If this were 2019 and hopefully 2021, the Bengals would be gliding into the last week of June practice and looking at summer vacation.
But it's not and they're not. They're 10 days away from cutting the roster after about a dozen days since they pretty much started practicing in helmets. And you've got to feel the roster is going to bubble and bubble and not slide into place until the Monday or Tuesday before the Sept. 13 opener because they've got the No. 1 waiver claim.
As fluid as this thing is, the one thing we can observe is that what the Bengals mapped out during one of the biggest offseasons ever has basically panned out.
Using the top pick in every round and their richest free agency in history, it is obvious on the field and in the locker room they have re-made their team with a talented young quarterback and hard-nosed, experienced and faster players on defense.
That's at the top of the roster. The back of it is a little more of a mystery than usual for two reasons. The backups just aren't getting many reps because everything is truncated and because the Bengals are staying quiet about who they like. With no pre-season games, the only way other teams can get information on their players is to scour news reports for practice info and quotes on bubble guys.
Plus, the back of the roster figures to be more in flux than the past because of the expanded practice squad of 16, the ability to protect four practice squad players each week from getting plucked by other teams and the new active roster size of 55 that allows them to promote two practice squad players each week.
And, that No. 1 waiver claim.
A roster look after last Friday's scrimmage and before this Sunday's scrimmage with years of NFL experience in parenthesis:
Brandon Allen (4), Jake Dolegala (2), Ryan Finley (2), Joe Burrow (R)
If you've been setting your alarm for 7:15 a.m., lately, Burrow has already been at Paul Brown Stadium getting ready to walk into his first daily meeting with quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher. Pitcher and Burrow socially distance while Zooming with the other quarterbacks and the Bengals' first-year quarterbacks coach has had a front-row seat at what has been a rather remarkable training camp for the draft's overall No. 1 pick.
"The thing I probably appreciate the most as his position coach is his dedication to the day-to-day," Pitcher says. "You love it when a guy shows how much it means to him by the way he prepares and the way he goes about his business. It's overwhelmingly evident to me that he is preparing the way he needs to prepare."
Pitcher didn't view Burrow's walk-off 28-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-six to wide receiver Auden Tate that finished off Tuesday's two-minute drill and practice as some kind of huge gamble even though there were safer options.
"The nice part about the throw is he not only took a chance to score, but it was also a throw to the sidelines so if it didn't work out for a touchdown there was a good chance to get out of bounds," Pitcher said. "It was smart to take that throw and it worked out for us."
Finley has received all but a few of the non-Burrow reps. They figure to go with all four QBs, but how they split them up remains to be seen.
WIDE RECEIVERS (11)
A.J. Green (10), Tyler Boyd (5), Alex Erickson (5), Mike Thomas (5), John Ross (4), Auden Tate (3), Stanley Morgan (2), Trenton Irwin (1), DaMarkus Lodge (1), Tee Higgins (R), Scotty Washington (R)
Maybe the most illustrative element of Burrow's camp is that he has lit it up without Green, Ross and Higgins. He should have everybody this week. Tate has looked like a starting receiver, which shows you how good Burrow is, how underrated Tate is and how deep they are here. Thomas has proven to be a very nice pickup. If there's a year to keep seven receivers, this is it with Erickson and Thomas also being forces on special teams.
RUNNING BACKS (5)
Giovani Bernard (8), Joe Mixon (4), Samaje Perine (4), Trayveon Williams (2), Jacques Patrick (R)
With Mixon and Bernard, it's hard to see them keeping four backs and that means a real tractor-pull among the remaining three. Who helps them in the kicking game the most and can Williams stay healthy? Perine is a big, reliable vet. Patrick is an intriguing undrafted 240-pound guy that had a really good scrimmage. Williams is the smallest of the three, but the fastest and niftiest. Without pre-season games, figuring out how a guy can help on special teams is probably the biggest projection of the roster.
OFFENSIVE LINE (12)
RG Xavier Su'a-Filo (7), C-G Trey Hopkins (6), RT Bobby Hart (6), G Alex Redmond (4); C-G Billy Price (3), T O'Shea Dugas (2), T-G Fred Johnson (2), LG Michael Jordan (2), LT Jonah Williams (2), T-G Hakeem Adeniji (R), G- T Josh Knipfel (R), C Frederick Mauigoa (R).
This much scrutinized unit has come back as they wished. Guys like Williams, Jordan and Price returned with re-chiseled bodies. Jordan may be the most improved guy on the team at any position with a terrific camp. Williams has been beaten some on the pass rush in 11-on-11, but overall he's held up in his first camp. They love the leadership Su'a-Filo brought in free agency.
Johnson keeps improving off two impressive games to end last season and may end up backing up four spots. He seems entrenched as the swing tackle. Adeniji, the sixth-rounder from Kansas, has really impressed them with his intelligence playing left tackle with the second group. It sounds like Redmond, who has yet to practice, can be back soon. So your five starters, along with Johnson, Price, Adeniji and Redmond backing it up make it a tough room to crack.
TIGHT ENDS (6)
C.J. Uzomah (6), Cethan Carter (4), Mason Schreck (3), Jordan Franks (2), Drew Sample (2), Mitchell Wilcox (R).
Tight ends coach James Casey is showing why he's one of their best assistants. Along with quarterback and linebacker, it's probably the most improved position group even though it's the same guys.
Yes, they lost Tyler Eifert. But they lost the Eifert of 2019, not 2015. It's clear they've had two years in the system because Uzomah and Sample have been really good this month. Uzomah has become a true leader and can make plays down field. Sample is healthier, stronger and more comfortable after his rookie year was cut short by injury, limiting him to just ten percent of the snaps.
Remember, Sample was the best blocking tight end in his draft, but he's showing an ability to get open with reliable hands. He may be one of those quiet killer tight ends the Ravens and Steelers always seem to have.
"It's hard for a tight end to walk in the door day one and make a strong effect on the unit," said head coach Zac Taylor this week. "I really felt as the season went and we got (Sample) more involved, I felt like, OK, this guy is progressing as we expected. Then when he got knocked out for the season. He obviously did a great job training in the offseason. He's come back in excellent shape and been a really reliable target in the passing game. He's really physical at the point of attack in the run game, does a nice job in protections. Just really pleased with the camp so far Drew and the other tight ends have had."
DEFENSIVE LINE (14)
T Geno Atkins (11), E Carlos Dunlap (11), T Mike Daniels (8), T D.J. Reader (5), E Carl Lawson (4), E Sam Hubbard (3), E Andrew Brown (2), T Khalil McKenzie (2), T Freedom Akinmoladun (1), E Amari Bledsoe (1), E Khalid Kareem (R), T Trey Dishon (R), E Kendall Futrell (R), Bryce Sterk (R).
Reader is as advertised and that's big as the richest free agent in team history. Daniels is a great training camp get off the wire and is the perfect backup for Reader and Atkins. That's three very good NFL tackles and it's hard to find one. But Renell Wren possibly out for the year is a big blow. After Josh Tupou opted out he was their only true nose tackle.
They need some bigger bodies in there in the rotation, but the league has been cleaned out of them. That's why the Bengals made an intriguing move on Tuesday and signed second-year guard Khalil McKenzie. The 6-3, 320-pound McKenzie is a sixth-round pick of the Chiefs in 2018 and has been on practice squads in Kansas City and Seattle, but only on offense. He played defensive tackle at the University of Tennessee and the Bengals saw enough from their reports to list him as a D-tackle.
MLB Josh Bynes (9), OLB Jordan Evans (4), M-OLB Austin Calitro (3), M-OLB Germaine Pratt (2), OLB Brady Sheldon (1), MLB Markus Bailey (R), M-OLB Akeem Davis-Gaither (R), MLB Marcel Spears, Jr., (R), M-OLB Logan Wilson (R)
Completely different room and after seeing them on the field for two weeks they're emboldened with the moves they made. They got smarter with Bynes and faster with the rookies and that seems to have had an impact on Evans and Pratt, returners that have stepped up their games. Davis-Gaither looks to be a guy that can help them in coverage right now as an emerging three-down guy and Wilson is helping already in a couple of different spots.
S Shawn Williams (8), CB Trae Waynes (6), CB Mackensie Alexander (5), S Vonn Bell (5), CB William Jackson III (5), CB LeShaun Sims (5), CB Greg Mabin (4), CB Torry McTyer (4), S Brandon Wilson (4), S Jessie Bates III (3), CB Tony Brown (3), CB Darius Phillips (3), S Maurice Smith (2), S Trayvon Henderson (2), CB Winston Rose (1).
Bell, the former Saints veteran has been a terrific add both on the field and in the locker room, an ideal example of how the off-season blueprint has crackled the way they hoped. The coaches love his take-no-prisoners attitude and communication skills.
With Bates heading into the third year of what has been a solid career, that's a nice safety tandem made even stronger by Shawn Williams' ability to play several different spots in the back seven. Williams and Bell give you two great leaders back there and Bates is on his way. It sounds like Williams (calf), week-to-week, can get back for the opener.
The Bengals have yet to make a roster move with Waynes as he comes off pectoral surgery, but it looks he's out for some games and the derby has been on all camp to see who replaces him in the starting lineup opposite Jackson.
The most visible option looks to be Phillips. Whenever he's been out there this camp he's had his hands on everything. Just like last year in games. They were really happy with the pro experience they added in the depth at this spot and it's being tested as they rotate Phillips with the former Titan Sims in Waynes' spot, among others.
With Alexander, the new slot corner, back home in Florida for family reasons, there will be some new lineups back there.
LS Clark Harris (12), P Kevin Huber (12), K Randy Bullock (9), LS Dan Godsil (1)
Here's a paragraph from that first roster breakdown in June because it looks like it's not changing:
Bullock can become the most accurate kicker in Bengals history this season, his fifth with the team. Huber (35) and Harris (36), the team's old men, can hit some big milestones if they play all 16 games. It would give Huber 190 games, fourth-most in Bengals history behind Ken Riley (207), Reggie Williams (206) and Ken Anderson (192). Harris would finish the season with 184, sixth most and one behind Hall-of-Famer Anthony Munoz.