Giovani Bernard chats with former Pro Bowl running back James Brooks.
How good are the Bengals cornerbacks playing?
It was only the fourth practice, but it makes you think back to 2013, when they finished second in NFL defensive passer rating behind only the Super Bowl champion Seahawks.
Dre Kirkpatrick, installed as the starter in front of eight-year starter Leon Hall despite just five NFL starts, continued his hot play Tuesday with an interception in 11-on-11 against A.J. Green and a tipped ball on a two-point conversion.
But Hall and the rest of the cornerbacks aren't going anywhere. Hall, a first-round pick in 2007, is playing his old slot position as well as a new spot at safety in the nickel package.
Darqueze Dennard, the youngest first-rounder, is "80 percent better,' than last year's rookie year, according to cornerbacks coach Vance Joseph. Adam Jones, the other starter and oldest first-rounder from the 2005 draft who has been all over the place this spring and summer, had an alert interception Tuesday when he swiped the ball juggled by wide receiver Greg Little as he ran step for step with him down the sideline.
"If all four corners are the best,' Joseph said, "they'll play."
He points out that last season the Bengals played 75 percent of their snaps in the nickel package, a pass defense that typically features at least three cornerbacks and sometimes four.
"First and second down we play a lot of three wides," Joseph said. "If you can play Leon as a safety, we can play our base calls against the big wides and also play our nickel calls. Having Leon at safety, it's a great, great deal for us to have some variety in our calls on first down."
Kirkpatrick got good position on Green on a pick that was generally attributed to good coverage instead of a poor throw. Quarterback Andy Dalton maybe should have been advised to go elsewhere since the Bengals' man-free defense took away the post and Kirkpatrick overplayed the other way.
"I just got in his lower hip…and he's got to go through me to get the ball. I was in great position," Kirkpatrick said.
Maybe what happened right after the play was more significant. Kirkpatrick got called off the field and Dennard went in on the next play.
"Coach wants us to get the pick, finish through the line take the next play off and come back the next play ready to work,' Kirkpatrick said.
Joseph sees plenty of work for his four. At 30, Hall can stand to have his snaps split up. After an All-Pro season returning the ball, Jones is going to get some third downs off.
"Adam Jones is the best returner in the game. He has to return for us," Joseph said. "Maybe Quez can play that series. Just to keep guys fresh. Play (Hall) less snaps and he can play better down the stretch."
JB AND GIO: There was a nice meeting of then and now on the sidelines when running back Giovani Bernard chatted with former Bengals running back James Brooks, a man he had heard about here and there because of their similarities.
But the 5-9 Bernard really knew nothing about the 5-10 Brooks until Tuesday when Eric Ball, the Bengals director of player relations, introduced them and gave Bernard the lowdown on his former teammate.
"The first thing I noticed is that he's not that tall of a guy. I kind of liked that,' Bernard said. "I got to talking to him and he's a really nice guy. He had some good things to say about desire. I enjoyed talking to him. Nice dude."
It's hard to believe, but by the time Bernard was born in November of 1991, Brooks was done in Cincinnati. It was his last year as a Bengal, but he was shelved in October and finished his career the next year in Cleveland and Tampa Bay with Bill Belichick and Sam Wyche, respectively.
Cincinnati Bengals host Training Camp practice at Paul Brown Stadium Practice Fields 08/04/2015
Brooks had already piled up a franchise-best 6,447 rushing yards, surpassed only by Corey Dillon, and Brooks' 27 touchdown catches are still the most by a Bengals running back as he became Wyche's matchup nightmare.
Some of the camp buzz is surrounding putting Bernard, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's X factor, and 235-pound Jeremy Hill in the same backfield, much like Wyche did with Brooks and Ickey Woods in the Super Bowl year of 1988 when Woods racked up 1,066 yards and Brooks came within 69 yards of 1,000 while catching 29 balls.
Brooks thinks it's a good idea, but only if both block.
"I played every down but fourth," Brooks said. "I always blocked. Blocking was a part of what I did because of who I played with (at Auburn) in Joe Cribbs and William Andrews. I lead blocked all throughout my career. Ickey and I understood we were going to help the team and it made sense."
Bernard and Hill have been saying the same things. Like Woods, Hill ripped off a 1,000-yard rookie year but Brooks says teams now have more tape on him.
"You always have to keep getting better," Brooks said. "If he does that, he'll be fine. Unfortunately, Ickey didn't train hard enough all (offseason) except when he came back. That's the downfall."
Until Ball told him, Bernard didn't know that Brooks and Woods played only one full season together. Woods tore his ACL in the second game of 1989 and didn't come back until halfway through the 1990 season before he tore his other ACL in the first few days of the 1991 training camp.
Like the rest of Bengaldom, Brooks is intrigued by the thought of both of them in the same backfield 27 years later.
"Hill is a little faster than Ickey," Brooks said. "I'm a little faster than Gio. It's never easy to block, but I think if both of them put their mind to it I think both will do very well."
Rookie left tackle Jake Fisher thought he made improvement Tuesday.
LINE SET: There was more greatness Tuesday. Hall of Fame left tackle Anthony Munoz, prepping for his role as the club' s preseason TV analyst, scouted practice with his old linemate, Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham.
As the camp has unfolded, there is a bit of a concern about depth on their old offensive line. The first five are good to go. Rookie Jake Fisher, penciled in to be the first man off the bench, is trying to make the transition from Oregon's spread defense, and backup guard Trey Hopkins, who missed all last season with a broken leg, is also trying to learn to back up center.
But Fisher looked like he had a better day Tuesday than he did Sunday and Monday and he says he got a boost when offensive line coach Paul Alexander pulled him aside after Sunday's practice and told him he was playing better at this stage in his career than some tackles who went on to have great careers with the Bengals.
Fisher got plenty of exposure at left tackle because Andrew Whitworth, along with right tackle Andre Smith, didn't work Tuesday, and he responded. The offense and defense had give and take in the red zone and goal-line situations and it looked like Fisher kept Dalton's blind—side pretty clean.
"It was definitely better today and it's getting better every day,' Fisher said. "The more you do it, the more you hopefully improve."
The camp has been typical in the sense that the defense is head of the offense, but the backup offensive line pay has been a bit spotty
Yet Whitworth says it's wrong to jump to conclusions at this point in the season.
"The first three or four days, you just look at physics and anatomy and it's a lot easier to explode and go forward than to do the opposite," Whitworth said. "Day two, three, four, it's a lot easier to attack than it is to protect. A week in, we'll see. A lot of these kids, they're putting on pads for the first time at the NFL level and going against an NFL defensive end or an NFL defensive tackle for the first time. There's an adjustment period."
Plus, Whitworth says, it's not exactly like they're going against an expansion team's D-line.
"The way we rotate in practice, they go against the backups and the 3s," he said. "All four of those guys are great players who have played a lot of football. When you line up our young linemen with a line that's played a ton of football, it's not going to look real pretty all the time."
MORE PAC AND A.J.: The practice duels between Green and Adam Jones are becoming legendary. Dalton went to Green on the first two-point conversion Tuesday and it looked like a fade that went incomplete. Green was complaining about interference before he hit the ground and Jones was complaining about Green pushing off. The debate lurched through the playing and coaching ranks even as the three other two-point plays were run unsuccessfully and beyond.
"What did you see?" Green asked someone an hour later.
Vance Joseph just shrugged.
"What I call it is two great competitors going at it," Joseph said. "It's awesome going against A.J. every day. The quick feet, the ball skills, the separation. It's awesome for us. Call it great competition."
Tyler Kroft (81) one-handed the Play of the Day.
PLAY OF THE DAY: The Bengals were semi live (the running back couldn't be tackled) in the scoring zones for the first time in pads and rookie Tyler Kroft made a superb TD catch running a corner route in the red zone on middle linebacker Vincent Rey. Kroft, the third-rounder from Rutgers, launched himself toward a Josh Johnson pass and while leaping in the air snagged it one-handed. Close second was Little's all-out dive of a McCarron throw into the end zone, although Lapham thought the ground helped him catch it and it would have been overruled.
PLAYER OF THE DAY: CB Dre Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick stepped in front of Green for an interception in 11-on-11 and on the second two-point try, he batted away McCarron's pass to wide receiver Denarius Moore.
"I should have picked it," Kirkpatrick said. "I didn't want to lead with the wrong hand or misjudge the ball and so he'd catch the ball."
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Whitworth on how defensive tackle Geno Atkins s playing nearly two years after his ACL:
"It's hard to even explain to people what I felt like in '13 (with a patella injury) to what I feel like now. It's not even in the same stratosphere. Yeah, you can do a squat, but as far as explosion, change of direction, honestly the way you feel. 'Hey, it's a little weak. 'It's different the first time you do it. I can imagine last year some of that was how much do I trust it. Now it seems like he's not even thinking about it. He's just playing football. He looks exceptional. (His explosion) is back, if not better."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: After stopping the first two two-point conversions, the defense also stopped the last two. Dennard got his hand on a McCarron pass and on the last try rookie free-agent defensive tackle DeShawn Williams of Clemson, guy that has really flashed, chased down McCarron's swing pass to running back Cedric Peerman and stopped him…
The offense punched in three straight touchdowns from three yards out with their goal-line package, the last coming off a swing pass that running back Jeremy Hill cut back inside…
Dalton made some good throws, one a nice touchdown to tight end Tyler Eifert in goal line. He also threw a couple balls to running back Rex Burkhead working out of the slot that could have been caught and Eifert juggled a red-zone toss across the middle…
For the second straight day, wide receiver Marvin Jones (hamstring) sat out. Right end Margus Hunt (back) came off the physically unable to perform list quicker than he thought, but he just went through individual drills on Tuesday. Whitworth and right tackle Andre Smith got veterans' days off with the Bengals looking at an off day Wednesday and don't practice again until 3 p.m. Thursday and were replaced by Fisher and veteran Eric Winston, respectively.
Linebacker Marquis Flowers (leg) and wide receiver Onterio McCalebb (knee) also sat out while right end Wallace Gilberry (hamstring) returned.