BUFORD, Ga. — Thunderstorms and driving rain forced the Bengals Wednesday walkthrough indoors after two combined practices, and head coach Marvin Lewis's starters may even get less work in Thursday's preseason opener (8 p.m.-ESPN and Cincinnati's Channel 5) against the suddenly familiar Falcons in the Georgia Dome.
If they play well. The better they play, the less they'll play.
"That's the carrot you have," Lewis said. "We'll get the first guys crisp snaps and we'll see how many snaps they earn based on how they go out there and do things. Coming here is a great opportunity for them to get more exposure than they'll get Thursday night."
After Monday's practice Lewis said he was pleased with how the defense prevented the big play and on Tuesday against the Falcons no-huddle offense in the final team period the Bengals rushed Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan well enough that they could have had three sacks if it had been live. Cornerback
“Overall I was pleased with both sides. Got great work in coverage and I thought the ball got checked down where you want it to go," Lewis said. "Don’t allow the vertical or horizontal seams to occur.”
No doubt you won't see any of those guys very long Thursday night. With Rey out but expected to be back as soon as the Aug. 17 Paul Brown Stadium opener against Tennessee, the Falcons will see a bunch of guys trying to push Rey for what could be the sixth and final linebacker spot. Guys like second-year man
There's also heat for what could be the final spot in the secondary.
And while the defensive line's nine look to be signed, sealed and delivered, Lewis is anxious to get a lot of snaps for
"Defensively to me the guys that I think (are) important, what do we have at linebacker with some of the young kids and secondary?" Lewis asked. "The safety as far as starting. The corners as far as who are the next guys. I'm excited about that. If you look at Moch and (end)
When it comes to offense, it's going to be a surprise if Dalton and the first unit work more than two series; if that.
Also on Lewis's docket is getting work for rookie offensive linemen
And with two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver
"We have to get the QBs some time, the two and three guys right now," Lewis said. "The areas important to me are the development of the young linemen on offense. Orson, John Conner at fullback. Those are important battles to win. We've got the wideouts that continue to develop. Then you've got to see what happens with the other two tight ends playing behind the first two."
Lewis is counting out no one and points to Lewis-Harris. Lewis-Harris went undrafted out of Tennessee-Chattanooga a year ago and didn't get signed by anyone until spring drills, and the early days of training camp wiped the Bengals out at corner. Despite a shaky start, he played well enough in the preseason (13 tackles and a sack) to earn a spot on the practice squad and he was active for three games, including the Wild Card game when injuries caught up with the secondary again.
"He comes in as our last guy last year and plays in (three) ballgames; he's done a great job," Lewis said. "It's like the Washington Generals. Him and A.J. every day in practice and now look at him. He can be a sixth corner on an NFL team."
Lewis is stressing getting to the gate now more than ever. That is Sept. 8. Not Aug. 8. Trying to keep guys healthy is now a priority because of the 90-player limit in camp.
"To me the real issues are the expansion of the rosters, the salary cap. You get guys injured; who are you going to play? So you're really trying to minimize your exposure to injury," Lewis said. "What I've noticed is we practice hard. You try to gauge getting yourself battle-ready for football without taking too much injury risk. (A total of) 90 guys with 32 rosters, shoot, guys on the street ... it's tough. The quality of player you get on the street is probably better when teams get hurt in an area and they have to get a guy to gain depth in another area.
"You have to have guys physically up to it. We're better off without anybody because you don’t want to take on an injury risk for a guy that’s not ready for the rigors of practice. You're signing him to practice and if he can't practice and stand by me, then it does no good."
Lewis is talking about the obstacles in front of doing another combined practice like he did with the Falcons, but he could also have been talking about getting his team ready. He thrives on players coming from other teams and hearing that the Bengals work harder than any of them. But he also loves getting his players healthy to the gate.
That's why he's kept Marvin Jones out of action for the past week and why he calls Jones 20 percent to play Thursday.
"We've learned that's not going to help us. That's why Marvin Jones hasn't practiced for a week. That's why
Lewis is going easy on the injured knees of Green and left tackle
"You'll see A.J. before you know you’ve seen A.J. Whether he plays or not … ," Lewis said. "The thing is to get to Sept. 8. He needs time on task with some things, but it's no different than what (the Falcons) do with Julio (Jones). Julio didn't do anything (this week) because he's gone hard and you've got to rest these guys. Either one of those kids has no body fat whatsoever."