The Bengals got Back Together with their fans at Paul Brown Stadium for a crowd-pleasing Saturday that had something for everybody, ranging from two 60-yard field goal tries to a couple of Joe Burrow's vintage crazy legs scrambles.
- For those who came to see how Burrow's comeback from reconstructive knee surgery is going, they had to be quite pleased to see him bobbing and weaving like yesteryear, meaning last year, to go with solid 14-for-20 passing in team drills. That featured a red zone touchdown fade to wide receiver Tee Higgins and a hellacious reunion throw to rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase.
- But the Bengals defense still continues to offer tight coverage, making last season's leaky training camp a distant memory. The starting safeties again left their fingerprints all over this practice with book-end plays. Strong safety Vonn Bell got a hand on Burrow's third pass of the day on a roll-out flip and free safety Jessie Bates III knocked away his last pass of the day when he had Chase covered across the middle.
- For what he thinks may be the first time in his 19 seasons, Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons tried a 60-yard field goal in practice. On the final play of the day, he let both kickers try it after fifth-rounder Evan McPherson and veteran Austin Seibert made their four previous tries.
- The estimated crowd of 15,000 was their biggest since they beat Cleveland in the 2019 finale and they ended up doing the same thing Saturday that they did that day. Serenading running back Joe Mixon.
Mixon had a career-high 162 yards that day and on Saturday he brought them to his feet when he followed right tackle Riley Rieff and right guard Xavier Su'a-Filo on a stretch play down the right sideline in 11 on 11.
Remember, they aren't wearing pads yet so it's far from live. But when he made a nifty move at the second level and nobody stopped him before he ran away from linebacker Germaine Pratt, Mixon waved to the fans all the way on his 80-yard sprint to the end zone.
Mixon, a personable crowd favorite, got lifted early but that didn't stop him from donning a Bengals ball cap and high-fiving fans in the front row while chatting all the way.
Head coach Zac Taylor also had to be all smiles. After watching his first team offense struggle for no touchdowns in their first red zone work of training camp on Friday, he was banking on them looking better when he put the ball between the 10 and 5 Saturday.
They did. They got two, featuring the Higgins play. Burrow threw it only where the 6-4 Higgins could get it, Bates had good coverage but Higgins wrenched it away in the left corner.
"Sometimes that's going to happen in my history with the red zone. Some of the details, you've got to coach them up and watch the tape and then go out there and make improvements," Taylor said before Saturday's practice. "We'll do some red zone today and hopefully be better at that. It's really on the unit as a whole. There was probably more incompletions than we want, but you also see the DBs and those linebackers really competing."
They were still competing Saturday. You've got to remember. Chase, who teamed with Burrow for a national title, was doing his first red zone install in two years because he didn't play last season. But it was toughness that made his biggest play of Saturday. Burrow didn't have much room to get the ball between Chase and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie's tight coverage on the sidelines and Chase snatched it out in front and away from Awuzie.
"My best trait is being physical. Being a tough receiver. Making tough catches. I have strong hands so I would say that's my biggest suit," said Chase before doing exactly that in Saturday's practice "I would probably say we never lost (the connection). Just a little communication with me and him if I might mess up and he'll tell me what's going on, tell me how he wants it, tell me what I see on the play so we'll talk about it, correct it and that's how it's always been."
They're still working out the NFL kinks. After all, it's just the fourth practice. Burrow gave him a shot for a bomb down the right sideline and although Bates and cornerback Trae Waynes made nice recoveries, Chase had a step on them but he turned his head around a few times to see it slightly overthrown.
Then in the red zone work, Burrow floated a beauty to the left corner, but Chase couldn't get there in time working against Awuzie on a release that wasn't quick enough.
But believe that they love what they're getting from Chase because of how he works the craft.
"I mean, I'm always working on releases constantly. Troy (Walters) sometimes says I get into a habit and stop doing it, so I actually have to always work on releases," Chase said of his wide receivers coach. "Now, the game is a lot faster. If it speeds me up, I might mess up. I've got to make sure I contain my speed.
PLAYER OF THE DAY: WR Trent Taylor
No one is having a bigger camp than the 5-8, 180-pound Taylor, making a real run at the fifth wide receiver spot as Tyler Boyd's backup in the slot. After 41 games with 79 catches for 9.3-yard average in three season with the 49ers, the 27-year-old Taylor is trying to hook on with a splash.
After laying out for a diving toe-and-tap touchdown pass from back-up quarterback Brandon Allen in Friday's red zone, he added another spectacular one Saturday from Allen. Taylor ran a rub route as Taylor rolled out from the 5 and it turned out to be a race to the pylon. The defense couldn't fight off the rub, Allen led him and as Taylor lunged to catch it he fell on the front right pylon.
Earlier in the day, Burrow read slot corner Mike Hilton leveraging Taylor on the outside of a corner route and Taylor "got inside a little bit. Gave him a little move up at the top," and Taylor made a nice sliding catch.
"I've got to come in and win a job. Being the new guy on the block, I've got to earn everything that's been given to me," Taylor said. "I've got to keep fighting and keep putting up one good day after another."
The other Taylor, Zac, took notice of his play on Friday.
"He's been in this system before so a lot of it sounds similar to him," Zac Taylor said before Trent Taylor's Saturday exploits. "It's allowed him to play fast, because he's done a lot of these concepts before."
PLAY OF THE DAY: WR Tee Higgins
Working inside the ten on the first play of red zone, Burrow wasted no time chucking a fade in the left corner to Higgins, whom had the angle on Bates coming over the middle. Higgins did his best A.J. Green, high-pointing the ball over Bates and somehow keeping his feet in.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Chase on living near Burrow:
"We're not right next to each other. I don't want to be that close to him … I put a couple of my plaques over there for when I didn't have my house yet so I just had a whole bunch of stuff sitting with him… It was picture of me when Thad (Moss) scored, a Bengals picture with signatures from my draft party, another picture and my jersey from my college championship."
Presented by Gatorade, view some of the best fan and action photos from Back Together Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium.
SLANTS AND SCREENS: After McPherson and Seibert traded field goals from 37, 41, 39 and 53 yards, Simmons figured, why not? and put the ball down at the 42 for a 60-yard try.
"They both felt good. They were stretched out," Simmons said. "And they had both made it from 60 in warmups going the other way into a slight wind."
There was no wind going the other way, but both missed it. Seibert looked to be slightly short and wide right. McPherson is the leader in the clubhouse because of his leg strength and he showed why even on his miss. He had the distance, but hooked it left.
Brandon Allen has looked really good this camp. Trent Taylor is catching it from somebody. Before the pylon throw to Taylor, Allen wedged a TD into wide receiver Mike Thomas. Allen has gone from quarantine quarterback to No. 2 and it's a long way. He's finally in the main locker room after spending last season in the locker room reserved for women officials.
"Think about Brandon Allen. We signed him in August as our COVID quarterback. He took no snaps. He stood like 30 feet away from everybody else," Zac Taylor said. "He didn't really throw a ball to a real player on our team from August until late October and then went and started NFL games and played pretty well for what we asked him to do. He was the FEDEX Player of the Week in Week 16. That's really impressive. What you guys are seeing I've always seen from Brandon, a guy who when he's in the rhythm of the reps he really understands the system, the timing. He understands the receivers, and really does a great job as a No. 2 quarterback in this league. I'm not surprised by what I've seen from Brandon."
Tyler Boyd was shaking his head after he slipped Saturday returning a punt. He apparently got a cleat caught and says he's OK. The ironic thing is Boyd may have not been back there if Darius Phillips was available. But Phillips tweaked his knee and couldn't join Boyd, Trent Taylor and rookie Pooka Williams Jr., who, by the way, runs like a rocket.