NFL Nation: AFC North

CINCINNATI -- A couple weeks ago, while walking out to one of the Cincinnati Bengals' open training-camp practices, I was asked about how Vontaze Burfict has looked coming off his Pro Bowl season.

"Like he's in Week 18," I replied.

The third-year player seemingly hadn't lost a step during the offseason. If anything, he gained one. As Burfict begins closing out the first stage of his promising career, it will be important he keep gaining and keep pushing.

[+] EnlargeVontaze Burfict
Tom Uhlman/AP ImagesA tireless work ethic and Pro Bowl-caliber production has reportedly earned Vontaze Burfict a four-year, $20-million contract extension.
As of approximately 5:15 p.m. ET Wednesday afternoon, Burfict moved from the "overlook me" phase of his career to the "show me" phase.

"Show me," as in show the Bengals you're worthy of the four-year, $20 million contract extension he reportedly agreed to Wednesday afternoon. It's a deal ESPN's Adam Schefter says will pay $7.6 million this season, completely dwarfing the $570,000 Burfict had previously been scheduled to make this year.

"Show me," as in continue to show opposing running backs, receivers and tight ends why they ought to fear running into the second level of the Bengals' defense. Burfict's hard-hitting, brash and intimidating style of play is starting to get recognized across the league.

"Show me," as in show the rest of the NFL that last year's league-leading 171 tackles weren't a fluke, and the Pro Bowl appearance wasn't a one-time occurrence.

It shouldn't be hard for Burfict to do any of that. After all, he's made it this far -- to his second professional contract.

Fittingly, the Bengals are heading to the very same metropolitan area this weekend, where they'll play Arizona on Sunday, that Burfict spent three years making a name for himself. At Arizona State, he was known for his ferocious and fearless style of play that had many believing he'd be a lock to be an early-round pick. But off-field problems, purported disciplinary issues and a poor showing at the combine made him slide completely out of the 2012 draft.

In all, 256 men heard their names called in the April 2012 draft.

Burfict was not one of them.

That's when the "overlook me" phase of his career began.

Burfict was out to prove wrong every draft coach, scout, scouting director and director of player personnel who didn't think he could cut it. When Bengals coach Marvin Lewis called him immediately after the draft and told Burfict he wanted him to sign with the Bengals as an undrafted free agent, Burfict knew exactly what he had to do. He knew he had to prove he was overlooked, and show he belonged.

He's done that so far, which is why the Bengals entertained the idea of signing him to a contract extension before his rookie deal ended. When you take into consideration how valuable Burfict's aggression, tackling ability and leadership presence has been you would imagine he would be worth more than $5 million a season. That's a figure that puts him in the same salary neighborhood as linebackers Tyson Jackson, Stephen Tulloch, Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. Of that group, Suggs signed his contract the latest, a four-year contract renegotiation agreed upon in February.

Burfict has more tackles in the last two seasons than any of those four. Tulloch, who had 247 tackles in 2012 and 2013, is the closest to Burfict's 298. Only Luke Kuechly (320) and Paul Paul Posluszny (301) have more in that time span.

Poslusnzy currently makes $7.5 million per year. Kuechly is still on his rookie contract, earning $3.1 million. Like Burfict, he'll probably receive a significant bump to his second contract once his deal ends after next season.

Once this deal ends for Burfict at the ripe age of 28, he'll have more leverage when negotiating his third contract. Combine that with the steady increase in salary-cap money teams will soon have, and there is no telling what that deal could command.

That of course assumes that he shows the Bengals the next four seasons that he's worth what they're about to pay him. All he has to do is arrive at each training camp like he did this one.
CINCINNATI -- When the Cincinnati Bengals returned to practice Wednesday after a day off Tuesday, they were once again without cornerback Darqueze Dennard and running back Rex Burkhead, among others.

Both were hurt in Saturday's 25-17 preseason loss to the Jets.

Burkhead
Dennard
Dennard was sidelined after appearing on just one play in the game. He jogged on the field to assist on a punt return. After the play was over, he hobbled back to the bench, favoring his hip.

"I was just running and pretty much felt something coming off the field and talked to the trainers and basically, it was just a smart thing to stop [playing]," Dennard said.

He added that he didn't believe the injury was serious. Dennard is hopeful to play Sunday when the Bengals travel to Arizona. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said he wasn't sure if Dennard would be healthy in time.

"Hopefully, we'd like to see him playing there early," Guenther said. "But if he can't, then we've got next week to look at him, too."

While the Bengals might be without Dennard this weekend, they still anticipate seeing defensive tackle Geno Atkins for the first time. Guenther said Wednesday afternoon that the Pro Bowl lineman would be making his return to the rotation as his rehab from an ACL tear last season concludes.

It doesn't appear Burkhead will be part of the Bengals' game plan as he continues recovering from an injury that head coach Marvin Lewis on Wednesday called a "sore knee."

Still, Burkhead has made some progress. After sporting both a long leg brace and a pair of crutches Monday, Burkhead was only wearing the compression style brace that covered his right leg on Wednesday. He was walking around the locker room with it, without any assistance.

"He'll be out of that in a couple of days and be running in the pool soon," Lewis said. "I don't think much is going to hold Rex back very long, but he's going to have to go through the process of getting it right. He obviously plays a position at running back where he's going to have to be able to do what a running back does."

Burkhead was knocked out of last Saturday's game after taking a hard hit when tackled at the end of an early fourth-quarter run.

As the Bengals continue preparations for Sunday's game -- one backup quarterback Jason Campbell and offensive tackle Andre Smith anticipate playing -- the following are injury updates from Wednesday's practice. Cincinnati isn't required this preseason to file a daily injury report like it will in the regular season, so it's tough to determine which players were limited or in full participation. Media are only permitted to view the first 30 minutes of the closed practices. Wednesday's workout was in shells; shoulder pads, helmets and shorts.

Returned to practice
WR Dane Sanzenbacher (undisclosed)
WR James Wright (hip)
DE Dontay Moch (undisclosed)
DE Wallace Gilberry (undisclosed)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder)
LB Sean Porter (knee)
LB Marquis Flowers (ankle)

Not practicing
LB Vontaze Burfict (stomach bug)
DE David King (undisclosed)
CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
RB Rex Burkhead (knee)
QB AJ McCarron (shoulder)
QB Tyler Wilson (head)
LB J.K. Schaffer (head)
CINCINNATI -- Marvin Lewis had to pause for a few minutes and file through his memory bank.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Whether [Palmer] is out there or not, we've still got a job to do," Nelson said. "Losing is not something we want to become used to."
CINCINNATI -- If you had the opportunity to watch the Cincinnati Bengals' open training camp practices earlier this month, you probably heard one word shouted more frequently and more emphatically than any other.

Finish!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That kind of thing," Whitworth said, "is the kind of mentality that helps you win football games."
Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, for ESPN's NFL Nation TV's Spreecast episode No. 19. Host Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and guests Mike Triplett (New Orleans Saints reporter) and Mike DiRocco (Jacksonville Jaguars reporter) discuss a range of topics from the latest in the Browns' quarterback drama -- fingers and all -- to Blake Bortles' impressive preseason and its impact on the Jags' quarterback race. We'll also chat about Saints receiver Jimmy Graham's costly decision to break new league rules and dunk twice on goal posts. Co-host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers) is off this week. Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature at the top of the viewing box below.

 
CINCINNATI -- If the regular season were to begin this week, rookie Russell Bodine would be the Cincinnati Bengals' starting center.

According to offensive line coach Paul Alexander, there's no ifs, buts or maybes about that. Alexander believes Bodine is the guy at the position. From what I've been able to tell after three weeks of training camp practices and two preseason games, he probably should be.

[+] EnlargeRussell Bodine
Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesRookie Russell Bodine has impressed the Bengals and could be Cincinnati's starting center.
"Right now it's full speed ahead with Bodine," Alexander said Monday afternoon, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. "That kid has so much talent; he's loaded with talent. He has a tough, physical demeanor and he can block the big nose guards in our division. He's exactly the type of player we've been looking for."

At the moment when Alexander spoke with reporters from the Enquirer and Bengals.com, I was chatting with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson about Bodine and a few other unrelated topics. So I missed Alexander's firm pronouncement, and didn't hear about it until perusing Twitter moments later after the post-practice availability had ended.

Jackson didn't know about it at that moment, either.

I mention that because during our chat, Jackson didn't have the same unequivocal belief that Bodine's name was scribbled in red -- or in this case, orange -- ink on the Bengals' opening-day depth chart. While Jackson contended he likes much of what Bodine has done thus far as the team's starter at center, he still hasn't completely shut down the possibility that veteran Mike Pollak could earn starting time at the position.

"We're going to play it out and see how it goes," Jackson said. "[Pollak] is a returning player who has played here and played well for us. Like anybody, he deserves an opportunity to see what he can do with the guys. We'll see how it all unfolds. Pollak is very important to us and what we do."

Then, most importantly, Jackson added: "I'm sure [head coach] Marvin [Lewis] will figure that one out as we move forward."

As much as Bodine's position coach may say the position battle is over, it technically isn't.

But it should be.

Yes, Bodine has had his shown inexperience with his share of rookie miscues. Yes, his snaps have been problematic at times this preseason. And yes, the recently-injured Pollak gave the Bengals valuable minutes as an interior lineman at right guard last season when Kevin Zeitler injured his foot.

While those statements are true, so are these. Bodine has become more comfortable and stable at the position. He has cleaned up his snap issues in recent days, playing a completely clean game Saturday against the Jets in that regard. Bodine also has shown some of the physicality and strength that made him instant eye candy for the Bengals in May while they were looking for mid-round linemen in the draft.

As much as Bodine's snap issues may have caused headaches at times in training camp, his overall play has been the magic pill that's made them go away.

"He has the right characteristics," Jackson said. "Every now and then, there's a [botched] call or two here or there, but I've been happy with him. Don't get me wrong, I'm going to push him as far as I can push him because again, I want all these guys to achieve and be as good as they can be."

Few plays encapsulate Bodine's value like the Bengals' goal-line push on third-and-1 late in the first quarter of Saturday's game. As the play began and running back Giovani Bernard got stood up at the line of scrimmage, Bodine and the rest of the offensive line started pushing him and the Jets' defense into the end zone. As Jackson put it, a "glob of bodies" fell foward with Bernard in tow.

The push resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run.

"You get on the goal line, your offensive line has to take pride and get the ball in the end zone," Bodine said. "You can't get that close and not get in the end zone.

"That's kind of a statement situation for all of us."

The message that play clearly sent to Alexander? The rookie's ready.
CINCINNATI -- Earlier this summer, many of the people behind ESPN's NFL coverage sat down and ranked the best current players in the league.

It was all for ESPN.com's #NFLRank series, which debuted Monday with player rankings 100-91. Offensive players and defensive players were separated, meaning the rankings cover the top 100 players on offense and the top 100 on defense.

Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth made it on Monday's reveal, landing at No. 92 among offensive players. It's likely you won't see many offensive linemen crack the top 10 or top 20, but it does still seem kind of early to see Whitworth's name on this list. He was, after all, named the No. 9 player on Pro Football Focus' top 101 players list earlier this year.

The PFF rankings took into account the site's position and game grades for individual players. According to PFF, Whitworth earned top-20 grades at left tackle and left guard last season. Whitworth played left guard following Clint Boling's ACL tear in the Bengals' Week 13 game at San Diego. Cincinnati's offense seemed a little more physical with Whitworth there. The move was a selfless act that came in the middle of a playoff chase, and one that earned Whitworth additional respect from inside the locker room and around the city.

While PFF's rankings were based on grades, ESPN.com's were based on votes from 90 of our NFL experts. Yes, that group includes yours truly, along with the other 32 team reporters who make up NFL Nation. Here is the full list of voters from ESPN.com, ESPN TV, ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider (including Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus), ESPN fantasy, ESPN locals and ESPN Stats & Information.

The players were rated by each voter on a 0-to-10 scale, with 10 being the best regardless of position in the NFL. Ties, as denoted by an asterisk, were broken by determining which player had more ballots with the higher ranking. (If players are tied, the player with three 10s is ranked higher than the player with two 10s; if the tied players had the same amount of highest numbers, we moved to the next number: three 9s beats two 9s, etc.)

You can read the full 100-91 breakdown here.

Whitworth's No. 92 comes after being No. 90 last season. His two-spot fall also came with his earning a 6.58 average vote, tying him with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Whitworth edged out Cutler because he had more ballots with higher numbers.

Here's the blurb on Whitworth from the #NFLRank rankings:
In 14 games with Whitworth last season, the Bengals were 11-3 and quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked 1.7 times per game. In the two games that Whitworth missed, the Bengals were 0-2 and Dalton was sacked 3.0 times per game.

--ESPN Stats & Information
The endless debate and discussion about the Cleveland Browns quarterbacks -- wait ... Johnny clipped his nails today!” -- obscures one troubling reality about the offense no matter who plays quarterback.

So far in this camp, the Browns have been offensively challenged.

Or challenged offensively.

Both are true.

Manziel
 
Hoyer
 The offense did not score a touchdown in a scrimmage and did not score a touchdown in the first preseason game -- and that when the Browns played two quarterbacks competing to start for three quarters while the Lions played their backups.

There have been chances. A bad call cost Johnny Manziel in the scrimmage and a fumble cost him in Detroit. A dropped pass and two overthrows cost Brian Hoyer against the Lions.

But the Browns have been a team of “what ifs” and “yeah, buts” the past six seasons, when they have combined to lose 69 games -- 11. 5 per season.

As in yeah but they’d have been good if Greg Little didn’t drop all those passes.

Or in yeah but Brandon Weeden is only a rookie.

Or what if they hadn’t traded Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards.

Yeah buts and what ifs have done nothing but get coaches fired, players released and new systems started.

The wash-rinse-repeat cycle the Browns have been on for so many years continues as new coach Mike Pettine brings a new offensive system. He's trying to balance getting one of two quarterbacks ready to play while he works without any knowledge of whether or for how long he’ll have his best playmaker on the field. Oh ... there’s also the consideration that the blocking scheme for the running game is a complete overhaul.

This isn’t to say it can’t come together by opening day. But it is extremely challenging and difficult, as the Browns are showing this training camp and as they’ve shown in so many prior camps.

Even Manziel admitted the offense needs to find itself, and he sounded like a guy who understands that a touchdown might be a mental relief.

“We haven’t done it yet,” Manziel said, “so that’s what we need to do. That’s the goal for every group that’s out there is to score points.”

The Browns have some pieces. The offensive line seems to be made for Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme. Ben Tate and Terrance West have shown ability. Josh Gordon, when he plays, is as good as any receiver in the league.

But learning a new system is difficult for any group of players. Trying to mesh on the fly can be frustrating.

It’s overstating it to say first guy to get a touchdown with the offense is the regular-season starter -- but not by much.
CINCINNATI -- Mohamed Sanu had just changed direction on his route and started running at an angle toward the goal posts when his quarterback, Andy Dalton, let go of the pass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The nationally-televised game in Glendale, Arizona, also pits Dalton against the man he replaced: former Bengal Carson Palmer. On the biggest stage he'll see this preseason, it'll be interesting to see if Dalton continues to grow.
CINCINNATI -- Just two preseason games in and already Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has identified an issue so problematic that it had him seething Saturday night.

Jackson
Jackson
It's the turnover issue, one that has plagued the Bengals early this season, primarily on the second- and third-string teams. Still, regardless of experience level or depth-chart status, Jackson believes the turnover problem is one that affects his entire offense.

He can't stand for that.

"I've got to get this solved," Jackson said minutes after Cincinnati's 25-17 loss to the New York Jets in the home preseason opener.

Against the Kansas City Chiefs in their opening preseason game, the Bengals were intercepted twice. Against the Jets, they were only intercepted once, but also lost two of the four fumbles they had in the game. When it came to retaining possession, the Bengals struggled, and the scoreboard reflected that.

Both of the lost fumbles resulted in Jets touchdowns on New York's ensuing drives. Backup quarterback Matt Scott was unable to hold on to the ball at the midpoint of the second quarter when he got blitzed and blindsided on a sack. Five plays later, Jets running back Bilal Powell scored on a 2-yard touchdown run that cut the once-wide 14-point lead in half.

Running back Cedric Peerman's late-third quarter fumble immediately preceded another Jets touchdown that put the visitors ahead 23-17. With a safety tacked on following a punt blocked into the back of the end zone, the Jets had all the room they needed for the win.

"We keep turning the ball over and we keep putting the defense in a tough situation," Jackson said. "This turnover thing is not what we should be doing. That's my responsibility and we've got to get it fixed."

He's got eight days to work on it. The Bengals are next in action next Sunday for a night game at the Arizona Cardinals.

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals are now 0-2 in preseason play following Saturday night's 25-17 loss to the New York Jets.

But it's not the final score Bengals fans should be concerned about. It really wasn't indicative of how well the Bengals' first- and second-team units played in the more meaningful snaps early in the contest. It was more indicative of how wide the chasm is between the Bengals' starters and their last-string backups. Cincinnati was up 17-3 and looking to increase its lead before the lineup changes.

For most of the first two quarters, the Bengals looked nearly flawless. Quarterback Andy Dalton, in fact, was a perfect 8-for-8 on his passing opportunities. False start and holding penalties were about the only issues this group had offensively. Defensively, the Bengals had to watch for swinging arms and hard shoves from Jets linemen. In all, the Jets were flagged six times for committing either personal foul or unnecessary roughness penalties.

Here are a few more thoughts on the Bengals' preseason game Saturday:
  • Not only was Dalton perfect from an accuracy standpoint, but he also passed for 144 yards and rushed for seven. He also had a passing touchdown and has led scoring drives on all four of the series he's been in for this preseason. Two field goals have resulted from drives he's led, and two touchdown have as well. In addition to Dalton's 43-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu on Saturday, Giovani Bernard capped another drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Dalton's three-series day began with a 4-for-4 performance on the opening drive that included Sanu's touchdown catch. That score came when Dalton dropped a well-placed pass into Sanu's hands at the top of a post route. Sanu beat his cornerback and caught the pass as a safety closed on him. At halftime, Sanu said this about the throw: "Andy just dropped it on a dime. All I had to do was stick my hands out and not drop it."
  • The Bengals' no-huddle offense really has taken shape this preseason. It was evident all throughout the game, most notably in the first and fourth quarters. At one point on Dalton's second drive, the Bengals called five straight no-huddle plays before the Jets finally called a timeout. The offense was in sync during that five-play portion of the series, too, gaining 70 yards and getting into red-zone territory after A.J. Green caught a 35-yard pass that he might have tried pushing for a score in a non-preseason game. It seemed as if he stepped out of bounds early to avoid contact. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has been coy about how much he plans on using the no-huddle segments of his offense, but it has been clear the Bengals are going to make it a focal point of their more aggressive and rhythm-based scheme.
  • Last Saturday, Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson told his team's website that New York "owed" the Bengals for the 49-9 thrashing Cincinnati handed the Jets last October. Apparently his words struck a nerve. The Bengals came out with a slightly sharpened edge defensively, and it seemed to rub off on the similarly anxious Jets, who couldn't avoid committing the aforementioned personal-foul infractions.
  • Injuries were an issue late for the Bengals as several were run from the game. Most notably, rookies Darqueze Dennard (hip), Jeremy Hill (shoulder), Marquis Flowers (ankle) and Jeremy Wright (hip) -- all draft picks -- were banged up. Flowers was the only one of them who returned. Along with them, linebacker J.K. Schaffer (head), running back Rex Burkhead (knee) and quarterback Tyler Wilson (head) were lost for the game, too.
CINCINNATI -- It was a simple message.

"Let's go."

When Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson met with receiver Mohamed Sanu in the days after the team first learned it would be without Marvin Jones, those were the only two words he said to the young player.

Sanu, once the No. 3 receiver on the roster, knew exactly what they meant. With Jones injured until October and out of the receiving rotation, Sanu's time had come to attempt to be the best pass-catcher on the team.

The best? Yes.

"I get surprised where people reacted after I made the statement I wanted Marvin to surpass A.J. [Green] a while ago, but it's because they all need to compete," Jackson said. "I wanted Sanu to surpass Marvin, too."

Jackson's philosophy: Keep the pressure high on his top skill players and they'll compete better than they did before. He doesn't just say "no one's job is safe." He actually believes it.

Apparently, the philosophy has been working. Sanu has taken advantage of Jones' absence this preseason, working almost exclusively as the No. 2 receiver in practice alongside Green, the player who continues to get his usual No. 1 receiver reps and looks. In addition to catching, Sanu has been impressive passing and running both on reverses off the edge and out of the backfield as a Wildcat quarterback. Cincinnati won't be looking for him to solely run gadget plays this season, but the Bengals are hopeful he'll continue turning heads when they do.

"He's been all over the place -- outside, inside, moving around -- and he's really done a good job for us," quarterback Andy Dalton said.

Sanu told Jackson when the offseason began that he wanted to come back a different player. In Jackson's eyes, "he's done that."

"It's just the consistency of production in the way he plays," Jackson said. "He plays like a true starter. Not that he didn't a year ago. I just know what I expect our guys to do, and see just what he's done. He blocks, he catches, he runs, he can do it all. We'll try to use some of his vast skills and let him showcase his talents and abilities this year."

The Bengals will get another chance to see those talents and abilities in a live game scenario when they take on the Jets on Saturday night at Paul Brown Stadium.

"I'm going to step up that much more to fill Marvin's shows," Sanu said. "That's to just keep doing what I'm doing. Keep playing and keep being consistent. That's pretty much it. I can't see what's going on in the future, but I know what I can handle and I know what I can control, and that's putting my effort in and doing whatever I can to make this team better."

He won't be alone, he adds.

As the Bengals have been saying all week, with Jones now sidelined through the first three regular-season games because of foot surgery, it's time receivers like Brandon Tate, Dane Sanzenbacher and James Wright fill the void left by the player who was the second-leading receiver last year.

"It's a 'next man up' mentality," receivers coach James Urban said. "That's what we've always had. ... You push them out there and see if we can get the best guys out there that can help us win football games."

You do all that, Jackson said, and then add, "Let's go."

Bengals Camp Report: Day 16

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
2:45
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:
  • Perhaps the best word to describe the Bengals' 16th and final training-camp practice Thursday afternoon was "chill." It certainly was a low-speed, low-intensity type of workout as the offense and defense went through a series of drills that hinged on fine-tuning a few situations and rotations, and resting starters ahead of Saturday night's preseason home opener against the Jets. Players ditched their shells and pads for the first time since last Tuesday, and kept the contact to a minimum. It was "chill" for another reason, but we'll get to that a little further down.
  • Early in the practice the Bengals went back to the basics, working on a few position-specific fundamentals. It felt a lot like the first day of training camp. They devoted a large amount of time trying to make sure some of what had been taught to this point in the preseason had been retained. Once those position drills ended, the Bengals shifted to 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 exercises. Starting quarterback Andy Dalton looked sharp in those situations. According to one Cincinnati Enquirer reporter who was keeping track, Dalton was 24-for-26 combined in those drills. One of the sequences involving Dalton that most impressed me had to do with a pair of throws he completed to A.J. Green. At the end of one red zone drill, Dalton delivered a perfectly placed pass on a back-shoulder fade to Green who got both feet in bounds in the end zone, dragging them into the back pylon. One play later, the pair hooked up again for a long completion after Green put a double move on cornerback Onterio McCalebb. It was the second straight play McCalebb was burned.
  • Dalton has delivered passes like both of those to his receivers during this camp. His anticipation and trust in his receivers' routes has been noteworthy. That's something quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese told me earlier this month that he had worked with Dalton on: learning to trust his receivers and knowing that they'll be in the spot he delivers the ball even if they don't turn their heads before it's thrown. That was the case on those two throws and others Dalton had Thursday. Here's what Dalton said to reporters about the end of camp: "We've had a really good camp. We've gotten what we wanted out of it and it's not over yet. We still have several more preseason games to go, but we've done a good job so far."
  • While the practice was full of noncontact work for the players, a different story played out for the coaches. After getting challenged by Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and a few of his staff members took part in the social media-inspired Ice Bucket Challenge to raise funds and awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (commonly called ALS or "Lou Gehrig's disease"). Lewis, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and co-defensive backs coach Mark Carrier were among those who got doused by ice water dumped out of Gatorade buckets by linebacker Rey Maualuga and a few trainers.
  • Injury update: Several of the players who either sat out Wednesday's practice or were banged-up earlier this week returned to practice Thursday. A few, like linebacker Vontaze Burfict, offensive tackle Andre Smith and defensive end Wallace Gilberry, were limited. They participated in position drills but that was it. Those who completely missed practice included: Sean Porter, Dre Kirkpatrick, Tyler Eifert, Andrew Whitworth, Jason Campbell, AJ McCarron and Jermaine Gresham. Eifert and Gresham still may play Saturday. It appeared they, like Whitworth, were simply being given the day off.
  • Up next: The Bengals are done with their open practices for the year. Monday begins the limited media-only availability that will last through the season.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- No Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman has spent more time in the offensive backfield than rookie second-round pick Timmy Jernigan.

He has used his explosion to get past blockers, and he has blown up plays with pre-snap reads. But the biggest reason why Jernigan has been so disruptive goes back to the first move he ever learned in football.

 When Jernigan was 9-years-old, his father showed him how to use the swim move to slip past offensive linemen. It's a classic football technique where the defensive lineman uses his outside arm on the back of the offensive lineman and then "swims" his inside arm over his shoulder to eventually get around the blocker.

"It's something that I've kept with me," Jernigan said. "I've kind of perfected it by now."

During Wednesday's practice, Jernigan wreaked havoc as part of the second-team defense. He ripped past rookie guard John Urschel for what would've been a tackle behind the line, and he would've had a sack on Tyrod Taylor (if contact was allowed on quarterbacks).

Jernigan is currently backing up Haloti Ngata, but his knack for making big plays will earn him more playing time in the defensive rotation. The development of Jernigan should allow the Ravens to rest Ngata more, which will allow the 30-year-old defensive tackle to be fresher late in games and later in the season.

At this point in camp, the Ravens believe they got a steal in Jernigan, who lasted until the middle of the second round because of a diluted drug test at the NFL combine.

The biggest challenge for Jernigan is playing within the scheme. The Ravens don't want him to freelance too much to get in the backfield and leave the rest of the defense vulnerable.

"I’m really pleased with where he is coming and learning every day a little bit more about the system, because it’s a lot different than what he did at Florida State," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "But [he is] very active. And talking to the San Francisco coaches, they commented on a couple of our guys up there, young guys, and he was one of them. It’s always good when you get somebody on the opposing team [to] tell you that they think [a] guy is a pretty good player.”
One of the toughest balancing acts for a coaching staff at an NFL training camp is determining how much contact will be allowed in practices -- and how hard the contact can be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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