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Camp report: Green, Whit return; Fullback battle

Posted Aug 14, 2013

Pro Bowlers A.J. Green and Andrew Whitworth were back on the field Wednesday after missing the last three workouts while resting their knees.


A.J. Green (18) returned to the practice field Wednesday.

Updated: 10:30 p.m.

Pro Bowlers A.J. Green and Andrew Whitworth were back on the field Wednesday after missing the last three weeks of workouts while resting their knees.

But they did next to nothing during a workout with helmets and shoulder pads on a delightful 70-degree afternoon at the Paul Brown Stadium practice field.

Yet both said they could have played if Wednesday was a real game day and Green pronounced himself "back to 100 percent." They both went through individual drills and walkthrough situations, but Green didn't even participate in 1-on-1s and it's highly unlikely the duo won't play in Saturday's 7 p.m. preseason game against the Titans (11:35 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12).

Green, who bruised his knee in the second practice of camp back on July 26, hinted he may only play in one. The third preseason game of the year (Aug. 24 in Dallas) is the most likely target for both since that's always perceived as the true dress rehearsal for the regular-season opener.

"I want to play. It's just a matter of which one. We'll see, but I'm definitely going to play," Green said.

Whitworth, who practiced the first three days of camp for the first time since offseason knee surgery, had been backed off since July 29.

"These things, I have no control over it. All I can do is work and continue to do that," Whitworth said before practice. "While the guys were in Atlanta I was up here working out twice a day and doing everything I could. Just trying to get it to feel the way I want it to when I play in a season. That is the ultimate goal. I’ve played football; I know how to do that. I just want to get it physically where I know I can play each and every Sunday at the level I want it at.”

Green says the workouts with rehab chief Nick Cosgray are tougher than practices and Whitworth agreed that Wednesday would be an easier day.

"The rehab work is harder than playing football. You are doing things that work all the other muscles that don’t get much work when you are playing football," Whitworth said. "Running in the water, on the treadmill, lifting a lot of weights. Doing a lot of things to push you. Just being up here and being in unbelievable physical shape. The level of play I want is nothing short of great.”

The Hard Knocks cameras invaded Green's home to document him watching the game with fellow injured wide receiver Andrew Hawkins while dining on his fiancee's spaghetti.

"I've been away from the team for a long time, so it's good to be back here with the team and be out there with the guys," Green said.

Whitworth, missing his first road trip since the Ice Station Zebra game in Cleveland in 2008, was also at home and wife Melissa let everyone know.

"That was crazy. My wife was texting friends and saying that was the first time she has been able to watch a game with me," Whitworth said. "Getting to hear the ins and outs and things. It was fun to get to see it but sucked not to be there with your guys.”

PLAY OF THE DAY: Defensive end DeQuin Evans's interception during blitz period.

Or is it rookie running back Rex Burkhead's tackle after said pick?

Executing a classic zone blitz, Evans backed off the line, dropped into coverage and stepped in front of John Skelton's pass over the middle. With Evans heading triumphantly the other way, Burkhead did what Burkhead is known to do and went all out, chasing down Evans and actually pulling a no-no when he yanked him to the ground during a helmet-and-shoulder-pads-only-not-live workout.

The defense didn't like that and Burkhead heard about it from The Dean, defensive end Robert Geathers. The defenders feel like they're the only ones that get yelled at for being physical.

The offense, after a camp of getting peppered by linebacker Vontaze Burfict's shoulder pads, liked it and de facto offensive captain Whitworth informed Geathers as such. Geathers then pulled his guys away from the drill for about a minute so there would be no fraternization.

All in good fun but with the point made because Whitworth and Geathers, two of the leaders of the famous 2011 locker room revolution, then shook hands after trading a few barbs. And head coach Marvin Lewis was the guy that reminded Burkhead, "Keep 'em up, keep 'em up."

"He made a mistake, but he's a high-energy kid who plays hard and hustles," said one defender.

Dean Geathers, with 134 Bengals games, observed, "It's all good."

PLAYER OF THE  DAY: CB Terence Newman.

Newman, 34, the second-oldest man on the field behind only 35-year-old James Harrison, continues to play like the age of his body. Which he likes to say is about 26 and on Wednesday the Fountain of Youth sprayed two interceptions, one in seven-on-seven and one in team sessions.

It looked like quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu were either on a different page or Dalton simply underthrew him in 7-on-7 because Newman was all over Sanu as Sanu was about to motor down the right sideline. But it looked like it was intended for Newman as he caught it in stride in front of Sanu.

Then in the team drill Newman showed his kid-like reactions with Skelton at quarterback and cornerback Leon Hall in the slot covering wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher in a man-to-man. Hall, draped on Dane, got a hand on it and Newman looked the tip into his hands.

"A gift," Newman said. "But I'll take it."

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Hall, the seven-year cornerback, on if he's played on a team with as much depth as this one:

"I don’t think so. I was actually talking to somebody not too long ago about trying to compare this team to the '09 team defensively. But as far as talent is concerned, I don’t know if the '09 team had quite as much talent as we do now, which is saying a lot because I think highly of that '09 defense we had."

NOTABLES: Wide receiver Marvin Lewis Jones keeps showing signs he's headed to a breakout sophomore season as his impressive camp rolls on. On Wednesday, with the help of two gorgeous deep throws from Dalton, Jones beat the club's two best corners on "go" routes. In one-on-one he came out from under Newman and chased down a floater. Then in seven-on-seven he flashed past Hall (and safety Reggie Nelson) to grab what would have been a TD over his shoulder.

» Not to be outdone, Jones's 2012 draft partner, Sanu, had another productive day with four catches in team drills...Cornerback Shaun Prater, a fifth-rounder from that class, knocked down a Dalton pass in the team session...More signs rookie defensive end Margus Hunt is an impressive work in progress, but a work in progress. Defensive line coach Jay Hayes, along with Lewis, reminded him after the 9-on-7 run-heavy drill, "React to the block, react to the step." 

» Dalton looked pretty crisp for the most part, hitting nine of 13 passes, and Josh Johnson added 8-of-11 with the most spectacular a "go" route of his own to wide receiver Taveon Rogers.

FULLBACK SHOWDOWN: The fullback competition is now bare-knuckled with running backs coach Hue Jackson throwing the first punch in a meeting with Orson Charles captured on Tuesday night's Hard Knocks.

In a barrage of bleeps and bromides, Jackson basically told Charles he was in danger of losing the job to John Conner and maybe a roster spot in the process. Conner is playing the position that first brought him to national prominence on Hard Knocks as a Jets rookie in 2010. Charles, a second-year player, is making the move to H-back/fullback from tight end.

Jackson tapped Charles for his versatility. Conner is rocking people with vitriol, the same mind frame he used to bull the Cincinnati suburban high school of Lakota West into the playoffs for the first time ever in his senior season of 2004.

"As a fullback your primary job is to block but I can catch the ball out of the backfield and get the short yardage when I have to and protect the quarterback. I feel like I have the full package,” Conner said. "This offense allows me to show everything I can offer.”

Conner says he looks at the film and feels confident. That's where Charles wants to be.

"It’s definitely hard to hear, coming as a competitor. But we understand it. I know I have things I need to correct and I have things I need to work on," Charles said after practice. "It’s just the beginning of the process. I’m not going to take it hard. I’m going to pay attention to him and stay here afterward and work hard.

"I want to be part of the club. I feel like we’re going in the right direction. We have the skill set to take it further than the first round of the playoffs, so I’m going to do whatever it takes to make the club."

So at the end of Wednesday's practice Charles teamed up with running back Cedric Peerman to run six sprints across the field. He senses there is going to be more Saturday night than the 10 snaps he got in Atlanta last week.

"I’m on all the special teams and we’ve got a game that the starters are going to play the first half, so I don’t want to be out of breath," Charles said. "I’m going to do everything in my power to keep (starting). But if (Jackson) sees something that I’m not doing that John’s doing, then I give him the utmost respect and he’ll put me behind John and I’ll learn from him and just continue to battle it out."

Charles got pulled with the rest of the starters early Thursday night, but Jackson told him he was going to stop treating him like one if the trend continues. Since Conner has yet to return to practice after tweaking his foot in the game, Charles is still starting so the club is holding off putting him back at tight end to make sure he stays fluent.

Charles pleaded with Jackson to leave him in and he even went to Conner and asked him to tell him when he got tired.

"He's just being a good teammate. We're both taking reps at that position. If one of us goes down the next guy steps up," Conner said. "That's how it is. Everyone wants their chance to go out and compete and get a chance to show coaches what they can do."

To Charles, it's pretty clear what he has to do.

"I know what I need to do, it’s just sometimes I kind of doubt myself and second-guess," Charles said. "My main thing is just going full speed and then knocking somebody out. That’s the main thing I need to correct, going full speed and bending at my hips."

Conner is showing his toughness and physicality first seen on the Knocks of three years ago when Jets head coach Rex Ryan turned "The Terminator" into a cult figure.

"I've got a chance to be on Hard Knocks again, so I'm just going out there and doing what I know how to do best. I'm getting a little air time I guess," Conner said with a laugh.

Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has as good a view as anyone of this battle and the Law Firm can state the case for both.

"They play fullback, so there's no fair dodging, no ducking or anything of that matter. When they go in there they're trying to go lay wood and John, as everyone has seen, has done a real good job of that," BJGE said. "Orson is learning to stay low. He's big, strong. It's a real battle over there. He's working on bending his knees and playing low. He was a tight end so he's kind of tall, so now he's working on bending his knees and playing low and that's going to be real big for him.

"If he continues to play low and learn that leverage game for football - it doesn't matter if you're 280 pounds or 210 pounds, you can block that guy because of leverage and hand placement. If he continues to learn those things, he'll be all right."

Conner says he's all right even though he hurt his foot in the second quarter last Thursday night, but played the game all the way out. Someone, he has to hope, was hopefully watching.

"It's one of those things where your adrenaline is going. You feel it, but it's nothing you have to come out of the game for," Conner said. "You settle down for a minute and that's when it really starts hurting."

Someone fell on the ankle. One of those freak accidents, he says.

"I finished the game. I just went in and got some extra tape to finish the game," he said. "I know my body. I'm not going to be silly. If I'm hurt I'm hurt. But if I can get through I'm going to play it."

While Conner is gritting his teeth and grinding, Charles is sprinting some extra.

"I did some before practice, and I definitely corrected some things in practice, and I continued to work on them after practice," Conner said.

This is a roster showdown that may need overtime to decide.

UP NEXT: Practice from 11-1 p.m. Thursday on the PBS practice fields. Gates open at 10 a.m. for final PBS camp workout.

SLANTS AND SCREENS

» Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said in a pre-practice news conference that any injured player set to return iagainst the Titans is going to practice Wednesday.

» That would mean right end Michael Johnson (unknown) and Conner (foot) wouldn't go because they hardly did anything and Johnson didn't dress. Cornerback Brandon Ghee (head) also returned Wednesday but didn't appear to do much. But linebackers Vincent Rey (knee), Emmanuel Lamur (hamstring), tackle Reid Fragel (knee) and wide receiver Tyrone Goard (concussion) also returned. Rookie linebacker Sean Porter (shoulder) was out.


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