Tyler Eifert took part in some red-zone production Thursday.
The Bengals offense must like a little privacy. With rain closing the afternoon practice when head coach Marvin Lewis opted to work on the synthetic field in Paul Brown Stadium, quarterback Andy Dalton had his sharpest day of training camp when he hit nine of 12 passes in 11-on-11 that featured efficient red zone work.
In an entertaining workout that also featured backup quarterback AJ McCarron's best day and the arrival of three NFL officials, the defense and special teams also had their moments.
Wide receiver Greg Little caught two TDs from McCarron in a competitive, chippy 7-on-7 drill in the red zone. When Little caught the second, a leaping grab in the left corner over tight coverage by cornerback Adam Jones, the receivers sprinted to greet Little.
A few plays before against Jones' first teamers, Little tight-walked on the back line and jumped up for a touchdown. On his way down he slammed the ball Jimmy Graham style through the goal posts and drew a good-natured penalty flag for a celebration that has been banned.
With projected wide receiver Marvin Jones (hamstring) out for a third straight day, Little stepped up again after making a diving catch for a TD on Tuesday. Because of the Jones' injury, there were moments running back Rex Burkhead went in the slot with the first group between wide receivers A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu.
Burkhead had another busy day lining up as both and in the same red-zone drill caught a ball near the goal line as a receiver.
On two snaps on fourth-and-goal from the 3, the defense won both. The second-team defense collapsed the middle of the first-team pocket to sack Dalton and first-team corner Adam Jones was all over rookie wide receiver Jake Kumerow on the back line of the end zone to thwart McCarron.
Plus, on a two-point conversion attempt, starting left end Carlos Dunlap pierced the backup offensive line to sack quarterback Josh Johnson.
The offense got its way on the other two-point conversion when the right side of the starting line created enough space for running back Giovani Bernard to ease into the end zone. He had to go in standing up because the defense isn't allowed to tackle the ball carrier, but right tackle Andre Smith and right guard Kevin Zeitler gave him plenty of air.
Special teams also got into the act when the Bengals practiced setting up for an end-of-half and end-of-game field goal with no timeouts. They hustled to four straight winners by rookie kicker Tom Obarski from 32, 33, 38, and 42 yards.
Offensive line coach Paul Alexander and Cedric Ogbuehi confer.
CED SAYS:No. 1 pick Cedric Ogbuehi has yet to take a snap as he recovers from a December ACL tear, but he said before Thursday's practice that his rehab is going well enough that he could play in the Sept. 13 opener in Oakland if he's needed.
But he's not. He doesn't have to play with left tackle Andrew Whitworth in place and that's why it is expected Ogbuehi starts the season on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and won't take his first NFL practice snap until October.
"I'll be ready earlier than I come back. There's no rush. The line is set. I'm behind Whit," Ogbuehi said. "I'm far along. I wouldn't want to give a percentage. I don't want to get people too excited. It's a good percentage. It's a high percentage."
Even though he's just rehabbing, the 6-5, 315-pound Ogbuehi has been with the offensive line during practice and is basically watching Whitworth's every move.
"Body control," he said of what he's picked up from watching a guy that has made 132 NFL starts. "Being balanced. You rarely see him in a bad position against the defender."
MOCK CRAFT: Lewis said quarterback Andy Dalton should get about 20-25 snaps in Saturday's Mock Game that is part of the 1:30 p.m. Family Day practice at Paul Brown Stadium. Usually shoulder pads are the order of the day.
Lewis is so unconcerned about the score between the two teams that he left the decision whether or not to keep score up to assistant public relations director P.J. Combs. Showing great knowledge of his head coach, Combs gave an immediate, "No."
Lewis is simply looking to run through a series of situations pitting two teams. It sounds like Dalton will get the most snaps among the four quarterbacks with Lewis thinking Dalton gets 20-25 plays before, "we start to pare it down…You figure (in a game) you get 100 plays, 50 plays a side. It will be around that mark.
Cincinnati Bengals host Training Camp practice at Paul Brown Stadium Practice Fields 08/04/2015
"It's an opportunity for us to get the quarterbacks in situations where they can work through field position. I can orchestrate where the ball starts and go from there. We'll get the quarterbacks in one-minute situations and go from there. It's a good opportunity to really tie up the first week of training camp."
REHAB URGENCY: Before Thursday's practice, Lewis expressed urgency in getting wide receiver Marvin Jones back on the field after he's missed the last two practices with what is believed to be hamstring issues.
"Marvin has to get to practice if Marvin wants to get to play," Lewis said. "He hasn't played in basically a year. He has to get ready to play NFL football….We're not going to play people that can't practice with us. …The passing game is a lot about timing and repetition. It just doesn't happen."
Lewis likes the way WILL backer Vontaze Burfict is rehabbing from his microfracture knee surgery. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has been talking about getting him on the practice field the week of the Aug. 29 preseason game in Chicago in the effort to get him ready for Oakland. Lewis would only say he'll continue to challenge Burfict.
"He's got to keep after it and stay after it," Lewis said. "He's got a certain time frame in mind. I see better than I hear."
TAKEO SIGHTING: Former Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes surfaced at Thursday's practice for Sirius Radio and that got the nostalgia going for local linebacker A.J. Hawk.
"I grew up watching him. All linebackers watched him," said Hawk, who noticed Spikes is still in playing shape 17 years after the Bengals took him with the 13th pick in the draft.
"He still might hold the record for the biggest neck and traps for a linebacker in the league," Hawk said. "He played a long time…When I think of him, I think of him as a Bengal."
Even though only 79 of Spikes' 219 NFL games came in Cincinnati. But it was the most he played for any of his five teams.
It didn't stop him from looking objectively at the AFC North race.
"Honestly, I don't think you can say there is a favorite," Spikes said. "And they've got a chance."
Spikes found a good vibe with the team, one that knows it is dealing with what he calls "The elephant in the room."
"They know they haven't won a playoff game, but they're also like, 'let's focus on getting back there first,'" Spikes said.
He likes the pickup of Hawk, who is playing both SAM and WILL backer
"Who knows what his role will be?" said Spikes, alluding to the return of Pro Bowl WILL backer Vontaze Burfict. "What I do know is that at some point this season they'll be hit by adversity and that's when he'll be needed the most."
Hawk is doing what Spikes did more than a few times in his career: switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Spikes even did it playing for the Bengals in the middle of the 1999 season.
"The biggest thing for him is understand why he's doing it and to get all the reps he can," Spikes said.
PLAYER OF THE DAY: QB Andy Dalton with WR Greg Little close behind.
The first part of practice went off in pretty steady rain but Dalton had a drip-dry red zone session. And maybe the best part of it is he shook off a shaky start. On the first snap he was late throwing to Green on the right pylon and safety Reggie Nelson knocked it down.
But he hit his last five passes of the team drill, starting off when he zipped a touchdown pass to Eifert beating SAM backer Emmanuel Lamur down the seam. He hooked up with Green working against cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick for a quick slant to the right sideline to get a first down and then he found Green walking through the backup secondary for an easy touchdown with a nice throw over the middle.
PLAY OF THE DAY: Cornerback Darqueze Dennard should have picked off McCarron late in the practice on a ball over the middle. But he ended up misjudging the play and jumped too high, where it slid off his fingers.
As he always does when he drops a pick, Dennard immediately dropped himself for 20 pushups. He then planned to go right into the gym and catch 50 balls off the jugs machine.
"I do that anyway," he said. "But if I caught it, I would have caught only 30."
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Spikes on the sparkling new cafeteria adjacent to the locker room:
"The lady asked me when I went in, 'Sir, can I help you find something?' I was like, 'Yeah, everything. This wasn't here 15 years ago."
SLANTS AND SCREENS:
Right end Margus Hunt (back) dressed in pads but didn't work in team drills. Lewis said he won't play in the Aug. 14 preseason opener against the Giants, but he'll play at some point…
The Bengals have a short practice Friday on the PBS practice fields (6-7:30 p.m.) in a workout Lewis said the club figures to do its normal amount of hitting in pads.