Players of the Day: LT Jonah Williams and RT D'Ante Smith (as chosen by RB Joe Mixon.)
Joe Burrow took Wednesday afternoon off, but his run game didn't as running back Joe Mixon continues to put last season's foot injury behind him. He looked fast and big while the Bengals continue to install the wide zone that is new offensive line coach Frank Pollack's baby.
It will be recalled that this is the scheme Mixon ran to the AFC rushing title in 2018 on 4.9 yards per carry and he clearly runs like he's got confidence in it.
Told that he had been named the coveted Bengals.com Player of the Day, Mixon said, "Thanks," but said it should go to the tackles getting off the ball. Williams appreciated the compliment, but said he was only one-fifth of a line that was sweeping to the zone.
"The unit worked together well," said offensive coordinator Brian Callahan. "You get a chance to see guys fitted right, see some contact and leverage and all the things that Frank stresses with technique and hand placement. And the hat speed and the rotation and all the things that we want to see from the wide zone. The backs are disciplined in their courses. They're on the pace and they're making the right cuts. I think we're seeing our run game grow. It's by no means there yet. But very, very positive in the first two days."
It was a day of redemption for D'Ante Smith, the intriguing fourth-round project that played only one game at East Carolina. Smith has been forced into the first group with Riley Reiff (ankle) day-to-day and Fred Johnson (quad) nursing a pull. On Monday, Smith had a tough day against savvy vet left edge Sam Hubbard. But before Tuesday's practice, Taylor said he saw a lot of things he liked.
"It's not a bad thing when a guy misses a practice or two because you get a chance to see those young guys step up and what they are capable of and the pressure is on them a little bit, which is good to see," Taylor said. "D'Ante first day in pads gets to block Sam Hubbard for 50 plays or whatever it was, so that's a good "Welcome to the NFL" moment.
"This guy just made $10 million and trying to make sure everyone knows he earned every penny of it, so D'Ante is the one that gets to see that up close and in person so that was a fun battle to see, but you didn't see any panic from him. He didn't win every battle certainly, but you saw he might lose a rep and reset and have a great next rep, and that's what we're asking these young players in particular to do."
Mixon has been quiet the last couple of days after tweaking an ankle. But he showed great burst on Monday when he bolted the length of the field to greet rooking running back Chris Evans with a chest bump after Evans scored a red zone touchdown on a nifty route that allowed him to get big separation down the sidelines on a 15-yard or so play.
On Tuesday, Mixon was nowhere to be found in short-yardage, which is just as well since the running backs were live. He falls into that Sept. 12 category that head coach Zac Taylor outlined Tuesday. He says he's got guys on two tracks. Those he's trying to get ready to play next Friday night in Tampa and those he's getting ready to play in 39 days in the 1 p.m. opener at Paul Brown Stadium against the Vikings. That's Mixon, Burrow and other guys coming off injury such as Trey Hopkins and D.J. Reader.
But on Tuesday Mixon not only got involved from scrimmage during the second day in full pads, he also tore off a couple of nice screen passes. The best one came on the first play of the last period and featured guards Michael Jordan and Jackson Carman getting out in front.
DEFENSE AGAIN: For the first time this camp, Taylor devised a scrimmage between the offense and the defense with one of his graduate level formulas. But it was pretty clear the defense won another day, especially when the offense did pushups for their last act of practice.
(Even with free safety Jessie Bates III getting a rest day.)
The defense treated Brandon Allen and Kyle Shurmur as rudely as they have Burrow. Slot cornerback Mike Hilton has declared war on the screen pass and got in the backfield twice to foul two receiver screens to Tee Higgins. Hilton's pressure also forced an interception by cornerback Tony Brown, the third straight day the defense has come up with a pick and the first by a defensive back. Safety Ricardo Allen also continues to be a pest on the screens and wrapped up slippery rookie slot receiver Pooka Williams, Jr. on one. the day after he had an interception. And one day after his pick, right edge Trey Hendrickson got his hand on another ball when he spiked a screen pass about four yards.
The first short yardage physicality of the year was predictability back and forth. It's an offensive drill since the offense gets two shots to get a yard and they got it in the five or so sets of third and fourth down.
A few takeaways: The first and second interior offensive line got good push, linebackers Logan Wilson and Markus Bailey came downhill in a hurry, bubble defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie was very active, fourth-round pick Tyler Shelvin is a very large 350-pound man you can't budge with one guy.
PLAY OF THE DAY: WR Ja'Marr Chase
After wide receivers coach Troy Walters watched first-round pick Ja'Marr Chase struggle during Monday's practice (a drop on the first snap of team, unable to get separation from cornerback Chidobe Awuzie on a deep sideline ball, a wrong page route with Burrow), he made sure he walked off the field and talked with his visibly frustrated fifth pick in the draft.
"He wants to be perfect," said Walters, who also watched Chase named the best college receiver in the country at LSU on the 20th anniversary of when he got it at Stanford. "When he messes up, he takes it personally, which is great. He's going to make more plays than he's going to make mistakes."
Chase responded, although he did drop the first pass of team again. But he came back and made the kind of play on a deep ball that they envisioned when they drafted him. Brandon Allen rolled out on play-action and didn't get off a great deep throw. Awuzie had him again, but Chase looked back and saw it was short and fluttering. He came back to the ball while out-fighting Awuzie and then launched his 41-yard vertical to snatch it out of the sky. As he got off the ground, he defiantly spun the ball on the ground.
"That's why we drafted him. To be a playmaker down the field," Walters said. "He's a rookie and he hasn't played in over a year. He's getting used to the speed, the pro's life. The playbook. We keep installing things, the defense keeps installing things.
"We put a lot on him and he's been great. Not a lot of mental errors. He just has to get used to different techniques and different coverages guys are going to play."
Walters knows the deal. Chase is coming in after one of the greatest college seasons ever, there are other big-time receivers like Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd here and there are those days he just won't have the targets or the easy catches.
Chase must have been listening on Monday's walk off.
"He's going to make more plays than he's going to make mistakes," Walters said.
Boyd, who has a great deal of respect for the man Walters replaced this season, Bob Bicknell, had an interesting take on Walters Tuesday.
"I can't really compare him to Bob, but one thing I can say is a lot more guys can relate to him because he actually played the game and understands it," said Boyd of Walters' eight-year run as an NFL backup. "He didn't put a lot of numbers up in his time, Bob really hasn't played receiver. He coached it. Not saying he was a bad coach and Troy is a good coach, but I think you can relate more because he can show you. He's done it before. Guys tend to really lock in more to the details when he coaches."
Boyd also weighed in on Chase's first week. He doesn't need to be a highlight film all the time, he urged.
"The one thing he needs to do is just stay in the playbook and know his assignment right now," Boyd said. "It's not really about him making oooh plays and spectacular catches and stuff like that. As long as he knows his assignments and little details he will make plays. That's why we got him."
Back to the grind. Check out some of the top images from day 7 of Bengals Training Camp 2021, presented by Gatorade.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Head coach Zac Taylor on his ability to sleep as Bengaldom frets about his offense:
"I know what the offense is going to be capable of, especially in the passing game. That's why I like what I'm seeing from this team, because I know what we're going to be and we've got plenty of time to get there. That's what helps me sleep at night, because I know it's coming. I know what the perception is as people watch, but we're going to get there and it's going to be fun to watch."