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Camp report: Scrum in the sun; Hawkins mulling next step as Bengals eye talent in slot

Posted Aug 4, 2013

Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden admitted after Sunday's practice that the offense will miss Hawkins's speed, but he also said they're deep with inside options.


Mohamed Sanu

Updated: 6:40 p.m.

The Bengals veterans don't seem uneasy at all about this week's trip to Atlanta to practice against the Falcons for two days before Thursday's preseason opener in the Georgia Dome (8 p.m.-ESPN, Cincinnati's Channel 5), especially those in the secondary lining up against one of the NFL's best receiving corps.

The last time the Bengals played the Falcons for real, Pro Bowl wide receiver Roddy White scorched them for 201 yards alone in a 39-32 loss. And that was a season before Atlanta traded up nearly an entire round in 2011 to get another sensational receiver in Julio Jones. Even though Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez isn't expected to work, there's plenty going on back there.

"If they are not the best, they are definitely up there; top three for sure," said Hall, who still remembers White burning him for a 43-yard touchdown pass on a crossing route in the 2010 game. "The production they get out of those three guys, it's hard to match. The talent they have at the quarterback position they all benefit from that. I think that if we see all of them on the field at one time it will be great for us. You can't focus on one guy, everybody gets a great look. From the linebackers covering the tight end or maybe the safety and the corners on the outside."

The one time the Bengals worked against another team, in 2007 when the Saints had two practices at Paul Brown Stadium, Hall was a rookie but even then he knew how valuable it was to be exposed to the tempo of quarterback Drew Brees in the no-huddle.

Lewis has made sure that Hall and his guys get a look at Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan's Pro Bowl tempo by scheduling a no-huddle period.

“You’ve got big guys and a quarterback that really delivers balls on target with some steam on them; in the slot," Lewis said. "(Harry) Douglas is a good player. He’s got good shifts, good misses and matchups. I told Mike (Smith) I’m a little disappointed Tony Gonzalez isn’t going to be there because he’s going home today. Other than that, I think just going up against their guys is going to be good. They’re guys that are physical and they’re big players and that’s good.”

If anyone is concerned about the intensity leading to injury, they're not saying it. For one thing, Lewis says there won't be any live periods until the game. And for another, he's so close to Falcons head coach Mike Smith and others on that staff that he sees a pretty tight cover on things.

"You can’t push and shove on an NFL game field, so we don’t want it to happen while we’re in practice," Lewis said. "You see a few instances of it here, and we’ll step in and get it broken up. If they can’t fix it, we’ll make them hold hands and skip off into the sunset or something. That’s just wasting our time, though.

"Mike and I planned it out back in May what we were going to do. We’ve touched base a couple times since with some of the nuances and questions that coaches have. They sent us some video of practices yesterday so our coaches could see and make sure of some of the drills work. We’re on their format, which isn’t much different than ours but we’re on their format."

Hall doesn't foresee a lot of problems, if any.

"I think you really have to guard against it. Honestly I haven’t thought about it but I don’t think we have an issue with that," Hall said. "I don’t think we will, and even if it gets to that point I don’t see it escalating to something that’s going to make SportsCenter or something like that. I think guys realize what it is; we’re all there to get better, obviously, and still practice."

Quarterback Andy Dalton said Lewis has already passed the word.

"It's different because you don't know the personalities of everybody you are going against. There might be pushing and shoving, hopefully it won't turn into anything too much. I think it's competition out there, guys want to be at their best," Dalton said. "It's been mentioned. You don't want to get into it with one of their guys. You don't want there to be more to come from something than something has to be. You want to see guys go compete though."

It's just not the secondary looking forward to it. Dalton is anxious to see his offense against other people before they get into a game.

"You want to see our guys go compete. You want to see, it's kind of a good benchmark, too, to see where our guys are at against their guys. It will be fun to watch," Dalton said. "We haven't done too much studying on everything they have done. I think it will be good for us to go against new guys. It will be a good change for us."

The first and second Bengals offenses are going to get much more work Monday and Tuesday than they will Thursday. Lewis sees both first-teamers getting half the snaps against each other in each period. There'll also be a field rotation. On Monday the Bengals defense is going to be going against the Falcons offense on the main field closest to the fans. On Tuesday it's going to flip.

"I think it's always positive. Any time you can go against the guys you don't go against every day," Hall said. "Obviously, especially with the type of offense they have there, obviously one of the best in the NFL. Defensively you can go there and kind of change your mindset a little bit as far as it's different than going into one of our practices against our guys. You are going over there against a whole different offense, a whole different personnel."

HAWK UPDATE: The Andrew Hawkins news seemed to get a bit grimmer.

Before leaving after Sunday's practice for Atlanta, Lewis said Hawkins is seeking a second opinion on how to proceed with his sprained ankle. Lewis compared it to center Kyle Cook's injury in the sense that it was worse than originally feared before he needed surgery on the eve of the regular season. Cook was put on injured reserve-recall and came back in December, although he was eligible to play after eight weeks.

It's unknown if Hawkins is facing the same time frame, since he's a slot receiver that lives on his legs and speed, but Lewis indicated he's going to miss some time. Already faced with battling for snaps in the slot with wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and rookie tight end Tyler Eifert, as well as the addition of rookie running back Giovani Bernard, Hawkins, Lewis says, is disappointed.

"Obviously for Andrew the ankle's an important part of how he plays. So he's got to get it right. We want to make sure he gets it right," Lewis said. "He's in a big competition there with a bunch of guys. That's the thing he's disappointed about. He's battling to stay here and carve out a niche in the offense. Now he's had a little bit of a setback. The other guys he's competing with have a chance to step up a notch and move forward until he's ready."

As expected, Hawkins, wide receiver A.J. Green (knee) and left tackle Andrew Whitworth won't be making the trip to Atlanta. Also not making the trip are tight end Alex Smith (knee), defensive tackle Larry Black (ankle), right tackle Reid Fragel (knee), wide receiver Tyrone Goard (concussion), defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (knee), and fullback Chris Pressley (knee).

SLOT OPTIONS: Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden admitted after Sunday's practice that the offense will miss Hawkins's speed, but he also said they're deep with inside options. The list starts with Mohamed Sanu, runs through rookie tight end Tyler Eifert, and bottoms out with three wideouts having good camps in Dane Sanzebacher, Ryan Whalen and Brandon Tate.

Plus, with Eifert and tight end Jermaine Gresham on the field often, that figures to cut into the multi-formation sets where Hawkins shines.

"I think the slots is covered," Gruden said. "With Tyler and Jermaine on the field at the same time we’ll only have two receivers. But we'll still feature the three-receiver set and the four-receiver set from time to time and that's when they get their reps. Probably not as much as they had last year, but you never know. It depends on how the game is going. Who's doing what and what type of personnel package we feel like is best to go after the defense."

The way it's been going, when the Bengals do go three wides it figures to be the 6-2, 210-pound Sanu in the slot and A.J. Green and Marvin Jones outside.

"(The slot) fits (Sanu) perfectly," Gruden said. "He's a great target, very smooth, and the bigger body on smaller nickels (cornerbacks)."

But Hawkins gives this offense a dimension of speed and burst it doesn't have.

"Hawk's quickness and big-play ability we'll miss," Gruden said. "But Mo's ready to step it up and take it over."

COACHING REUNION: The big reason Lewis is taking his team to Atlanta is because the Falcons are coached by one of his best friends in the game, Miike Smith, Lewis's defensive line coach on the 2000 NFL record-setting Ravens defense. But there are plenty more. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter was Lewis's roommate at Idaho State and he worked with secondary coach Tim Lewis in Pittsburgh.

"If they have 20 coaches, I know 15," said Marvin Lewis.

Which is why he's pretty confident everybody can get on the same page when it comes to tempo.

WHIT CHANGE: Whitworth moved his locker into the empty stall that belonged to the recenly released Travelle Wharton. That now puts him between Cook and fellow tackle Andre Smith: "I like to change it up ... now I'm between the brainiac of the operation that I've played with forever and ... I can talk to Dre about different rushers."

PLAYER OF THE DAY: Wide receiver Brandon Tate.

In what was a fairly brisk tempo during a practice that amounted to a power walkthrough before the team's flight to Atlanta, the offense looked sharper than it has in a few days. Quarterback Andy Dalton hit 10 of 11 passes and the incompletion came after he pulled the ball down against good coverage. Backup Josh Johnson was 5-for-5, but Tate stole the show catching three long balls from Dalton. Tate missed the first few days of camp with a tight hamstring, but he looked to be up to speed when he ran deep in between cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and safty Shawn Williams.

PLAY OF THE DAY: It came in the second snap of 11-on-11 with cornerback Leon Hall draped all over Tate running deep down the left sideline. Dalton floated a beauty from 40 yards right over Tate's helmet and Tate dove flat out to catch a ball that had to be perfectly timed because of Hall's superb coverage

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Cornerback Leon Hall on the possibility of tempers flaring when the Bengals work against another team: "Honestly I haven’t thought about it but I don’t think we have an issue with that. I don’t think we will, and even if it gets to that point I don’t see it escalating to something that’s going to make SportsCenter or something like that. I think guys realize what it is; we’re all there to get better, obviously, and still practice."

UP NEXT: The Bengals head to Atlanta to practice with the Falcons at their facility in Flowery Branch, Ga. on Monday and Tuesday, 3-5:30 p.m. both days.

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