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Ready at Day One

Posted Jul 28, 2012

Back in January, Bengals president Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis probably could not have drawn up July 27 any better than the way Friday played out on the first day of training camp.

Just don't look for any tweets from the players about it.

Brown watched as more than 1,500 fans made their way smoothly into a downtown Cincinnati practice field for the first time in camp history to sit in the temporary bleachers or stand on the sidelines with no major tangles that made it look like they'd been doing it forever.

Meanwhile, Lewis saw his best cornerback take nearly as many snaps as usual even though Leon Hall was just a remarkable 254 days off surgery to repair a torn Achilles.

On Friday, it looked like all the grinding by Hall in the training room and all the hard work from the groundskeepers and marketing people and IT gurus on A1 and A2 upstairs had paid off in a stay-to-the-script Day One.

Plus, a cranky thunderstorm rolled in at the central casting time, about 5:10 p.m., just at the end of the autograph session as the players were headed back into the locker room.

And even Lewis said that was OK because that's the textbook way to grow the two new Bermuda grass fields that have been down for only about a month.

"It looks pristine until you have to do football drills," said Lewis, who'll jockey his team enough to keep the grass growing during their 10 remaining workouts across the street from the stadium. "Football wears grass down. We’re going to have to move down a bit (away from the stands). It’s going to be some long-distance viewing because we can’t be on the field all the time. It’s great to get some rain for 10 minutes and get humid at night so it can replenish at night."

Hall certainly looked like he was replenished. If not ready for Sept. 10.

"I felt rusty. My technique was rusty. But the Achilles felt great," Hall said. "Usually we take three or four snaps at a time maximum. I started out with three and then in the second half of practice it went down to two. My Achilles felt fine. I felt like I was able to move and break like I wanted."

Jeff Berding, the club's director of sales and public affairs, must have felt like he was coming out of the whirlpool, too, after seven months of planning to pull off an NFL rarity and drop an NFL training camp into the middle of a city.

But on Friday the concessions hummed, the crowd was manageable and the VIP tents are waiting for the weekend with the Fifth Third Bank sponsorship banner flapping from the stadium wall and on the shoulder patch of each Bengal.

"It's what we hoped for. Frankly, we didn't know what to expect. How many people? We really didn't know," Berding said as the practice began to wrap up in 92-degree temperatures. "I was a little nervous. We have tremendous fans and we weren't interested in turning away thousands. Frankly, the right number came out today. It was terrific."

With a 3:15 p.m., practice set for Saturday and a 6 p.m. for Sunday, Berding expects to hit the capacity of 1,600. But he doesn't think people have to get there extra early, like several fans that hit the North ticket window as early as 5:35 a.m. Friday in order to be there when passes were handed out at 10 a.m.

"It was proven today," Berding said. "You can get there a little bit before 10, get the passes, go (visit) downtown, and come back and watch us practice."

The people that watched Friday saw a typical first day of camp. Quarterback Andy Dalton made some nice throws, particularly two to tight end Jermaine Gresham down the field in stride. He also threw an interception when he tried to take advantage of Hall covering wide receiver Armon Binns down the sideline, but his bomb hung up long enough for safety Reggie Nelson to come over and pick it off.

After practice, Dalton could be seen on the far field throwing to Gresham, wide receiver A.J. Green, and others as they worked the back shoulder.

It was also a typical first day when a couple of players had to leave early because of heat and hydration issues. Former Panthers left guard Travelle Wharton and rookie wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, as well as cramping cornerback Adam Jones, had to leave because of heat and hydration issues.

The one guy that left with an injury was starting left end Robert Geathers. He began his ninth season twisting his knee, and indications were the Bengals were having it checked out Friday night.

"The anxiety of it all and everything, it’s funny how it overcomes you. Plus a lot of guys aren’t used to how we work," Lewis said. "It’s the first time they’ve been with us in the real deal. It was good work today. We need to be a lot sharper. You just can’t assume it’s going to happen until you go out and put the work together. I think we need to be a lot sharper with things."

With bad weather rolling in at the end of practice, Lewis made just once concession. He scratched one period of six special teams plays. But by then, he'd already seen Hall.

"I thought Leon looked really good; really good," Lewis said. "He did OK. He took more (snaps) early. We tried to back him down late. He wants to go out there. Everybody wants to play every play, but we’ve got a lot of plays and we’ve got to make sure we use them all wisely.

"We have enough time for (getting Hall ready without overdoing it). I don’t see that being a hard transition. It would’ve been harder had he come back Week 3 of the preseason as opposed to where he is right now. Now the fact that’s he actually taking regular football snaps, the transitions he made in one-on-one today, the transitions he made out there on (special) teams, those are the things you can’t simulate. We tried as much as we could to simulate guys breaking and running and having guys run at him and having to break and react, but that’s why his best way to get back to 100 percent of where he was, was to come out here and practice real football."

Indeed, the medical staff concluded Hall has simply accomplished the max he can accomplish in rehab, and so Friday was his first day covering receivers for the first time since Nov. 13 when the Achilles went out against Pittsburgh.

"You really don't think about it," Hall said of his foot. "You're focused on the call, the formation the offense is giving you. I was thinking about it when I was on the side. It kind of popped up, but on the field I didn't (think about it). Just the technique at times was (rusty). When you haven't been in a game, your body isn't used to the technique the coach is trying to teach you. It will come."

Lewis looked as pleased as Berding. You can tell he loves the ability to spread 90 players across three fields and then come into his state-of-the-art offices with the video of the practice just completed already whirring through the computer network.

“It’s great to have all the field space for all the positions so everyone can do all the drills. It’s a good setup. That was the only negative of Georgetown," said Lewis, loving the fact that running backs coach Jim Anderson and his guys are no longer backed into a corner of a field. "Having all of our teaching facilities, having what we have going on upstairs for the dining area has been good. It’s been a good two days. The rehab and technology, it all works and we didn’t have to move it down and try it out.”

But only a certain kind of technology.

The only thing that came out of nowhere Friday is Lewis banning his players from using Twitter. Well, it didn't really come from nowhere. After rookie cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick confirmed his leg injury on Twitter Tuesday night, a livid Lewis told WLW's Lance McAlister on his Wednesday night sports talk show that he was going to shut it down.

On Friday he did.

"Twitter is way beyond me," Lewis admitted after practice. "I understand that. But I think people have to have the maturity and the wherewithal to be able to handle it. And thus far, from, what I've experienced since April, we don’t have the maturity to handle it.

"I don't see how Twittering or tweeting is going to help us win a football game. It's part of being selfless right now. It's not best for our football team to be involved in that. It's best to take care of ourselves and not announce what we are doing and what we're not doing and who did this and who did that, and commenting on what's going on in other spots ...

"Without it being a big deal, the leaders of this football team don't see a need for it. So they handle it and it's done with."

Lewis said the ban has gone out per the leaders of the team. But he has some decided opinions. It is a ban on all tweets, not just football because, "I don’t know if we can distinguish the difference."

"It's not a big deal. It's just the team, the older guys say, why do we need to do it? The main thing is winning football games. If it's getting in our way, then we can't have it."

Outside linebacker Thomas Howard, a prolific tweeter, is standing by his coach publicly.

"For right now we're just focusing on training camp; taking it one day at a time. We feel like if we're going to be pretty good, we have to come out here and work at it," Howard said. "He wants us focused. He wants us to stay away from all the outside BS right now and focus on football. That's it."

Howard has a lot of outside interests, like his foundation, and he knows the ban is going to have an impact. But he also knows what the date is.

"It's training camp," he said. "It's the most important thing going on for me right now."

Lewis seems to have the focus. The organization is riding a feel-good period right now, anticipating big houses when there are no seating limits in Paul Brown Stadium for five practices. And on Friday it looked like the Bengals have back one of their marquee players.

“It took a lot of work. I was pretty much here every day except Saturday and Sunday," Hall said of the rehab grind. "Ever since after my surgery, I have been here working once a day with Nick (Cosgray). I’m on the program he set out for me, all I had to do was show up and it worked out.”

Hall made his July 27 vow the week after his Nov. 16 surgery and he admitted Friday that he really wasn't sure he could make it until last month.

“That’s kind of when I stopped doubting my injury and I was comfortable. Planting my foot, driving my foot and going comfortably," he said. "When I got to that I point I knew I had a month or two to go. Sometime during OTAs at the end of May. Being able to run and cut and turn, all of those DB drills. I was pretty confident then.”

Hall was so focused, he didn't even really notice the difference in the venues. 

"But I'm glad they were out here, though," Hall said of the fans.

It seemed to be unanimous.

There's always Facebook.

 

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