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Whirlwind

Posted Aug 1, 2011


Andrew Whitworth

GEORGETOWN, Ky. — As head coach Marvin Lewis said after Sunday's second practice here at Georgetown College, this is football you've never seen before. And this is why you've never seen a training camp quite like this one. Maybe your dad did when Paul Brown's buses spit out different guys every day that Nixon-Humphrey summer of '68, but not you.

And the Bengals haven't even strapped up the full pads yet.

That's supposed to come Monday morning in what has become Camp Turnstile all around the NFL. On Sunday the Bengals lost one player to a physical (Cardinals guard Deuce Lutui), gained their bell cow running back (Cedric Benson), and saw Twitter blow up about being close to another deal (Bills safety Donte Whitner) while they already prepared to add one starter to the secondary (49ers cornerback Nate Clements.) Usually these deals are done in March, April, May. Not during stretching.

And that's not all in this post-lockout grind where the Bengals are adding to the roster while Lewis tries to monitor the conditioning of his players and decipher their health. This is a completely different team, even more changed than the one he blew up when he first arrived in 2003.

Over here is the No. 1 receiver signing autographs for the second straight day on his 23rd birthday after quarterback Bruce Gradkowski came up to him after practice and told A.J. Green he could be one of the greats. Over there Tank Johnson, getting monitored after Saturday's workout, bolted from the cameras because he knew he'd take terrific heat from defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer after not practicing and appearing on TV. Over here is a guy saying he swore he heard a coach bark, "Walk." It was in one of the newly mandated walkthroughs. Over there is offensive coordinator Jay Gruden talking about watching the running game up front after the first day of shoulder pads and shorts.

"You can never work too much on the running game," said Gruden after a year the Bengals were hammered for throwing too much.

A few snapshots in the ever-changing whirl:

» ESPN reported Whitner was close Sunday night, but that didn't look to be the case Monday morning. The Bengals were also dealing with outside linebackers and cornerbacks in a wild and wooly ride that seemed to change instantly around the league.

On Saturday night, Lewis talked about the lethargic Benson negotiations. Sunday after practice, while he raved about seventh-round draft pick Jay Finley, the running back from Baylor, ESPN 1530 Homer producer Lindsay Patterson informed him NFL Network was reporting Benson had agreed to a one-year deal. Lewis cackled. He still likes Finley, but he offered, "I'm glad to have Cedric back."

» Patterson won't get in trouble with left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Bobbie Williams a few days after they laid down a new law to their teammates.

"We just wanted them not to discuss team issues through tweeting," Whitworth said. "Tweet anything you want. Just don't be discussing anything we're doing as a team or issues that come up in our group. Most everyone responded well. Understood. As long as we keep our issues in house."

» Some of the leaders weren't enamored with some of the stuff tweeted last year—no names of course—but then, this is TV Land now and not HBO. Whitworth said one of the topics at lunch was how different camp is this year.

"The biggest thing right now is just the (lack of) distractions and seeing guys working hard and just having a good attitude," Whitworth said. "It's way different. I think a lot of guys are excited to be playing and not talking about how hard this is and how difficult it is. Guys are out here having fun. Biggest thing is guys are smiling. There's a new kind of fresh attitude."

Whitworth also thinks their legs are fresh after not taking the pounding of the spring.

"You're not going to be in the same conditioning shape you got in in normal years," he said. "But we had a long time to recoup and get fresh. So a lot of guys are fresh at this point."

» As he poured one last dup of Gatorade into a cup as players took the field, head strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton offered some general thoughts on what kind of shape they're in now.

"Pretty good," he said. "Body weight is up slightly. Percentage of body fat is up slightly. There's not been a big change in guys with a major weight gain, but you have evidence now it's better for guys to be in the team structure working out in the offseason. It's more consistent, more accountability, and there's the team dynamic and working better in the group because of the challenges. Guys are going to lift weights, but still fewer don't do a lot of hard running or enough change of direction and agility. But generally they're in pretty good shape."   

Morton thought Friday's standardized conditioning tests went well and he was able to compare them to years past so the coaches could get a read on where individuals are.

"It's only a couple of days, but the coaches have bought into monitoring their guys heavily," Morton said. "Coach Lewis has really been aware of it and has a nice feel of it."

Since it's more like May 1 than Aug. 1 for his players but the schedule hasn't changed, Lewis must keep balancing. He'll check the tape, check with Morton and trainer Paul Sparling, and figure out Monday morning on Sunday night.

"It's the second day of OTAs. Unfortunately that's kind of where we are," Lewis said Sunday. "We're installing and getting the feel of football at the same time adjusting for conditioning. It's all one continuous cycle. Today was good. We got used to carrying the pads and we'll adjust to where we are as opposed to where we want to be football-wise. I thought we had a crispness to things. They've been out here running around for three days. I thought we had more soreness yesterday. I think guys' legs were better today than yesterday."

There seemed to be the usual number of cases of dehydration and hamstring issues. If it was a normal offseason, Lewis might not have sat running back Bernard Scott and fullback Fui Vakapuna with muscle tightness on Sunday.

» t sounded like Lewis doesn't want to sit any of the young backs and maybe that was for Benson's benefit pre-deal. But it doesn't change what he saw from Finley along with free agents from East Carolina (Jonathan Williams) and Massachusetts (John Griffin).

"(Williams and Griffin) caught my eye in what they were doing," Lewis said. "Finley's got great quickness. He shows an ability to make people miss. Yesterday in the one-on-one drills with the linebackers he did a great job separating away from the backers. He gets his shoulders turned up the field. That's what you saw on his college tape at Baylor. Once he got that crack, he had the speed to go the 60, 70 yards."

For the second straight day Lewis talked about the evolution of the NFL running back and how more teams have gone to two and three backs even if they have a Benson-like lead back. He's clearly looking to get more out of backup Bernard Scott and third-down back Brian Leonard. He said, "You probably have to blame me" for Scott not getting more touches last season and he's excited about a healthy Leonard. Lewis didn't think Leonard was ever right after suffering a foot injury in the Hall of Fame Game.

» Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton didn't have as good a day Sunday as he did Saturday. He never got into a groove during the 11-on-11, which was more intense Sunday because of the shoulder pads, and came up short on a couple of deep balls. Gruden said there will be days like this, but he can't have too many. Wearing pads for the first time since the Rose Bowl, Dalton never looked comfortable.

"He's got to be more efficient, more consistent. He had a good day yesterday, he fell off a little today," Gruden said. "To be expected. Tomorrow's a new day. He missed a couple of throws he usually makes, but on some of them his receivers could have helped them out.

» Green keeps doing what he can as he quietly puts on a show. The DBs haven't covered him yet and on Sunday his huge ball skills were on display when he had to come back for a Dalton bomb. Green knifed through two defenders to easily catch the ball at the top of the leap, but he lost the handle when before he could pull it in as he came down, it got tipped out.

"I still have the hops," he said.

Gradkowski (adding to the goofiness he's one of about 15 guys that can't practice until on or about Thursday) couldn't throw Green a ball after practice but he could toss support by telling him he's got a shot to be one of the greats.

"He told me to keep fighting hard and he likes my attitude and he's been around some of the greats," Green said. "It's good to have him and Jordan Palmer around teaching and coaching me up."

The fans greeted Green with "Happy you're here," "Thank you," and "Rookie of the Year." Green knew what was next.

"Cold tub," he said.

Finally, the day would slow down.

But there's always tomorrow in your father's training camp.

 

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