Mike Hilton not only brought over from the Steelers a rep as one of the best slot cornerbacks in the NFL, but a chart that keeps track of the secondary's good plays and misdeeds that are administered by the defensive backs themselves.
Free safety Jessie Bates III has run with that idea and has already got a kitty built up for the winners to be paid for by the losers.
"We're tracking missed assignments, bad techniques and loafs. We've got a nice little pot going already," Bates said earlier this week. "That's something that we didn't do years before. And I think Mike Hilton kind of came up with that. I think we're going to switch on and off, who evaluates who has the most loafs and stuff like that. And we'll put a chart together, put a put a little bucket of money together, and hopefully, whoever has the most interceptions gets the pot."
Whoever is evaluating Friday's practice won't see much bad, that's for sure. The defense carried the red zone day, fueled by a secondary that blanketed Joe Burrow's No. 1 receivers. The first offense didn't get into the end zone during 11-on-11 or seven-on-seven as Burrow had a hard time finding anybody open and barely completed a couple of passes in team drills.
The only touchdowns came from backup wide receivers Trent Taylor and Trenton Irwin on throws from Brandon Allen and Kyle Shurmur. Rookie tight end Thaddeus Moss made a nice rolling catch, but he appeared shy of the goal line.
Take your pick and any of the starting defensive backs could have been the star. The coverage was that good. Bates and strong safety Vonn Bell were all over the park. Bates was sticky in the middle of the field and Bell was immense against the Jet sweep because the offense couldn't pick him off.
Neither wanted the coveted Bengals.com Player of the Day. Bates said to give it to Bell. Bell said to give it to Bates. Bates then said to give it to a cornerback and all three who are playing in their first Bengals training camp could have grabbed it even though there were no interceptions.
Trae Waynes outwrestled wide receiver Tee Higgins for position in the end zone and knocked the ball to the ground. With no rush in seven-on-seven, Burrow made sure he bought himself some time by taking off out of the pocket to his left. But rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase couldn't get away from Chidobe Awuzie on the sideline and Burrow overthrew him. Earlier in the practice, Hilton went step for step with slot receiver Tyler Boyd on a deep ball down the seam that was overthrown.
A few things here. One, it was just the third day of practice and the first with shells on the shoulders with the first day of full pads not until Tuesday. Two, these cornerbacks are a major upgrade over last year's group.
And three, clearly the defense is benefitting from the Jessie Bates III Defensive Fundamentals and Football Communication Camp that he helped spearhead back in the spring. Otherwise known as organized team activities (OTAs). Those eight practices are showing up compared to last year's first week of camp when a new unit, much like this one, came in cold.
"(It) did not feel like day one for our group. And I think that's because we were able to get everyone into OTAs. So just being able to talk out stuff that we did talk about during OTAs, I think that definitely translates to camp this year," Bates said. "I brought up the conversation that there should be a different guy evaluating (the chart) every day. So hopefully we can raise that standard and we all have that same kind of mindset of what a loaf is or what a missed assignment is. I think that will play very key."
Bates figures in the first day they had five loafs, plays where a guy didn't give the needed effort on the back side or where ever. But Friday?
"There didn't look like any," Bates said.
Presented by Gatorade, check out some of the best images from the Bengals third training camp practice on July 30, 2021.
PLAYER OF THE DAY: SS Vonn Bell
We went with the guy who seemed to do it all. He worked in the slot on Boyd and got an incompletion. Chase and rookie wide receiver Pooka Williams Jr., couldn't get past him on Jet sweeps. And on the first snap of team, he went even down the left sideline with tight end Drew Sample (C.J. Uzomah had a rest day) and Burrow overthrew him. Bell looks so much more at ease in his second season in the system.
PLAY OF THE DAY: WR Trent Taylor
Taylor, the former 49er looking for a job as a punt returner/slot receiver (Alex Erickson, basically), made a run at Player of the Day. He made a one-handed grab in seven-on-seven that he quickly hauled into his body, but saved his best for last in the team red zone drill. Despite good coverage by safety Brandon Wilson, Taylor took a beauty from backup quarterback Brandon Allen as he raced to the left pylon in the back of the end zone. He stretched out over the line, grabbed it and toe-tapped before rolling through the ground.
That's the way the day went. The only other touchdown came from another wide receiver backup in a roster scramble, Irwin, on almost the exact same play in the exact same spot on a throw from Shurmur, although Irwin had more room.
"He's got your traditional slot characteristics," said offensive coordinator Brian Callahan presciently before practice. "He's got a ton of shiftiness to him, he's quick, he knows how to set up route stems. He's got a veteran presence to him where he understands coverage. He understands how to work that part of the field. How to use leverages. All those things are naturally to him and he's done them at a high level. Injury kind of derailed him in San Francisco but I like what I've seen from Trent so far. He's a really interesting option in that receiver battle."
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Wide receiver Tyler Boyd on his brand of leadership:
"I think its two ways you can show that. A.J. (Green) was a show guy. He wasn't very vocal, but you need a guy like A.J. to bring a team up and motivate guys, even guys that don't think you know them or recognize them, like the walk-on guys. I don't want to say they are star-struck, but kind of not feeling to the point where, 'I want him to come to talk to me. I want him to tell me what I need to do better.' I think Joe (Mixon) and I are show guys and vocal guys that can carry guys and help bring them up and don't let them fall into a sunken place."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Day three of the kicking competition and another good day for fifth-rounder Evan McPherson. And Austin Seibert matched him field goal for field goal, but it feels like he has to decisively knock out McPherson to win the job and it just isn't happening. On Friday, they alternated two field goal tries from 37, 41, 47 and 53 yards. They hit them all. The ball really pops off McPherson's leg. He's had ten yards to spare on the longer ones.
Remember what Boyd and Mixon said the day they were two of the seven players in the unveiling of the new uniforms back in April? These are the new leaders for a new era and the momentum continues.
"First coming into this locker room, it kind of felt so awkward because when you're coming in, the guys you usually hear the most and see and kind of like that's the star. That's the guy that we look up to, none of them are here," Boyd said before Friday's practice. "Like Gio (Bernard), A.J., like Geno (Atkins). It's a completely different team. It's funny. Mixon and I were just talking about how it's so different. We're the leaders (now). We have guys who look at us like, 'Y'all lead us. So, I mean it feels good in a sense because Joe and I, we understand the role and we've been in that role before. So, now to see us (there), it's kind of funny but I mean we still got to ball at the end of the day."
Callahan is extremely upbeat about tight end. Uzomah looked to be getting off his recovering Achilles' on Friday's day off, so he'll most likely be back Saturday. Callahan likes where he sits with his two starters in Uzomah and Drew Sample and if they keep only three tight ends he indicated that is going to be quite a tractor pull.
"Drew and C.J., to me, are exactly what we want from a tight end in the way we run our offense," Callahan said. "They can block. They're physical. They can run routes. They can catch the ball. They can do a lot of different things that tight ends do. They can move off the formation, they can insert like a fullback. There's a lot of different things they can do that we value. There's a lot of versatility that both of them have. And we split them out, we move them around, we motion them, those are good tools to have in our offense and both of them do a great job."
Now comes that third spot.
"The battle in that room is going to be really fun for me to watch as camp goes on between Thad Moss, Mitch Wilcox, Mason Schreck," Callahan said. "Some guys that I think have some exciting potential to fill out the back of that room. And a lot of it is going to come down to special teams as it always does for those end of the roster battles for the backup spots. But we've got three guys that I'm interested to see how they fall as the preseason games go and they get some game action and live reps. I think those guys have a chance to be impactful players for us in a couple different roles."