With no pre-season games one of the major questions is how can the Bengals determine good special teams play without a live kicking game. When Zac Taylor devoted most of Thursday's padded practice to special teams, resourceful long-time coordinator Darrin Simmons gave his answer.
He actually went live on punt and punt return team, the vice drills with one gunner trying to split two blockers to cover a punt and one-on-one downfield blocking and covering by interior players starting with the snap.
"We've done that before when we scrimmaged other teams," said Simmons, so the last time they did that was four years ago against the Vikings.
And although he didn't allow tackling on kick cover, he deployed cones to form alleys and had two "tacklers," running downfield about 20 yards to hem in the ball carrier after they moved off two "blockers." They didn't tackle, but got hands on the ball carrier.
"On the kickoff, you're looking for proper leverage in relation to the ball, being in balance, movement, knowing the angles and where to go," Simmons said.
So he's got that on tape and he'll get more from Sunday's scrimmage.
Linebacker Logan Wilson, the third-round pick, is supposed be one of Simmons' main players and looked the part Thursday. He dropped Alex Erickson in his tracks on one punt return.
ROLL CALL: Running back Joe Mixon, suffering migraines, according to a report, missed his second straight practice on Thursday. Left end Carlos Dunlap, who was on the rehab field Wednesday, was not on the field and has yet to practice this week. Backup quarterback Ryan Finley was out for the second straight day with an undetermined illness.
Defensive tackle Geno Atkins returned and left guard Michael Jordan didn't following the birth of his child on Tuesday. That made for more offensive line wrinkles with rookie back-up left tackle Hakeem Adeniji moving to left guard to start the day.
Mixon's agent and the Bengals are in talks for a contract extension and the media has speculated his absence is related. Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan was asked on Thursday if the negotiations have impacted him.
"Hard for for me to say. Everything when he's been around when he's been in the building has been great. I've had no problems," Callahan said. "He's been on top of it. He's been at practice. The system is not new to him so he know what to do and how to do it. His contract business is his business and guys handle those things a lot of different ways. It doesn't have much effect on me. I don't negotiate those deals nor do I have much input how and when they get done. I coach football and he plays and that's how our relationship is. What he's been when he's here he's been fine, no problems."
TATER TOTS: If you don't think the NFL is a coach's league, for the umpteenth time here is another example.
And we're not criticizing former Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis for answering a question why he wasn't playing rookie wide receiver Auden Tate back in 2018 with, "You don't win with practice squad players."
He was right more often than he was wrong, but the point is when Lewis left after that season, it gave Tate the proverbial lease on life. Happens all the time around the league. Wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell was a holdover and thought that Callahan, the new offensive coordinator, should see a cutup of Tate that Bicknell made, which is merely video clips that Callahan could click on his laptop.
"He gave me a cutup of a bunch of the things (Tate) had done in practice over the course of the year," Callahan recalled in a media Zoom Thursday. "Just so I had a familiarity of who he was prior to just getting to know everyone on the roster at that point. I saw a lot of things I liked. Mainly he was 6-5, 225 pounds.
"He's got great, strong hands. He made some contested catches even in those practice clips he showed me. I was very optimistic about his ability and he got to play a whole lot with the injuries we had last year. He proved he has a role and he has a lot of value in our receiver room."
Every Cincy kid knows the story. A.J. Green and John Ross went down last year and Tate jumped in with a leaping-and-leaning stunning catch radius that yielded 40 catches at 14.4 yards per pop, quietly the most yards per catch by a Bengals receiver with at least 40 catches not Green since Jerome Simpson's 14.5 in 2011. And along with Burrow has owned this training camp.
But it wouldn't have happened without a brand new set of eyes.
PRICE HAS BEEN RIGHT AND GOOD: Callahan had a lot of nice things to say about back-up offensive lineman Billy Price. The last couple of days, especially after an injury to rookie center Josh Knipfel, Price has been working at all three interior spots. Center with the backups and rotating in at some guard with the starters.
"Billy came back a little heavier, a little stronger, stouter and he's had a good camp for himself," Callahan said. "He's played a lot of guard. He's played a little more center the last couple of days with Knipfel out and he's done a good job. He seems more comfortable. He seems more relaxed in the scheme. Knows what to do. I feel a lot better about his execution this camp than I did a year ago."