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Posted Aug 4, 2014

Ryan Hewitt is making a strong run at a roster spot.

In honor of the estimable Peter King and the relentless Lance McAlister, here are some things I think I believe after the first phase of the Bengals training camp.

I Think I Believe they are thrilled with what new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has done with quarterback Andy Dalton and company, particularly the last couple of days when Dalton has looked razor sharp.

And the huddle has yet to see left tackle Andrew Whitworth, wide receiver Marvin Jones, and tight end Jermaine Gresham.

Yes, it is just practice. Yes, Dalton went against the backups Saturday when he lit them for 17 of his first 19 passes and there was again no pass rush when he was 16 of 19 on Thursday.

But what is the one thing we know? That it is going to be the offense that either takes or doesn’t take this team to the big game because everything else is in place. And we know they need to cut down on turnovers, run the ball more, and make Dalton more efficient in yards per pass and these are the things being worked on and emphasized. Which has to make an offensive-minded owner quite happy.

The way Dalton has responded in this summer of shove, between all the criticism and his contract negotiations, is quite admirable and is another reason why they should extend him. Try and find another quarterback that goes 30-18 with 80 TDs and three post-season berths. It’s not the price of the quarterback. It’s the price of finding one. I give you the decade-long-plus angst of Cleveland, Tennessee, Oakland, and Jacksonville.

I Think I Believe that Jackson has helped make Dalton look easier back there.

I’m not sure why. It seems like he’s giving him fewer options in an effort to make him more decisive. And he seems to be operating in a wider pocket without having as much traffic up the middle.

I Think I Believe Dalton plays no more than eight to 10 snaps in Thursday’s pre-season opener (8 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Channel 12) in Kansas City. Not without Whitworth, Andre Smith at right tackle, and the rehabbing Clint Boling and Mike Pollak at left guard.

I Think I Believe the one thing that really worries them on offense is the inconsistent snapping of rookie center Russell Bodine. He’s been far from awful and he looks good doing so many other things and he’ll be fine. But they can’t have one of his high ones in an AFC North game on the road on Opening Day. Pollak (knee) hasn’t worked the last week, but it sounds like he’ll be back soon enough and he figures to get a look at center, anyway. So does Trevor Robinson, the guy listed as the backup.

I Think I Believe that second-year wide receiver Cobi Hamilton is close to making this team. Just when you think he drops too many balls, he comes up with a tough catch against a really good cornerback and he did a lot of that in the Mock Mock Game on Saturday. He’s got NFL size and he runs like the wind.

I Think I Believe the best roster competition is at wide receiver. If Hamilton is in, then which of the two is left standing among Brandon Tate, Dane Sanzenbacher, and rookie James Wright? And Ryan Whalen has yet to take a snap. Just looking at the depth chart and how things went Saturday, it looks like Sanzenbacher is going to do a ton of returning against the Chiefs.

 I Think I Believe people better not forget about the Bengals defense.

Look, I’m with you. I’m a little concerned they’re bringing along Geno Atkins slower than Boston debutante but I’ve also heard nothing that makes me think he won’t be back to his dominating self. But then, nobody knows.

Still, remember they still finished No. 3 in defense without him for half the season and the first phase of camp has shown they’ve upgraded in the secondary with the return of cornerback Leon Hall and the drafting of cornerback Darqueze Dennard while getting much faster at linebacker with the comeback of Emmanuel Lamur.

I Think I Believe they’re going to be just fine up front even though they’ve lost right end Michael Johnson.

It’s so hard to tell about defense before they play games, but the way they are rotating these guys up front they always seem to look fresh and fast. The draft room should stand up and take a bow every time the defensive line takes the field.

Carlos Dunlap is going to be more dangerous lining up on both the left and right edge, people like what Margus Hunt is doing at left end and Wallace Gilberry looks like the same guy that has 14 sacks in 30 games as a Bengal as he continues to line up all over. They also think they’ve got something in rookie right end Will Clarke, but not right now. And guys like tackle Christo Bilukidi and ends Sam Montgomery and Dontay Moch are practicing like they’re going to have big pre-season games.

They may be able to keep more linemen than usual if rookie quarterback A.J. McCarron (elbow) isn’t ready for the start of the season and they keep just two quarterbacks.

I Think I Believe I know the answer to the gag, “What day in September is Chris Crocker going to show up? ‘ He’s already here. He was here in April. But he’s changed his name to Danieal Manning.

Manning is two years younger than Crocker and has many of the same attributes and versatility. In the last week you could see him starting to look comfortable in the defense and look healthier after missing double-digit games with a broken leg last year.

(Note his pick six of Jason Campbell last week. Yeah, he threw it right to him. But safeties are supposed to be in those right spots.)

That’s a pretty good battle between him and incumbent George Iloka at safety. They like Iloka and think he’ll be better after starting his first 16 games last season. But they’re also trying to eliminate plays like the one from Saturday, where no one was able to catch up to a wide receiver that just got here off waivers in Conner Vernon.

I Think I Believe guard Trey Hopkins and tight end/fullback Ryan Hewitt have the best chances of the undrafted rookies to make the Opening Day roster.

They seem to really like Hewitt, who played tight end, H-back and tight end at Stanford. Especially after he made the switch from tight end to fullback last week with nary a blink and held his own on the goal-line stuff. Hopkins, out of Texas, may be able to play only one spot, but they like his movement skills for a big man.

 

 

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