Bengals Go Live On A Sunday For Scrimmage

Quarterback Joe Burrow (9) points to the side during training camp practice on Friday, August 28, 2020.

The Bengals were supposed have their dress rehearsal for their Sept. 13 regular-season opener in the national glare of CBS during their third pre-season game in Atlanta on Friday night.

But the pandemic that ate the preseason has turned that into an off Broadway production in Sunday's 6:10 p.m. scrimmage in empty but lit Paul Brown Stadium. And that's the way it's going to be against the Chargers in a 4:05 p.m. game that's going to need lights at some point.

Head coach Zac Taylor is going to try and amplify it up enough to give them a sense of how it's going to be with Joey Bosa trying to chew off the leg of old friend Joe Burrow in the Bengals rookie quarterback's NFL debut and Chargers quarterback Tyrod Taylor taking a run at Cincy's inexperienced defensive middle.

With only tiered personnel allowed into the building, there are no refs, the weight room staff is going to be the chain gang and the headsets will be out with the coaches assigned to the press box working the scrimmage upstairs. The offense is going to be on the home sideline and the defense on the visitors' side.

Jeff Brickner, the Bengals' dynamo director of operations, plans to turn on the scoreboard and lights and at Taylor's direction the clock is going to be set and running. At some point, the NFL Films murmuring crowd noise that tentatively is scheduled to play on a three-hour loop during the season, is going to come through the speakers.

As for what's going to take place on the field, it's pretty much what happened in the first scrimmage last week. A few live tackling series and a few "thud," series, where the stop is made on the pads and bringing anyone to the ground. It sounds like there'll be an extensive "live," special teams work.

"Depth plays into that as well as we get closer to (Sunday)," Taylor said. "But again, we want the players to feel that atmosphere as we walk onto the home field as we're going to do on Sept. 13. We want them coaches up in the box. We want to iron out some of that communication. We'll only have two times to do that over the course of training camp. We'll have another one that will take place, usually where the preseason Game Four would fall into place."

On offense, it's doubtful that wide receivers A.J. Green (hamstring) and John Ross (arm) are going to play, as well as running back Joe Mixon (migraines). Left guard Michael Jordan may not either because he just returned to the team Saturday after the birth of his child.

Which means Burrow is going to have the same weapons he used to strafe the defense in the first scrimmage on 13 of 18 passing with points on all five drives.

Even if Mixon had been practicing, this scrimmage is reserved to find out who that third running back is going to be behind Mixon and Bernard. A lot of runs.

Veteran Samaje Perine has had an impressive camp and is a hard guy to blow out of there. But they're keeping an eye on massive rookie Jacques Patrick, who runs over people. He's 6-2 and looks to be near 240 pounds and he, along with old Florida State roommate Auden Tate, was a star of the first scrimmage. Remember Hue Jackson's description of a hard runner? A bowling ball with spikes.

"I've seen a lot of growth," said Tate, who had two touchdown catches from Burrow in the first scrimmage. "Just seeing him from a little weight. He looks quicker, faster. It's just his mind is in a better spot. I'm just glad to see him out here making plays … I love seeing running backs run physical like that, so he just got everybody hyped and stuff like that."

Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan is taking notes.

"Those guys are going get a ton of carries because we are trying to give them an opportunity with no preseason to go ahead and separate themselves," Callahan said.

And with a few nicks (nothing serious) on the offensive line, you may see more rotations in there than last week. Everybody practiced everywhere this week.

Tackles like Fred Johnson and tackle Hakeem Adeniji played both guard and Billy Price played all three interior spots.

"We knew Fred could play both. He had done that before in his past. He was a guard at Florida," Callahan said of his college days. "He was a guard at Pittsburgh (Steelers) for his time there. But he played enough tackle in college that we feel like he could be a good tackle. He's got the size and measurables you look for. He can play both pretty well.

"Billy's flexibility to play guard and center is huge because you have to have a guy that can be a back-up center and snap as well. You have to have a guy who play all three interior spots when you only get seven up on game day. Hakeem Adeniji has got flexibility, too. He looked good at guard. His movement skills are really good."

But, it all comes to Burrow, doesn't? Here's what Taylor wants to see from him Sunday:

"To continue to make progress. It's not been perfect for us at any position. There's things we've had issues with and maybe not finished plays the way we want every play to finish," Taylor said. "He's got a chance to replicate some of those reps and make a perfect snap so he's got the confidence in them whenever we call them in Week 1 of the season, Week 2 of the season, whenever they pop up. That's just the biggest thing."

The defense is going to have a skeleton crew at cornerback with Trae Waynes injured, Mackensie Alexander dealing with a personal issue and Darius Phillips day-to-day with a lower-leg injury.

Which is going to be tough on special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons. No one from the group of Winston Rose, Greg Mabin and Torry McTyer has broken out for him, but it looks like they'll be playing a lot of corner.

And Simmons needs this scrimmage to make some calls. He indicated he'll have live periods Sunday and here's another blip for him. Wide receiver Alex Erickson is his top punt returner, but Phillips has been looking good catching punts and that's what he's needed to fix because he's dangerous when he holds on to it. But he's been hurt, although indications are they're trying to lighten his load, more than anything, to ease his injury problems since he came into the league.

"We need to make more plays back there than we have the last couple of years," Simmons said.

Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is just looking to be consistent in an attempt to bring the good days of practice into Sunday. It's doubtful ends Carlos Dunlap and Carl Lawson are going to play, but he'll get to see fifth-rounder Khalid Kareem scrimmage for the first time at end.

The linebackers have been good, but Jordan Evans (hamstring) won't play. Anarumo continues to rotate those three rookie linebackers, Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither and Markus Bailey, in sub packages. But it's been pretty consistent that veteran Josh Bynes and sophomore Germaine Pratt have been his first-down backers.

"They're causing good problems for us. There's a lot of competition there. Everybody has elevated their game at that position," Taylor said. You talk about Josh Bynes being the senior guy in that group. Guys we had last year in Jordan Evans and Germaine Pratt have elevated their games as well.

"It's been a pleasant group to watch compete. Along the lines of Joe Burrow and the other rookies there's still a lot of work to do, but they're on the pace you would have expected them to be on."

 They're looking for a fourth defensive tackle, which isn't a bad problem to have at this point. Especially when eight-time Pro Bowler Geno Atkins is one of them.

"He's an ageless wonder I guess," Anarumo said. "He's had a great offseason just training wise and we're being smart with his reps. He's as sudden, as strong as he's ever been."

So don't look for him to get a lot of snaps Sunday. But look for everybody else.