Bengals head coach Zac Taylor's training camp ended last week and since the Bengals are not playing their third and final preseason game until next Sunday (4 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) against Miami at Paul Brown Stadium, it gives Taylor the chance to for prepare his team like he would for a Sunday home game during the regular season.
So the practices this Sunday and Monday are going to be spare before Tuesday's off day. Then the heavy work comes Wednesday and Thursday, followed by Friday's early light session and Saturday's walk-through.
So since Wednesday is the first day of the work week, that's when Taylor is going to reveal if quarterback Joe Burrow is going to play Sunday and how much the starters are going to play. Although he didn't say if Burrow and center Trey Hopkins are going to play against the Dolphins, he pronounced what everyone knew and that is their ACL rehabs are sufficient enough to start the season in the Sept. 12 opener at PBS against the Vikings.
"Nothing to see from them. They've shown us enough to know that they're going to be ready to play," Taylor said before Sunday's practice. "It's just a matter of what do we want to do? Do we want to put those guys out there in this game in a preseason game or just give them more rest and get them ready for the Minnesota game? We'll take a couple more days before we make that decision since we've got a week here before that game. But again, they've shown me everything on their end that they're capable and ready to go. It's just up to coaches to make that decision."
Taylor says he'll consult ownership and director of player personnel Duke Tobin on Burrow for Sunday, but he says in the end it's his call how he deploys his men. He also may take Wednesday to confirm or deny a report that rookie edge Joseph Ossai is feared lost for the year with torn meniscus in the knee. He did say it was a knee issue and not the wrist injury that drove the third-rounder out of his NFL debut in Tampa Bay last week after 22 snaps and a monstrous one sack and five pressures.
On Sunday Taylor said he didn't have enough information to comment, but the Noah Spence signing did the talking. Spence a fifth-year edge who is on his fourth team since Tampa Bay took him in the second round in 2016, is recovering from his own ACL tear that wiped out his 2020 season.
Spence, cut but by the Saints six days ago, did work on Sunday. Rookie edge Cam Sample did not after hurting his shoulder Friday night in Washington, but Taylor said it was day-to-day and indicated he'd be back by Wednesday.
And maybe the best news of the day is edge Khalid Kareem returned to the field for the first time in about two weeks. He had flashed before being shelved with a shoulder issue.
PLAY OF THE DAY: LB Germaine Pratt and FS Jessie Bates III
Bates got the interception of Burrow in 11-on-11, but it was Pratt that made it possible.
And not only that, when things got chippy Sunday it was Pratt that carried the flag for the defense in a shoving match with the offense's emotional leader, Joe Mixon.
Remember when Pratt arrived out of North Carolina State in the third round in 2019? The word was he was a smart, physical player adept against the run who would need to adjust to the pass game. Well, here he was Sunday tracking tight end C.J. Uzomah going quickly to the post down the seam.
"Cover three. Post pass. He wants to throw that quick," Pratt said. "I cut underneath it. I wanted to make him throw it higher. He had to put some air under it. That allowed Jessie to make a play over the top and Jessie does what he does best."
With Pratt steering Uzomah down field and Burrow needing to arch it over them, Bates was perched right behind them to swallow it up for the interception. Pratt wanted to give Bates the Play of the Day by himself and Bengals.com said it would, but in the end the website had to give it to them both.
Everybody is talking about how big the defensive line is playing, how the cornerbacks have covered like Vegas, how Bates and Von Bell are one of the league's top safety tandems. But the linebackers have drawn a quiet oohh-what-do-we-have-here? from the coaches. Pratt took note of the work on Friday night in Washington, when the first team's 16 snaps gave FitzMagic what they call Down East "Crabs in ice water."
Sophomore Markus Bailey defended two passes, middle linebacker Logan Wilson ripped the ball out for a turnover and Akeem Davis-Gaither is running to the ball.
"The linebackers are getting better each and every day," Pratt said. "You see Markus almost had two interceptions in one game. When have you had that? It's been a long time since a linebacker's done that. Logan popped it out first. He's doing what he does best. Getting the ball out. That's what we need more. More turnovers. Hands on the ball."
Don't forget Pratt. He came downhill twice for tackles in last week's preseason opener in Tampa, stoning the Super Bowl champions' run game on the first six plays and sending a tart message to the rest of the league that's it not business as usual for what was once a beleaguered run defense.
"I haven't touched anybody yet," Pratt said modestly. "The front did. They've been very active."
The funny thing about Sunday's play is it wasn't all that different from Washington's first snap, when tight end Logan Thomas was left wide open in the flat for a 28-yard gain. It wasn't the same formation and Pratt was playing a different spot.
"I should have taken the tight end. My eyes were in the backfield," said Pratt, who hasn't been making mistakes like that very often. Linebackers coach Al Golden said before the opener that Pratt was arguably his most improved player.
And there was the dustup with Mixon, but the guys jumped in to stop it pretty quickly. Davis-Gaither was standing in front of Pratt and rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase stayed in front of Mixon in the middle of a bemused gathering.
That was it. The irony is it was a pretty placid camp and then the biggest thing – you can't even call it a skirmish - came in the first practice after camp.
PLAYER OF THE DAY: SS Von Bell
He just keeps doing it in practices and games with two more interceptions. He's such a smart, committed guy that he's flat out dangerous in the second year with the same playbook.
In the first team drill he lurked on a rollout and timed the pick. Then in seven-on-seven he was covering the back line of the end zone when Chase basically dropped a Burrow beauty in Bell's arms and he just doesn't let go of chances.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
LB Germaine Pratt on RB Joe Mixon:
"It's football. He's a fiery guy. He's one of the guys bringing the juice every day in the locker room for our team. Just running backs and line backers. It's just football."
SPENCE KNOWS NEW TURF: The 6-2, 250-pound Spence worked out for the Bengals three days after he got cut by the Saints and then returned to New Orleans to get his clothes and get back here by Sunday's practice.
But despite the quick turnaround, he knows a lot of his teammates. He's familiar with the Ohio State guys because he was a Buckeye before he transferred to Eastern Kentucky. And even though he never played for the Saints, he calls edge Trey Hendrickson "my boy," from their time together in the Big Easy. And Bengals senior defensive assistant Mark Duffner was the Bucs linebackers coach when they took Spence in the second round in 2016.
That was Spence's big year, getting 5.5 of his 7.5 career sacks. When Duffner was the Bucs defensive coordinator for the last part of the 2018 season, he played him more than the other regime but Spence had just 45 snaps in a season he was coming back from shoulder problems.
But Duffner believes Spence is a guy that could help them rush the quarterback.
"Good athlete. He's got some suddenness to him," Duffner said. "He's a competitive guy. He wants to learn. Part of his strengths has been rushing the quarterback."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Realizing how Chase is no doubt still bruised from dropping three straight third-down passes from Brandon Allen Friday night, Burrow immediately greeted Chase back in the huddle with an encouraging knock on the helmet after he dropped the ball into Bell's hands.
Before practice, Taylor emphasized that Chase is still a rookie even if he is the fifth pick in the draft.
"I don't think he's short on confidence. That's a good thing. Guys are building him up. Just talking to (Tyler Boyd) and all these guys, these guys all struggled with coming in as a rookie," Taylor said. "The expectations are so high that you expect him to be a star right out the gate. But it takes work. You've got put in the work. That consistency comes over time and by no means are we down on Ja'Marr. He's just going through some of the things rookies go through in training camp and we expect him to improve over the course of this week."
Hopkins says he's not lobbying to play Sunday. Burrow is, but Hopkins thinks they'll both be all right on Sept. 12 no matter what.
"I think we have a pretty good relationship with that just off off what we were able to do last year," Hopkins said. "And we are still getting those reps in practice. The thing that changes in the game. You are on the stage, you got the big lights going on and all that but neither one of us are on our first snaps in the NFL. I don't expect either of us to have those kind of issues be a problem."
Undrafted rookie running back Pooka Williams, Jr., who missed the opener with what is believed to be a hamstring pull and took three snaps on Friday, didn't work on Sunday.