Bengals head coach Zac Taylor interspersed Friday's practice with some one-on-ones staged in front of the entire team and got three pretty good reps that includes the Bengals.com Play of the Day and sums up the defense's dominance of training camp.
The first one was a rookie show with third-round edge Joseph Ossai lined up against fourth-round tackle D'Ante Smith and Ossai used his quickness to shoot past Smith's outside.
(It should be noted in the offensive line's post-practice period that line coach Frank Pollack spent time working with Smith on getting back into his pass set.)
Taylor picked out practice squad veteran wide receiver Trenton Irwin to go against undrafted rookie cornerback Antonio Phillips one-on-one from the 10-yard line and got a touchdown pass from Kyle Shurmur. Phillips, out of Ball State, got his hands all over Irwin, but Irwin won the leverage battle when he got away from Phillips laterally and Shurmur hit him quickly as Irwin ran to his left.
PLAY OF THE DAY: MLB Logan Wilson
Wilson, the second-year linebacker taking over in the middle this year, has been leading a defense resurgence these last nine days. It was symbolized when Taylor matched him up at the 10 with rookie running back Chris Evans, the sixth-rounder from Michigan who has caught everything but heck this camp.
Evans ran a terrific slant-and-go and Wilson plastered him as he eyed the pylon. Shurmur led Evans beautifully, just putting it over Wilson's fingertips and Evans went up and got it. He had it. It looked like six. But he lost it while they tumbled to the ground as Wilson pushed it out of there.
"Slant-and-go. I didn't know what he was going to run, but that's one of the tougher routes to defend," Wilson said. "That was the route that I kind of had in my mind. For down on the goal line anyway. You have to finish. You have to finish all the way through. I just got it out."
The defense has been stopping the defense all camp. Friday was no exception. The first offense had more false starts (four) than completions (two) in team.
"We've been getting the ball out. It's all about the ball, any way we can affect the ball," Wilson said. "An interception, PBUs, fumbles all that stuff."
Wilson says the defense has a couple of things going for them. Continuity in the scheme along with the addition of sage secondary veterans from playoff teams in slot cornerback Mike Hilton (Pittsburgh) and backup safety Ricardo Allen (Atlanta).
"The guys just have more confidence. Everyone has a year in the system," Wilson said. "They know what they're doing … Rico has played in the NFL for (seven) years and now to have another veteran that has been around that has seen so many plays is helpful. Mike is a very good blitzer and we can use him in some different ways."
Look at Wilson, a third-round pick from Wyoming, and you see the Bengals defense. Confidently breaking up plays and sticking together from the middle out.
"That's the way defense is. You have to feed off each other," Wilson said. "Somebody makes a play and you hope it's like a snowball.
"I'm just reacting instead of thinking," said Wilson of the difference between this year and last for him. "I know what I need to do. I know what I need to do fit and what to do verse certain routes in coverage. That's the biggest thing. Just reaction."
PLAYER OF THE DAY: K Evan McPherson.
The fifth-rounder from Florida added another stripe to his shoe in his training camp battle with Austin Seibert when he made three field goals from 50 and beyond while Seibert missed one. It's the third time McPherson has been perfect and Seibert hasn't.
But even though they were alternating kicks Friday, McPherson didn't know Seibert missed from 50 until Seibert himself told him as they were walking off the field at the end of practice.
"That goes back to college. I don't watch the other guy kick," McPherson said. "I don't know what he's doing. I'm just kind of focused on my kicks. I turn to the side, do some dry swings, think about the next kick. I guess there is reaction from guys on the field or in the stands, but I'm not looking for it."
McPherson and Seibert, a fifth-rounder himself from two years ago, have an easy relationship despite the matchup and McPherson says his foe is probably a huge reason he's come out sharp.
"He's obviously the best kicker I've gone against and competition brings out the best in you," McPherson said.
As usual, McPherson had plenty to spare, even on the 53- and 54-yarders. Seibert, who hasn't exactly been chopped liver in this camp, also made the long ones, as well as the 45-yarder, but he missed from 50. McPherson knew he "hit the ball pretty solid," on Friday. Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons has given him some advice.
"Coach Simmons has preached it. I have enough leg for maybe 60 plus," McPherson said. "Go 75 percent and just concentrating on being smooth and it can go in from 54, 55, and it will go in. I'm just trying to be smooth and not over stride."
McPherson just turned 22 when he reported for camp last month. His snapper, Clark Harris (37), and holder, Kevin Huber (36), are the two oldest on the team. But the age gap hasn't stopped Huber, the Cincinnati native, from helping him out. He helped find McPherson an apartment and an engagement ring for when he popped the question last month.
"Those two guys have been great," McPherson said. "They've helped me on and off the field."
QUOTE OF THE DAY
RB Joe Mixon on being an "infectious leader:"
"I feel like they rally around me. They make plays. It has to start with me. I remember when I start fast and going hard and playing the game how it should be played, them boys follow."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Backup safety Ricardo Allen, a former Super Bowl Falcons captain, signed on with his old college coach back in March. Allen couldn't resist when Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo traveled to Daytona Beach, Fla., to recruit him when he was on the road for Purdue.
But this time around, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow might have been the bigger sell. Now that he's worked against him, Allen says he sees things in Burrow that remind him of Matt Ryan, perennially one of the league's top quarterbacks.
"When I'm watching his confidence when he has a lot of moving pieces going on," Allen said. "Because they do a lot of motioning and shifting like that and it seems like he's able to get them in a good play in the best situation. You can tell sometimes he has a big tool box of plays to go where he notices a coverage early, he can check the play and get them into favorable matchups. He does that really well.
"The balls he throws sometimes to the middle of the field, he's got a good rope on it. There aren't too many quarterbacks that can lift the ball up and make it drop. Some of them just keep it on the same trajectory. He actually knows how to switch it up. The small things. Put it over the linebacker, make sure you get it down before the safety gets a hit on his players. Matt is really good at it. You'll see (Tom) Brady do it, too." …
Burrow and his offense is still trying to find its footing. After Thursday's off day, the offense came out and false started twice before the first snap and then Burrow and rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase couldn't connect on a slant that was well covered by cornerback Chidobe Awuzie.
Burrow had wide receiver Tee Higgins open on a well-thrown deep ball but Higgins couldn't haul it in. Burrow then took a shot at Chase over the middle, but it was slightly behind him and it went incomplete.
And the defense isn't giving an inch. They couldn't survive center Trey Hopkins' low snap because edge Sam Hubbard was right in Burrow's face. There were also back-to-back snaps Burrow held it because of good coverage …
Right tackle Riley Reiff (ankle) was back in the lineup Friday. Reiff, who played at Iowa and lives in the Dakotas, had a great line when asked if Cincinnati seems like a nice Midwest fit for him.
"I'm here for football. I mean, yeah. This is my life. Right?" asked Reiff, pointing to the field in Paul Brown Stadium.