NFL Nation: Dre Kirkpatrick

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Injuries and changes at their top two assistant-coaching positions had many convinced at the start of the season the Cincinnati Bengals would struggle to repeat as AFC North champion.

Despite all of that, they almost did it. For six of the last seven weeks of the regular season, they led the division, helped in large part by a tie that should have really been a win. Had they made a 36-yard overtime field goal against Carolina, they would have finished with a somewhat unexpected 11-win season.

It was in the regular-season finale that they lost the division following a 27-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. On Sunday, they lost something bigger: a fourth straight playoff game. The defeat calls into question what the future ought to look like for a talented team whose Super Bowl window might be closing.

Team MVP: Three players deserved true consideration for this. Veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth didn't allow a sack all season and led all qualifying offensive tackles in Pro Football Focus' pass-blocking efficiency metric that accounts for how few times the linemen allow pressures on their quarterbacks. Cornerback and return specialist Adam Jones keeps playing better the older he gets. On Friday, he earned first-team Associated Press All-Pro honors as a kick returner. As well as those two played, though, rookie running back Jeremy Hill was the real difference-maker. His 929 rushing yards in the final nine weeks of the season led all backs and provided a much-needed spark to the Bengals' offense. He's a legitimate rookie of the year candidate.

Best moment: Amid a steady rainfall on a chilly December night in Cincinnati, the Bengals defeated future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning for the first time when cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick picked off two of Manning's passes in the final three minutes. The first one, with 2:41 left, was the product of Kirkpatrick making a smart, outside-shoulder read on his receiver's route. It looked like Manning practically threw the short pass directly to him. Kirkpatrick's subsequent return for touchdown put the game out of reach, helping give the Bengals a playoff berth and allowing them to prove they can win in prime time.

Worst moment: The low moment of the season came in Week 6 when kicker Mike Nugent was brought on at the end of an overtime period to kick a game-winning, 36-yard field goal. The ball sailed wide right as time expired. The game ended in a 37-37 tie that was one of the difference-makers in getting the sub-.500 Carolina Panthers into the postseason. It was the last miss Nugent would have before pushing another wide at Pittsburgh in the regular-season finale. He went 15 straight before the 50-yarder didn't go through the uprights at Heinz Field. The 10-year vet further redeemed himself with a franchise-long 57-yarder at Indianapolis on Sunday.

2015 outlook: Just as the 2014 season seemed promising last January, so does the 2015 campaign at this point. Though it remains to be seen what changes might come to the coaching staff and personnel ranks following a fourth-straight playoff loss, little else should be lost in positions of value. If anything, the Bengals will have gains -- and big ones -- entering next season. Receivers A.J. Green and Marvin Jones will begin the year healthy, with a more experienced Mohamed Sanu. Tight end Tyler Eifert will presumably be at full strength, as will linebacker Vontaze Burfict. As four of their biggest-name free agents, decisions on Jermaine Gresham, Rey Maualuga, Terence Newman and Devon Still could create intrigue during the offseason.

W2W4: Bengals vs. Steelers

December, 28, 2014
12/28/14
3:00
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PITTSBURGH -- A few storylines to watch Sunday night when the Cincinnati Bengals visit the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in a game that will determine the AFC North champion:

Countering Bell's counter: One of the most effective plays for the Steelers in the teams' previous meeting three weeks ago was the counter run to the left. It's the same play running back Le'Veon Bell scored on when he sprinted down the far sideline for a 22-yard touchdown that helped propel Pittsburgh to the 42-21 victory. A staple of their offensive scheme that day, the Steelers kept calling upon Bell to step right once and finish of the misdirection to his left behind a pulling right guard and a sealed backside lane from other blockers. It was such a successful play against Cincinnati that in the last two weeks, the Bengals' offense incorporated the play more into its system. As far as Sunday's game, it might make sense for the Steelers to go away from the counter and try to beat Cincinnati with a different play, but don't be surprised if it gets run early. Until the Bengals can prove they can consistently stop it, the Steelers may as well keep running it. How well the Bengals shut down Bell early, especially on first and second down, could dictate how successful they are defensively all night.

Finishing the drill: While it's all about shutting down the run early and forcing the Steelers into being one-dimensional, the Bengals also have to make sure they finish this game. They had a lead entering the fourth quarter three weeks ago before a lost fumble, mis-fits on several Bell runs and bad coverage on a long touchdown pass on a running down helped Pittsburgh score 25 unanswered points to come back and win the game, 42-21. There was no message preached more in defensive meeting rooms this week than this: finish the drill. Defensive end Wallace Gilberry told me earlier this week he believed the defense lost intensity and focus throughout the fourth quarter. Running back Jeremy Hill and quarterback Andy Dalton both were quick to acknowledge that the miscue on the handoff between them that led to the game-turning turnover was on their minds this week. They vowed to avoid giving the ball up at all costs. Watch for how much the Bengals limit turnovers and keep a close eye on how well they play in the fourth quarter as they try to finish like they did in Monday's win over Denver.

Reserves could be key: Thanks to a flu bug that swept throughout the team this week, Bengals backups could be key to the team's success Sunday night. Eight players appeared at some point this week on the injury report, including Dalton, whose health had dramatically improved by Friday. Cornerback and return specialist Adam Jones will be one player to watch, though. He got sick Friday and didn't practice. Veteran Terence Newman also missed every day of practice because of the illness. If either is unable to play or is limited, third-year player Dre Kirkpatrick likely will see his share of action. If Jones can't return punts, look for Brandon Tate to do so. If something happens to him, running back Giovani Bernard would play the position after taking Jones' spot on return teams in practice Friday.

How the Bengals stopped Peyton Manning

December, 23, 2014
12/23/14
10:40
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CINCINNATI -- Peyton Manning had dominated the Cincinnati Bengals every time he played them.

Not only was the Denver Broncos quarterback 8-0 in his career versus Cincinnati, but he was 3-0 with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions against them in the month of December. He had every reason in the world to believe he was going to roll over them once again, and this time with a national audience watching.

But that didn't happen.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Bengals had a good plan for slowing Peyton Manning on Monday night, and it included constant pressure from the defensive line.
In arguably their best overall performance against a quality opponent this season, the Bengals scratched out a 37-28 win Monday night that put them in the playoffs for a fourth straight year and silenced criticisms about their inability to win in prime time.

Atop the list of contributing factors to Cincinnati's success was stopping Manning. They forced him into throwing four interceptions, the sixth time in his regular season and postseason career that he has done that. It was the first time it happened to him since 2010.

So, what led to it? How did the Bengals stop Manning? With a combination of timely pressures from the defensive line, good play in the secondary, one key late coaching decision, and a Bengals offense that ran the ball like it was supposed to.

Defensive end Wallace Gilberry summed up the defensive line's success by saying the trick was "getting to [Manning] and hitting him."

According to Pro Football Focus, Manning was pressured 13 times. That includes nine quarterback hurries, three quarterback hits and one sack.

"If you let a guy like that settle his feet," Gilberry said, "he's going to make some big plays. We just stayed on him and stayed on him and stayed on him and stayed on him. I'm not sure how many times we hit him or sacked him, but it was enough to cause disruption and to give our guys on the back end time to make plays."

In the secondary, the Bengals rallied in the fourth quarter after a harrowing third that saw Manning lead a furious rally. Down 20-7 at halftime, Manning took the Broncos into the fourth quarter with a 28-27 lead.

It was during that third quarter that veteran cornerback Terence Newman allowed a series of catches, including a 33-yard completion that he also was flagged for defensive pass interference on, and a 46-yard catch. Not long after he gave up the latter of the two deep throws, Newman was replaced by third-year corner Dre Kirkpatrick. In the game's final three minutes, Kirkpatrick intercepted Manning twice, including once on a pass he returned 30 yards for a touchdown that extended the Bengals' tight lead.

"The guys on the back end did an outstanding job, not just in the fourth quarter, but all day," Gilberry said. "They've got big receivers, they're going to make plays. We get that. But it's up to us to limit those plays and that's what we did."

One of the other focuses the Bengals' offense had all week was to run the ball effectively enough that they kept it out of Manning's hands. Cincinnati rushed for 207 yards, marking the second straight game it has gone over the 200-yard mark. More importantly, the time on the ground taking time off the clock led the Bengals to a time-of-possession victory. They held the ball for 31:38, and Denver had it for 28:22.

For a deeper look at what went wrong for Manning on both long and short throws, read this from ESPN Stats & Information.

CINCINNATI -- The fourth-quarter clock ticked to the final three minutes.

With his Denver Broncos trailing the Cincinnati Bengals by two points, Peyton Manning went through a series of pre-snap audibles and fake audibles as he tried to lead a 51st career comeback drive.

Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick peeked to his right and saw Manning flash a sign that he had seen in his week of film study and preparation.

Kirkpatrick could tell that Manning was about to throw his way.

An inside route by Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas and an outside read from Kirkpatrick later, and Manning all but handed the third-year defensive back his second interception of the season. Kirkpatrick returned it 30 yards for a touchdown that pushed the Bengals' lead to two scores. It was the singular play that defined a just-good-enough defensive performance in the Bengals' playoff-clinching, 37-28 win Monday night.

"I'm not saying we knew what he was going to do," said Kirkpatrick, who picked Manning off a second time nearly two minutes later to ice the game. "[But] I kind of knew in a sense that he was coming my way. I just played my technique, and everything came my way."

Although they intercepted Manning four times and were dominant at times, the Bengals lacked consistency on defense, especially during a third quarter in which Denver scored three touchdowns to erase a 20-7 halftime deficit.

"Even if it appeared that we were [impressive], they still scored points," safety George Iloka said. "It wasn't pretty, but with a quarterback like a Peyton, [Tom] Brady, Aaron Rodgers, it's a battle. You've got to play all four quarters."

In the past 14 months, each of those quarterbacks have gone down at Paul Brown Stadium. And just like they did with Manning, who entered with an 8-0 career record against Cincinnati, the Bengals needed some stroke of magic in the final minute to beat the other two. Against Brady last October, the Bengals won when Adam Jones intercepted a pass that he bobbled to himself in a driving rainstorm near the Bengals' goal line.

Monday's finish was eerily similar, all the way down to the rain showers that descended upon the stadium in the fourth quarter. Manning's receivers had trouble catching the ball in the weather, repeatedly dropping his passes onto the slick field turf.

According to the Bengals, that's not all that changed in the fourth quarter.

"We just said, 'We're not going to be beat,' and as a secondary especially, we did good at keeping our poise," safety Reggie Nelson said. "We just didn't want to give the game away, period, because they've been down numerous times and came back on numerous teams."

What also changed was that at the end of the third quarter, the Bengals switched from veteran cornerback Terence Newman to Kirkpatrick following a series of passes in which Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders burned Newman. On consecutive series, Newman was beaten on a 33-yard completion that he also was flagged with defensive pass interference on, and a 46-yard completion.

Not long after, in came Kirkpatrick, who effectively finished the game at the left boundary corner position. His emergence off the bench gave the Bengals a timely and adequate jolt ahead of a win that put them in the postseason for a franchise-record fourth straight season.

"It's just what he does," Iloka said of Kirkpatrick. "He gets the job done and does it very well. I'm really proud of him. Like he always told y'all, he'll be ready when his time comes."

Some Bengals fans want his time to be now. They want him to start for Newman next week at Pittsburgh. That likely won't happen, but Kirkpatrick's time isn't far away.

"Good things come to those that wait," Kirkpatrick said.
CINCINNATI -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cincinnati Bengals' 37-28 win over the Denver Broncos:

Kirkpatrick
A handful of footballs: Nearly an hour after he picked off Peyton Manning for the last time in a steady rain shower, Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick walked through locker room with his hands full of clothes and footballs. He had just answered the last question of an unexpected whirlwind postgame interview session. He apparently was in such a good mood he didn't finish putting the shirt on he was going to wear. As he smiled and said goodbye to a few passersby, he walked out into the chilly night in a tank top and shorts ... and with the two footballs. They weren't official game balls, but they were offerings to recognize his two-interception game. Both pickoffs came in the final three minutes.

Bernard offers respect: It could be easy for a once-rising star who lately has gotten outshined by a rookie to sulk and be bitter toward the player who has taken his limelight. But Giovani Bernard has decided not to be that way. He didn't have to do it, but Bernard gave respect to Jeremy Hill. As he got ready to leave late Monday night, Bernard navigated behind the slew of reporters that were standing at the locker next to him, turned toward his locker neighbor and tapped on him on the arm. When he got Hill's attention, he gave him a fist bump and congratulated him on his night. Hill rushed for 147 yards, becoming the third rookie in league history to have four 140-yard rushing performances in a season. Bernard, whose role has been diminished the last two weeks, had 81 total yards (36 rushing and 45 receiving).

Glad Green was hurt? Veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth wasn't pleased Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green had to go through a painful injury, but he was happy to see how his young teammates responded to it. With their superstar wideout sidelined with an arm injury suffered during an early Broncos pick-six, the Bengals responded. "I loved it," Whitworth said. "Sure, it's a negative feeling at the time it happened, but the way guys just kind of buckled their chinstraps and just said, 'All right, we're going to win this thing one way or another,' that's something that I had not seen these young guys do in the past. I loved the resiliency. I love the attitude of that."

Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati Bengals

December, 22, 2014
12/22/14
11:52
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CINCINNATI -- A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 37-28 victory over the Denver Broncos at Paul Brown Stadium on Monday.

What it means: First and foremost, this puts the Bengals in the playoffs. This is the first time in franchise history they've been to the postseason four straight seasons. At worst, they would be the No. 5 or No. 6 seed and play on the road in the wild-card round. At best, they could be the AFC's No. 2 seed and get a first-round bye. They'll need a win next week at Pittsburgh and a Broncos loss or tie in order for that to happen. With this nationally televised win, the Bengals began changing the narrative that they don't show up in prime time. They are now 3-6 at night since Andy Dalton became their starting quarterback in 2011. After posting a 2.0 passer rating in their Thursday night loss to Cleveland last month, Dalton had an 89.6 Monday.

Stock watch: It's safe to say cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick's stock is rising. After occupying a spot on the Bengals' bench for most of the season, he emerged at the right moment against the Broncos. With 12-year veteran Terence Newman struggling in the third quarter, Bengals coaches turned to their third-year backup to keep receiver Demaryius Thomas, among others, in check. Kirkpatrick did even better than that, coming away with two pivotal interceptions in the final three minutes. His 30-yard interception return for touchdown with 2:41 remaining extended Cincinnati's lead, and his interception with a minute left sealed the win.

Game ball: For the first time since 1997, a Bengals rookie went over the 1,000-yard rushing plateau when Jeremy Hill finished Monday's game with 1,024 for the season. There have been only 21 1,000-yard seasons in Bengals history, with 10 players hitting the mark. Hill surpassed the milestone with a 10-yard, third-quarter carry. One play later, he fumbled inside Denver's 10. Hill had 147 yards on 22 carries as he made his second straight start as the Bengals' featured back over Giovani Bernard. This was the fourth game in which Hill collected 100 yards or more.

Injury slows Green: Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green didn't factor into the Bengals' stat line after getting banged up on Cincinnati's second drive of the game. With offensive coordinator Hue Jackson trying to shake things up early, Dalton threw a pass instead of handing off to start the series. His throw, intended for Green, was high, causing Green to jump for it. He got a hand on it, but after the tip, Broncos corner Aqib Talib dove for the ball and intercepted the pass. Untouched, Talib got up and ran the interception back for a 33-yard touchdown. At the same instant the ball deflected into Talib's hands, Green was popped hard in his right arm by the helmet of a Broncos defensive back. Green immediately jogged to the sideline in obvious pain. ESPN cameras caught him wincing multiple times as trainers tried to evaluate him on the sideline. He kept checking in and out of the game. Targeted three times, Green had zero catches for only the second time in his career. His only other no-catch game was the Week 2 contest versus Atlanta in which he played only six plays.

What's next? The AFC North title is on the line for the Bengals next week when they travel to Pittsburgh for the regular-season finale Sunday. The game was flexed from its originally scheduled 1 p.m. ET kickoff to 8:30 p.m. It's a bit of a grudge match for the Bengals, who lost 42-21 on Dec. 7 in their last meeting with the Steelers. With a win, Cincinnati can claim its second straight division championship.

Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati Bengals

December, 14, 2014
12/14/14
3:54
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CLEVELAND -- A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 30-0 victory over the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium:

What it means: When they found out they would have to prepare for rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel this week, the Bengals had no idea what to expect. They knew all about Manziel's exploits as a Heisman Trophy winner, but since he hadn't started an NFL game yet and only had 17 snaps of regular-season film, preparing for him was difficult. Would he still be apt to escape the pocket and run when he probably would be better served to pass? Would he be a good passer? Deep down, it didn't matter much to the Bengals, who completely overwhelmed the young quarterback. Manziel was sacked three times, threw two interceptions and compiled a 27.3 passer rating. Overall, the Bengals, still on the playoff bubble, had a truly physical win in their first road shutout since December 2008. The Bengals' last three road shutouts have all come in Cleveland.

Big boost from D: Clearly, Cincinnati's defense trended upward this week after giving up 25 points in a fourth-quarter collapse last week against Pittsburgh. In addition to stifling Manziel, the Bengals quieted the Browns' run. Cleveland finished with 107 total yards. They had 98 entering their one-play last drive.

Game ball: Five weeks after he said the Browns weren't very good following their 24-3 win against Cincinnati, Bengals rookie running back Jeremy Hill let his play do the emphatic talking Sunday. He ran 25 times for 148 yards and two touchdowns in the win. He set the tone early in the game, too, putting up two rushing scores before halftime. At the end of one of them, a Browns fan pushed Hill's helmet down when the back tried to leap into the stands where a couple of Bengals fans had lured him over. It was clearly a statement type of performance for Hill, who had just 55 yards in the teams' last meeting at the start of November. His fellow running back, Giovani Bernard, finished the game with 79 yards on 15 carries after being demoted earlier this week from the No. 1 back duties.

Kirkpatrick breaks out: Placed down on the Bengals' depth chart behind three 30-something former first-round picks, third-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has been itching for a chance to prove himself in the secondary. He has admitted in the past to being a little frustrated by his placement on the depth chart. On Sunday, he had plenty of chances to prove himself. Aside from a 32-yard pass he allowed to Josh Gordon, Kirkpatrick played well, intercepting a pass and deflecting another. On the first-half pickoff, he made a great read when Manziel rolled left and stared down that side of the field. After dropping off his receiver, Kirkpatrick changed direction and sprinted in front of him as Manziel threw his way. On the ensuing drive, the Bengals took a 10-0 lead on a 44-yard Mike Nugent field goal, one of three he had six days after his father died suddenly.

What's next? Cincinnati will get an extra day off this week as its push for the postseason continues. The Bengals welcome the Denver Broncos to Paul Brown Stadium next Monday night for their home finale on ESPN. It will be their first game against the defending AFC champions since 2012, when the Broncos won 31-23. Denver also has won the past four meetings, and is the winner of 12 of the last 15. With help in Week 17, a win against Denver could give the Bengals the AFC's No. 2 seed.
HOUSTON -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cincinnati Bengals' 22-13 win against the Houston Texans:

Jersey goes to dad: After exorcising one of his latest demons -- finally winning a game near his hometown -- Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton concluded his postgame news conference with an interesting gesture. As he stepped from the lectern, he grabbed his neatly folded, grass-stained, game-worn jersey and autographed it with the score and the date before giving it to his father, Greg. A native of nearby Katy, Texas, Andy Dalton was 0-2 in Houston before Sunday. In the win, he was 24-for-35 for 233 yards and a touchdown and an interception.

Kirkpatrick
Packing it up: An exuberant Dre Kirkpatrick was one of the first Bengals dressed after the game. Inside NRG Stadium's rather spacious visitors locker room, the third-year cornerback walked toward his locker and shouted with joy as he tried to get his teammates to speed along the changing and packing process. "Let's pack this thing up and go home, boys!" The Bengals have now won two straight road games ahead of a third next week at Tampa Bay.

Cincy's own Watt: While the typically effective J.J. Watt was slowed across the final three quarters by backup offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse, the Bengals still respect the defensive end's dominating style of play. Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth respected it so much that he believes it's time the Bengals start seeing their own version of Watt in receiver A.J. Green. "The fact of the matter is, he's a dominant football player and a great one. We need him to be our J.J. Watt," Whitworth said of Green. "We need him to dominate people and let them know about it. Not necessarily with talk, but let them know about it with confidence and that swagger. 'If you want to cover me, then try.' We need him to be that way." Green caught 12 passes for 121 yards Sunday.
CINCINNATI -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cincinnati Bengals' 24-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons:

Still
Posters for Still: Sitting just inside Devon Still's locker late Sunday afternoon after the win was an orange poster that read: "Be Leah Strong." A fan had requested the poster be brought into the locker room for the defensive tackle who began the season on the practice squad due to a hamstring injury and because of his anxiety over 4-year-old daughter Leah's cancer prognosis. To his surprise, Still had been kept earlier in the day on the active game-day roster. In relief of an injured Brandon Thompson, he had three tackles.

'A good night': When reporters streamed into the Bengals' locker room, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was among the most jovial players they encountered. The backup defender was shouting at the top of his lungs: "Tonight's gonna be a good night." Those are lyrics from the Black Eyed Peas song "I Gotta Feeling." On special teams, Kirkpatrick played a key role in securing two fourth-quarter punts that were downed inside the Falcons' 4.

Shouting 'Gio!' On one second-quarter play, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was stuck behind some intense Falcons pressure and needed to get rid of the ball. So he shouted out "Gio!" to running back Giovani Bernard, who had just pulled away from a linebacker he was blocking in pass protection. Bernard said when he heard his name, he instinctively caught Dalton's improvisational screen pass. Bernard ended the broken play with a 46-yard reception.

Football trophy: Bengals rookie Jeremy Hill scored his first career touchdown in the third quarter when he plowed right behind defensive tackle Domata Peko (who was playing fullback) for a 1-yard score. Hill said he has the perfect place for the ball which he held on to -- his mom's mantel in New Orleans. She was in attendance Sunday. "I'll probably lose it or my dog will probably chew it up," Hill said, laughing.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 14

August, 12, 2014
8/12/14
6:40
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CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:
  • Marvin Jones' broken foot has dominated the headlines in Cincinnati this week. There have been questions about when he will return, how healthy he will return and how the Bengals will get by in his absence. On Tuesday afternoon, they got a bit of an answer to the latter inquiry. One day after the Bengals practiced an hour away at West Carrollton High School just outside Dayton, Ohio, tight end Jermaine Gresham was the star Tuesday. He was used in the seam, he was put into his typical tight end drags, and he even went up for fades in the end zone as part of a goal-line passing play. Unofficially, I recorded him with having six catches during the practice. It's possible he caught one more I didn't see. Following one of the six I observed -- a 15-yard touchdown reception near the right pylon in a red-zone segment -- Gresham got immediate kudos from his quarterback, Andy Dalton. "I like it, Jermaine!" Dalton shouted before jogging over and giving the tight end a high five.
  • That touchdown completion wasn't the only pass caught from Dalton's right hand. In all, the starting signal-caller was 23-for-34 passing in one of his most prolific passing practices of training camp. The loss of Jason Campbell to an elbow injury (he still isn't yet practicing) in the preseason opener last Thursday may have had a slight impact. While backups Matt Scott and Tyler Wilson still got their practice reps in, Dalton seemed to be used a little more than he has been in practices before Campbell's injury. Another part of Dalton's extended work had to do with the fact the Bengals were in full pads for only the fourth time this camp. They hadn't worn the full attire since the Saturday before last.
  • Among the work the Bengals got in offensively and defensively were situational drills that pertained to third downs, no-huddle, red zone and goal-line opportunities. The offense owned certain situations. The defense won its share of battles, too. It seemed like the defense was best in one of the red-zone situations, while the offense got into a rhythm on third downs. One of the highlights of the day came when cornerback Leon Hall slipped underneath A.J. Green in a 7-on-7 drill and jumped right in front of a Dalton pass, making a one-handed grab to intercept it. Dalton's eyes appeared to follow Green throughout the route, telegraphing his pass to the defensive player. It was Dalton's worst passing read of camp to this point. After the play, Hall was seen shaking his hand. He may have had difficulty handling the velocity of the short pass. Dalton got his payback, connecting perfectly with Green on two well-placed balls his next two tries. Another pass later in the practice was thrown just ahead of Hall, who couldn't catch receiver Dane Sanzenbacher for a would-be touchdown. The wideout had a step on Hall.
  • Tuesday's injury update: Domata Peko (concussion), Wallace Gilberry (leg) and Andre Smith (concussion) all returned from injuries but were limited. None participated in 11-on-11 drills. Dre Kirkpatrick (hip), Geno Atkins (knee), Brandon Thompson (illness), Sean Porter (knee), Campbell (elbow), AJ McCarron (shoulder) and Jones (foot) didn't practice. Kirkpatrick told me he expects to play Saturday against the Jets. At the end of Tuesday's practice, offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse was carted off. Coach Marvin Lewis wasn't immediately sure what happened.
  • Up next: The Bengals are back on the practice fields Wednesday for a 3 p.m. ET practice. It will be their penultimate open session for the season.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 7

July, 31, 2014
7/31/14
6:30
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CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:
  • As compelling, edge-of-your seat excitement goes, Thursday's practice, from an observer's standpoint, ranked somewhere around a 3 on a 0-to-10 scale. I'm sure it's possible for coaches and players to view it much differently. During what was a special teams-heavy workout, there were very few 11-on-11 drills that featured as much worth noting as there had been in days past. When the Bengals did get into offense vs. defense action, they did so at a rather conservative pace. There was no hitting (players were in shorts and shoulder pads for the second straight day), and plays were run at a significantly slower speed than how they'll be executed in games. We ought to point out that while the players might not have been running at the same speed they soon will be, they still got into a bit of a hurry-up pace as coaches had them go through a few two-minute-drill plays.
  • To be sure, a day like Thursday had probably long been on the schedule as the Bengals try to mix in light, low-speed days with their hit-filled afternoons. It couldn't have come at a better time, too. Cincinnati is dealing with a couple of camp injuries, including four players sidelined with head issues. Linebackers J.K. Schaffer and Jayson DiManche, offensive tackle Andre Smith and tight end Kevin Brock remained on concussion protocol.
  • One day after receiving medical clearance to practice again, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins was back on the sidelines. He didn't participate in any of Wednesday's team drills, only really taking part in the position-specific exercises that came before practice. Coach Marvin Lewis said Wednesday that Atkins wouldn't be rushed back into the line rotation. Coaches and trainers want to ease him back into the mix. When I asked defensive coordinator Paul Guenther after practice about Atkins, he indicated there wasn't anything to worry about. The day off was part of the slow process of getting Atkins back onto the field fully, he said.
  • To close out the day's injury report, it's worth noting that both Mike Pollak and Clint Boling took a day off. They had been trading off days at left guard until this point. In their place, undrafted free agent Trey Hopkins got repetitions at the position. Hopkins is beginning to look like the undrafted free agent who stands the best chance at making the 53-man roster. While Pollak and Boling didn't even dress, defensive tackle Domata Peko and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick did. Both participated fully in the practice after not working out Wednesday. Kirkpatrick hadn't practiced since Saturday.
  • As mentioned before, Day 7 was all about special teams. In particular, the Bengals were working on their kickoff coverage and kickoff returns. Routine deep kicks, squib kicks and onside kicks were part of what they practiced. After the bulk of the kickoff activities, in an 11-on-11, quarterback Andy Dalton was nearly perfect, going 9-for-10. His lone incompletion came when defensive end Robert Geathers broke up a pass at the line of scrimmage. Dalton might have had another incompletion had safety George Iloka been able to sprint at game speed. Iloka had closed on tight end Tyler Eifert, who barely caught a pass in the seam before Iloka pulled up. Later in that drill, on the very last play, came the highlight of the day. Seventh-round receiver James Wright, who didn't catch a pass last season at LSU, caught a key first-down pass on a third-and-5 play. A.J. Green gave him a high-five after the reception.
  • Up next: The Bengals won't practice until 6 p.m. Friday, in a workout that's open to the public.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 4

July, 27, 2014
7/27/14
6:35
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CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:
  • The most anticipated activity of the weekend, Sunday's previously scheduled Oklahoma drill, was scrapped at the last minute by head coach Marvin Lewis, in part due to an overabundance of caution. "We know who 35-40 of our players are going to be," he said to reporters after Sunday's practice. "Let's make sure those 35 or 40, we give them every opportunity to get to Baltimore in one piece." The Bengals open the regular season at the Ravens on Sept. 7. On Saturday, a few players and coaches expressed mixed feelings about the physically demanding, collision-focused drill. Linebacker Rey Maualuga said he wasn't sure what the exercise had to do with football. Lewis backed his sentiments slightly, adding Sunday afternoon that the Bengals "got the same thing out of" the Oklahoma-less practice.
  • Rookie running back Jeremy Hill was among the players who did wish to participate in the drill. He said he and some of his offensive teammates were getting tired of some of the trash talking their defensive counterparts were doing. "Those guys have been yapping all week," Hill said. "But that bravado is what allows them to play better. I'm glad we have a defense that plays with swagger and plays fast." Instead of mixing in the Oklahoma drills, the Bengals incorporated a few half-line and blitz pickup/receiver-blocking exercises that allowed the fully padded players to get some contact. On the blitz pickup drills Hill was part of, he won both times he was paired with linebacker Vincent Rey. Those were two noteworthy plays in an afternoon that also saw him run aggressively as he slipped in and out of holes on some of the first inside runs the Bengals have worked on in this training camp.
  • Another running back, Rex Burkhead, had what I'd consider the feel-good play of the day. After getting knocked down during one of the aforementioned interior 11-on-11 runs and getting trapped underneath the dogpile, he got right up, bounced outside and sprinted another 20 yards downfield. It was the type of hustle play that can turn heads and earn the kind of brownie points a player on the fringe of the 53-man roster needs. You can read more about Burkhead's knack for finishing practice plays off here.
  • The actual play of the day came late in the practice when backup cornerback R.J. Stanford disrupted what looked like a sure long first-down catch for receiver Cobi Hamilton. On the play, quarterback Andy Dalton waited for Hamilton to race past Stanford on the post route and lobbed a deep pass over the middle that had the right amount of air underneath it. As Hamilton got in position to catch it, Stanford jumped and swung his arm at the last moment, forcing a break-up as Hamilton hit the turf without what previously looked like an easy reception.
  • Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was the only addition to Cincinnati's group of injured. He didn't participate in the practice after coming out in the middle of Saturday's session due to an apparent hamstring injury. It's not expected to be a serious ailment that will keep him out for too long. Corner Leon Hall was back into the mix in most coverage drills as fellow veteran Terence Newman received a day off from that part of the practice. The Bengals are slowly trying to ease Hall back into full action after his Achilles tear last year. Rookie Darqueze Dennard has benefited from more reps as a result.
CINCINNATI -- The mandatory minicamp portion of the Cincinnati Bengals' offseason has come to an end, meaning summer is well within view.

Following three voluntary organized team activity practices next week, the Bengals are off until July 24, when they take to Paul Brown Stadium's practice fields for the start of training camp. The only day next week media are permitted to watch the team practice is Monday. After that day, we won't see all 90 players on a field together until training camp.

That makes Thursday's final minicamp practice an important last step in springtime football.

Here are a few brief observations from the workout:
  • As they continue experimenting with offense and defense combinations, the Bengals shuffled players around all practice. Linemen who had been getting some run with the second- and third-team units were practicing with the first-teamers. The same went for reserve running backs and receivers, who were taking handoffs and catching passes from starting quarterback Andy Dalton. It was the coaches' chance to see which backup players could shine with the first-teamers, and which starters could play alongside which backups. It's all part of the tinkering that goes on in June.
  • That said, undrafted free agent Trey Hopkins was among those backup players who got some playing time with the first-team offense. The offensive lineman played both left tackle and left guard during the practice. Running backs Cedric Peerman, Rex Burkhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis also were among those who played with the first-team units. Since rookie Jeremy Hill was drafted, Green-Ellis has slid from running with the first team alongside Giovani Bernard, to the lower quadrant of the backfield depth chart. On defense, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was one of the backups who mixed in with the first-teamers on both sides of the ball.
  • Like we mentioned Wednesday, rookie quarterback AJ McCarron has been cleared to throw after dealing with "arm tightness" during the first two weeks of OTAs. He threw a little bit more and threw deeper passes Thursday. One of his best of the day was about a 15-yard comeback route to Cobi Hamilton, who broke sharply away from his defender thanks to a quick cut. McCarron also was picked off late in the practice when the Bengals were going through a two-minute drill. Safety Shawn Williams jumped a short throw.
  • Finally, after missing Wednesday's practice, Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth was back Thursday, getting his normal reps.
CINCINNATI -- When the Bengals made cornerback Darqueze Dennard their first-round pick earlier this month, they did so with their immediate future in mind.

Terence Newman is 35 and is scheduled to hit free agency next spring. Adam Jones isn't too far behind him. Leon Hall is turning 30 at the end of year and is coming off his second major injury in three seasons. As much as the Bengals respect and appreciate what the trio has accomplished in recent years, they know it's time to start preparing for life after them.

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
AP Photo/Al BehrmanDarqueze Dennard (left) knows that a he can learn a lot from veteran players like Terence Newman.
So Dennard, a 22-year-old who was named college football's top defensive back last year, was added to the mix when the Bengals' pick rolled around at No. 24.

The rookie understands his place in the team's cornerback hierarchy and knows he may not see much playing time defensively this fall. He's OK with that, though, because he believes his time will come soon enough.

"I'm just waiting on my moment," Dennard said earlier this week following the Bengals' first organized team activity practice.

He's also waiting on something else: a contract. The Bengals have already signed their other seven draft picks, but they haven't yet inked Dennard to his deal. Despite the delay in getting him paid, Dennard has been participating as the Bengals go through their first series of full-team offseason practices. He said Tuesday that he wasn't worried about not having a contract, but remains hopeful that an agreement will be made soon.

As far as his place in the Bengals' cornerback rotation, for now, Dennard is trying to learn from the likes of Newman, Jones, Hall and third-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.

"Those guys have been playing a long time in the NFL and have a lot of games under their belt," Dennard said. "I'm here to play. That's my mindset -- to get on the field -- but being under the tutelage of them is going to help me, as well. A lot of guys don't have the same chance I have. Those veteran guys have played a lot of games and have done great things on the football field. I have them and I'm going to use them."

Dennard added that he is already peppering the vets with questions about playing the position and being a professional player, in general. He wants to be a pest to them and anyone else who's willing to help him navigate this next stage of his development.

"I'm probably going to get on their nerves by asking them so many questions, but I'm going to use that to better me as a player and a person," Dennard said. "Hopefully I'll have the same kind of career as them."

His career could begin this season by getting the majority of his playing time on special teams. Possible injuries aside, for now, the depth ahead of him at corner will make it difficult for him to get on the field. Newman and Jones opened this week's OTAs as the starting boundary cornerbacks. Kirkpatrick got time with the second-team corners alongside Chris Lewis-Harris, a third-year corner who was active for six games last season. In time, the expectation is that Dennard and Kirkpatrick will be the top options at the two boundary spots.

Kirkpatrick still has to prove he's starting material. As well as he played at times filling in for an injured Newman last season, Kirkpatrick still gave up his share of touchdown passes and got burned on occasion in coverage.

Dennard seldom got burned at Michigan State. He held opposing receivers to just 5.78 yards per catch, the lowest figure for a defensive back during the entire BCS era. He and the rest of the Spartans' defensive backfield considered themselves so effective against the pass that he nicknamed the group "No Fly Zone" last summer.

Part of what made Michigan State's "No Fly Zone" live up to Dennard's nickname was the intense nature of his single-coverage play on opposing receivers. He blanketed pass-catchers so well in college the Bengals believed he needed to be in their defense.

Dennard's former college teammate, current Spartan safety Kurtis Drummond, said Dennard's coverage was a credit to his preparation.

"He works on it. That's not something he just throws himself in," Drummond said. "That's something that he's very prepared to do. Something he takes pride in. He's a competitor and he wants to be the best at whatever he does."
CINCINNATI -- Cocky? Rambunctious? Bad teammate? Locker-room cancer?

The player who stood before media for nearly 15 minutes Wednesday afternoon appeared anything but all of the descriptors listed above.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsThe Bengals will find out sooner rather than later what kind of leader rookie QB AJ McCarron is on the field.
As new Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron held an unofficial introductory news conference Wednesday with reporters as he stood in the shadow of Paul Brown Stadium's South end zone, he didn't offer any overly brash proclamations or guarantees. He didn't threaten to chuck a cameraman into the stands. No teammates, either old or new, were tossed underneath any physical or metaphorical buses.

Instead, he was calm, mostly patient and polite as he answered questions. He even added, in his slight southern Alabama twang, a "no ma'am" as he prefaced one of his responses.

He showed his vulnerability, too, admitting that he was hurt by recent reports that questioned his character.

So who was this guy? Was he the same person who was chided all day Saturday and supposedly blasted all offseason behind the closed doors of several team front offices? On Wednesday, he didn't appear that way.

But remember, looks can sometimes be deceiving.

To hear McCarron and one of his former college teammates tell it, Saturday's reports were a case of mistaken persona. Two of them in particular, one from ESPN insider Adam Schefter and another from NFL Network said officials from multiple teams weren't impressed with McCarron during pre-draft meetings. Some team officials apparently felt he was too cocky and had an ego large enough to fill their entire stadiums.

McCarron, a starter on two national championship teams at Alabama, believes his confidence may have been misinterpreted as cockiness.

"Through my college years I've never been cocky," McCarron said. "I've always given respect to my teammates before myself."

Before we go too much further, let me point out I've done some homework on McCarron since Saturday. I've heard some of the same things Schefter and others did from a few people who were around Alabama's football program on a regular basis. An argument could be made that the claims I heard may have been buffered by the timing of the other remarks about McCarron that had been made earlier in the weekend, but they do come from intelligent people whom I trust.

But perhaps they misread his confidence as cockiness, too? Maybe, maybe not. I can't know for certain until I've spent more time around McCarron myself. One day isn't much of a sample size.

Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has his share of experiences involving McCarron to rely on though. He's known the quarterback since 2009, the same year they both enrolled at Alabama. The two played three seasons together before Kirkpatrick was drafted by Cincinnati in 2012.

"He's a competitor," Kirkpatrick said. "I watched him our freshman year try to compete for the job. Obviously he didn't get the job. But he always had a great attitude about it."

Kirkpatrick added he felt McCarron outplayed the starting quarterback, recently retired and former Bengal Greg McElroy. The top job was won by the elder McElory, though, because "he had more wisdom," Kirkpatrick said.

"I've seen him get fiery," Kirkpatrick added of McCarron. "I've seen him get mad. Maybe his receivers aren't getting the ball because we're picking the balls off. He gets mad -- he gets onto them. He lets them know by saying like, 'Let's pick it up.' He doesn't like slacking players because he's not going to go out there and be a slacking player."

So the question is: Is it confidence or cockiness that really fuels McCarron? Was it confidence or cockiness that the Bengals saw?

Does it really matter which, though?

Regardless the distinction between the traits, it's clear the Bengals saw something in McCarron that they didn't see in their starting quarterback. Time will ultimately judge whether McCarron is simply confident in his abilities or just overly cocky. There is a hope around the Bengals, though, that with McCarron around, Andy Dalton will eventually develop either of the two characteristics; ones offensive coordinator Hue Jackson believes a signal-caller ought to have.

"A lot of people call me cocky," Jackson said. "I have a lot of confidence, too, and I kind of like that in a guy.

"I kind of like that in a quarterback."

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