe playing him will give them another good look at him, as he barely played in Week 2. He also might be forced into action if Dre Kirkpatrick is still out sick after succumbing late in the week to a stomach virus that has hit the team.
@ColeyHarvey what was dennards actual injury? And is there any chance he'll play Sunday?— Keegan (@Keegan_Ibanez) August 22, 2014
@ColeyHarvey: Av, Isaiah Lewis appears to be one of those rookies who has become a casualty of playing at a deep position, and not really doing too much that will draw significant attention. That's been my read on him since training camp, at least, when practices were completely open to the media. Things might have changed for Lewis in the last week, though. He might have turned more heads among coaches now that practices have been closed. The thing is, the undrafted rookie free agent is playing behind the likes of Reggie Nelson, Iloka, Danieal Manning, Shawn Williams and Taylor Mays. He's shorter than nearly all of them, too. While height doesn't matter at safety as much as it might at corner, the Bengals still like to use their safeties a lot like corners in certain man-press situations. That's a big reason why Mays probably will stick -- he can cover tight ends. Lewis' coverage skills were lauded when he came in, but he has to do a little more to prove the Bengals need them.
@ColeyHarvey After the draft, there was a lot of talk & hype about I. Lewis. But since then, nothing. Is his camp not going very well?— av (@blahmed) August 22, 2014
@ColeyHarvey: I believe you're asking about the contract negotiation status involving Gresham? For now, they're inactive. The Bengals are focusing the bulk of their attention right now on getting everything squared away with Vontaze Burfict. Then they'll probably start brainstorming with A.J. Green's representatives about how they might be able to start locking him up long term. I wouldn't say Gresham is completely off their radar, but it doesn't appear as if anything will move with the tight end anytime soon. His rookie contract expires after this season. I wouldn't be surprised if they want to see him play a few games this year before determining whether they want him back. Second-year tight end Tyler Eifert has come on well as another option at the position.
@ColeyHarvey what is the contract status of Jermaine Gresham?— Twiggy Magana (@EffAyBeOh) August 22, 2014
Burfict wasn't at Paul Brown Stadium most of Wednesday after being permitted to go home because of the illness. He was long gone when news of the deal first trickled out late Wednesday.
As for Thursday, not only was Burfict seen often in the locker room talking with teammates, but he also made appearances on the sideline during the day's practice. He wasn't in uniform. He only wore a windbreaker and hat to keep him dry during the rainy practice session.
There hasn't been any indication why the Bengals have yet to formalize the extension.
Burfict wasn't the only player to miss the practice. Nine others were either held out in some capacity, including veteran offensive lineman Mike Pollak, who has been off and on all preseason as the eases back from an offseason knee injury. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis also was out.
As was mentioned in Wednesday's injury update, since the Bengals aren't required this preseason to file a daily injury report like they will be in the regular season, it can be tough determining which banged-up players were limited or in full participation in a workout. Media are only permitted to view the first 30 minutes of the closed practices. Here is what was observed Thursday:
Did not practice
LB Vontaze Burfict (stomach bug)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
RB Rex Burkhead (knee)
LB J.K. Schaffer (head)
WR Marvin Jones (foot)
QB Tyler Wilson (head)
QB AJ McCarron (shoulder)
DE David King (undisclosed)
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (undisclosed)
Wore jersey, but didn't practice
CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
CB Lavelle Westbrooks (undisclosed)
The 31-year-old was released by the Bengals in March and was still waiting to get picked up by a team in free agency.
Former #Bengals C Kyle Cook is retiring, I'm told. He was clearly the best available center left in free agency.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) August 21, 2014
Cook spent part of the last seven seasons with the Bengals, signing on as part of the club's practice squad during the 2007 season, following a brief stint on Minnesota's offseason roster. After a year on the practice squad, he earned a spot on the Bengals' 53-man roster in 2008. The next year, he started at center and remained in that role until his release earlier this year.
Cook was part of one top 10 total offense (2013) and a top 10 rushing (2009). He was valued by the Bengals for his intelligence and ability to recognize defensive fronts and to switch the offensive line protections accordingly.
Around the time the Bengals let go of Cook near the start of free agency, they also re-signed veteran interior lineman Mike Pollak to a two-year deal. A guard who had center experience, Pollak was viewed until the draft in May as Cook's likely replacement. When the Bengals selected Russell Bodine in the fourth round of the draft, they signaled they were officially moving into a new phase of their center play.
With Pollak sidelined with a knee injury during organized team activities (OTAs), minicamp and the first few days of training camp, Bodine has been given starting reps at center. Earlier this week, offensive line coach Paul Alexander said all signs point to Bodine starting at the position. Football Outsiders also predicted Bodine would be a top 10 impact rookie this season.
Earlier this year, Cook began transitioning into his post-football life when he became part owner of a winery near Traverse City, Michigan. A native of Macomb, Michigan, Cook played at Michigan State before he went undrafted.
No, yes and most definitely yes.
I mean, this is the NFL. Teams blitz. Teams try to win by exploiting opposing teams' weakest links. Teams also talk trash -- even in the preseason -- and play extremely physical -- even in the preseason. It happens. So why then did this storyline take on such a life of its own early this week?
The answer to that question is unclear, but what is evident is the fact Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander didn't like the continued blitzing on his reserve-filled offensive line after the first quarter. It's also clear Jets head coach Rex Ryan isn't too apologetic for bum-rushing the Bengals' young backup quarterback and trying to intimidate Cincinnati's overall offense.
"We weren't going to be a punching bag," Ryan told reporters in New York on Monday.
Ryan's defenses have long been known for their physicality and probably had a point to prove after last October's 49-9 loss in Cincinnati. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson even said the week before he and his teammates "owed" the Bengals for the blowout. He vowed aggressive play from his team when it visited Paul Brown Stadium for the preseason game.
The Jets did just that. They were flagged 12 times for 133 yards, including a whopping six penalties that were the result of personal fouls. The most egregious came when the Jets were on offense after offensive lineman Willie Colon roughed up Bengals cornerback Terence Newman after Newman intercepted a pass. Colon contended he didn't hear a whistle and wanted to make sure Newman was down after he got up off the turf possibly untouched. Newman's helmet came off with Colon's shove, resulting in Bengals defensive end Margus Hunt violently shoving away another Jets lineman.
The two New York linemen were tagged with personal foul penalties early in a game that was filled with them.
When the Bengals were on offense, they were given similar rough treatment by a blitz assault that annoyed Alexander.
"Notice he didn't bring that stuff when our starters were out there," Alexander said Monday. "We'd have scored quicker. If he wants to put his starting defense out there and blitz all that garbage against our third-stringers, if he feels good about it, then all the power to him."
Jets defensive starters remained in the game well into the second quarter, and kept coming after Scott. Dalton and the starting offense left the field after just three series and an 8-for-8 performance from Dalton that included a 21-yard pass to A.J. Green in the flat as the Jets brought one blitz. As injured backup Jason Campbell pointed out Monday, once the Bengals beat that blitz, the Jets didn't bring another one on Dalton's crew.
The Bengals also shouldn't worry about the blitzing because it did nothing but prepare the line for what's coming in less than three weeks. Even if rookie center Russell Bodine wasn't on the field for the most intense rushes, other backups such as Mike Pollak, Trey Hopkins and Tanner Hawkinson were. On the off-chance that something happens to Cincinnati's starting linemen this season, the reserves need to be ready to communicate through such blitzes together.
"You try to think all preseason is going to be so vanilla, and then you get in a game like that where you really have to make sure you know who you're responsible for and who the other guys are going to," Pollak said. "It's just a good awakening experience to see those younger guys go through."
Just as Cook was being let go, Pollak was being re-signed to a two-year deal. With no center with true starting experience on the roster, the Bengals figured to turn to Pollak. He was the elder statesman of the existing interior linemen, and had at least snapped a couple of times in garbage time.
Three weeks later, he's making the move to center. The Bengals have him snapping again; albeit in a backup role for now.
"I just think coaches wanted to see me move around, get me healthy before they started moving me to [center]," Pollak said. "I'm continuing to work at it each day, get better each day. I still don't know what the overall plan is, but all I can do is control what I can do."
The seven-year veteran says his knee injury is healed.
The Bengals used their fourth-round pick in May on Russell Bodine, a strong, physical and smart center from North Carolina. Bodine has been the starting center, and the battle with Pollak for the starting job never materialized until these past few practices. Pollak didn't participate at all in the spring, continuing to rehab his knee. And despite some issues with snapping during the last workout of organized team activities in June, Bodine made a positive impression. If the rookie could correct his minor snapping issues and keep learning the system, he would be just fine, it appeared.
Those issues haven't faded, though. They have been a constant in training camp as he has sailed snaps either slightly wide or high for quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Jason Campbell. The bad snaps have become a point of emphasis for offensive coordinator Hue Jackson who vowed last week to get it fixed.
"We have other candidates," Jackson said last Tuesday. "We're a little banged up right now, so we'll keep working through it and coaching him up."
It was easy to assume Jackson was talking about backups Trevor Robinson and T.J. Johnson when he mentioned the other candidates. But when he mentioned how banged up the offensive line was, Pollak's name immediately came to mind.
Pollak has gotten more consistent activity in 11-on-11 drills in the third week of camp. He hasn't had a practice day off since before last Thursday's preseason opener at Kansas City, and since Friday has been working with the second-team offense at center.
He's entering practice with a clear mind, he said. If coaches want him at center one day or back at left guard the next, he's fine with whatever they want.
"All I can do is, I come out and ask where I am each day and see where they want me. Wherever that is, that's where I'm going to line up," Pollak said after Tuesday's practice. "Today I was playing center. Tomorrow, it may be different.
"Whatever can get me on the field or into a role to get on the field. I just want to play where I can. I'm later in my career. I know my days are numbered. As much as I can get in there, that's all I care about."
Pollak-Bodine position battle? We will have a little more on this note later Wednesday morning, but we will be keeping an eye on reserve offensive lineman Mike Pollak. The veteran has been snapping from center the past three days as the second-team option behind rookie Russell Bodine, who has been starting at the position. Bodine's struggles with shotgun snapping have been noted all camp. Pollak told reporters Tuesday afternoon that he has shared a few thoughts on snapping with Bodine, but knows it's up to the first-year player to decide how he wants to correct the issues. With Pollak recovered from a knee issue, we have a once-expected, but still relatively new mid-camp position battle.
Time for Hamilton to shine: The time for second-year receiver Cobi Hamilton to show he deserves a spot on the Bengals' roster has arrived. He can't let it pass him by. With Marvin Jones out with a foot injury, the Bengals are looking for replacements to keep on the roster through the first five weeks of the regular season. It will be a by-committee style of replacing the wideout, with Mohamed Sanu taking over the No. 2 receiver reps and Brandon Tate, Dane Sanzenbacher and most likely Hamilton and James Wright fighting for the remaining spots. Drops have plagued Hamilton. He will have to address those issues and finish off routes for the rest of camp if he wants to ensure he continues to have a roster spot.
Injury watch: Among the banged up players to watch will be swing tackle Marshall Newhouse, who suffered an unknown injury at the end of practice Tuesday. He was carted off while the Bengals were finishing up practice with a field-goal drill. When asked about Newhouse moments later, coach Marvin Lewis said he wasn't sure what happened. We will also look for defensive tackle Domata Peko to return to full activity Wednesday after practicing in a limited capacity Tuesday following missed time because of concussion protocol. Offensive tackle Andre Smith might be another day or so away from practicing after returning Tuesday from concussion protocol.
And the timing couldn't be better.
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.
"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."