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Camp Report: Defense Cranks Up The Pressure


Just around the bend from where Jimmy Buffett's Parrot Heads gather every summer, his hit "It's Five O'clock Somewhere," that he twanged with Alan Jackson poured out of the speakers on the Paul Brown Stadium practice field near the end of Monday's practice.

It was a third-down pressure period and new Bengals head coach Zac Taylor wanted to get his offense ready for some semblance of the noise they'll face in Saturday's pre-season opener (8 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in Kansas City. So he told them to crank the music and out came Buffett because it was country's turn for the warm-up music on this training camp Monday.

But as happened all day, it was the defense that turned up the pressure on every quarterback that took a snap and by the end of it, 5:05 p.m., to be exact, Taylor looked like he could use a relaxer.

"Disappointing day offensively," Taylor said. "I am certain that we'll pick it up tomorrow and rebound and have a nice practice. I told them it's our last full-padded practice before we go play the game. So we need both sides to step up. The whole units come together. I don't care if its ones, twos, I don't care but we have to look sharper than we did today.

"We had some crowd noise in some third-down situations, so we got to use to our silent cadence. We just have to make sure we have some great urgency across the board. The receivers getting lined up in motion, that means linemen making their calls, that means the quarterback getting up and getting everyone set."

Quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Ryan Finley were having pretty good days, but they hit about only half their passes in the rush period as the defensive line swarmed. Dalton finished 14 of 22 overall in the team drills with the big surprise the rookie Finley taking the bulk of the second-team snaps after pretty much watching Jeff Driskel in the previous six practices.

Finley, who has been trying to get settled since the Bengals traded up in the fourth round to get him, responded well in his first extended action against the veterans in a team setting. He showed why the Bengals view him as a highly intelligent prospect when he decisively hit his first five passes. He also showed why he needs reps to get acclimated to the physical part of the league when the pressure took his final numbers down to 13 of 20, according to Bengals radio voice Dan Hoard.

He hit a nice pass to rookie tight Drew Sample under the gun and found rookie receiver Damion Willis over the middle. But he also threw one away and threw behind wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Alex Erickson under the gun.

"He does some good things. As any rookie would go. It's a challenge to pick up a pretty big play book right off the bat and the biggest thing is getting him to play with confidence," Taylor said. "He's a confident kid. Just keep preparing him. He did some really good things. That's why he's here. I don't think overall it was our best day offensively for anybody. But he'll get some more opportunities to play with the twos.

"It doesn't seem too big for him. He gets up there and you can tell sometimes the pressures on third down, in the NFL there is some very extensive pressure packages, so for a young guy seeing it for the first time it takes some time to process. That's understandable."

Taylor wouldn't say if Finley is going to play with the twos in K.C. In fact, he said he wouldn't reveal who will play when Saturday, but there's no question Finley and Driskel are taking the bulk of the snaps. Dalton and the 1s figure to get a series or two.

But before Saturday, Taylor wants a good Tuesday.

"I'm in no way dejected over it. It happens in training camp. Sometimes you get a day like this," Taylor said. "You never know when it's going to come, but today was the day, so tomorrow you just have those guys step up and rebound and let's have a great day so that we know that we're mentally and physically prepared to go on the road against Kansas City."


RE Sam Hubbard

On the day Taylor's first depth chart confirmed what everyone knew and Hubbard was named the heir apparent to Michael Johnson, he led a line rampage. If he didn't get there, it was fellow end Carl Lawson, in a maniacal bid for Comeback Player of the Year after last year's ACL tear.

If it wasn't one of the vets, it was one of the young guys, last year's practice squadder Andrew Brown, showing why they've moved him to end most of the time this season. Or Kerry Wynn, easy to find in a long, lean No. 72, bringing a veteran work ethic that began with the Tom Coughlin Giants five years ago.

That's one of the storylines of this camp. The D-Line has showed up. Against the run and the pass.

"We've got a lot of depth. We've got a lot guys that have unique skills sets. Speed rushers, power rushers combined with the others, that makes it a lethal pass rush when we're all healthy," Hubbard said.

Hubbard says he's been working both starting tackles and he thinks they're making each other better. He talks to right tackle Bobby Hart every day and they compare notes. He loves left tackle Cordy Glenn and what he's learned from him, but this is how good Lawson is. Hubbard was on the field, but he later heard the 280-pound Lawson just tossed the massive Glenn on the way to the quarterback.

It's all right. Lawson can do that to anybody.

"That was something else," Hubbard said. "(Lawson) looks amazing. He was supposed to be back in October, but he's a freak of nature. He came back strong and faster than last year."

Hubbard says the same thing about himself. He says he feels so much better than he did in his first camp last year as a third-rounder out of Ohio State. That's when he came in at 260 pounds before he ended the season hanging on at 255. The NFL way of life agrees with him compared to what he's gone through in Columbus and last year getting ready for the draft.

"We didn't have spring ball (in March). We didn't have combine training," Hubbard said. "I spent the whole offseason lifting, speed training, eating right. I gained about ten pounds. I just feel a lot better being out here with these big guys. I'm 270 and I feel more explosive."

If the offense had a bad day, that means the defense had a good day. And they've had a few as they play with a major chip. They've spent camp not afraid to jaw with the offense.

"I think we were pretty upset with how last year turned out. Dead last in the league," Hubbard said. "And that's not going to change by accident, so we're really making an effort to be a lot better."


It was the Bengals' version of a buzzer beater. Dalton led the 1s on a long drive before they faced a fourth down on the goal line. He then pulled out a fade to his most consistent wide receiver all day, Josh Malone, and Malone sliced through an opening on cornerback William Jackson III's side for a touchdown as Taylor's practice clock buzzed.

But the play was good and a good example of how Taylor mostly uses the clock for a guide and not the final word.

"We weren't playing against the clock," Taylor said. "The buzzer maybe went off because the period was supposed to end. I was oblivious to that."


Offensive line coach Jim Turner on the state of the left guard position:

"It's a full blown war. It's not even close to being answered."


_John Jerry is No. 1 at left guard on the depth chart, but Trey Hopkins became the third player to play two straight days there with the ones. And there's a big reason he's very much in the mix. He's not going to make mental mistakes.

"He is a consistent player. He is a really good communicator. He's played here a long time in a lot of different spots," Taylor said. "There still is a way to go at that position to sort it out, but Trey is certainly in the competition."

_Malone was the Player of the Day on offense with some solid catches and no drops. Runner-up was rookie running back Trayveon Williams. He overcame an early fumble and dropped pass to rip off a couple of nice runs. On second-and-one he beat the defense to the right edge on a pitch. And he had several zone runs where he got to the second level in time to make another move.

Plus, he did it as the No. 1 back. Here's how Taylor is saving his bell cows. No. 1 back Joe Mixon is getting saved (and not for Saturday) and barely carried the ball Monday. Giovani Bernard sat out with a tight hammy. He's just not going to pound this team, so he pounded Williams for about 15 carries and the kid continues to look good.

"Gio just felt slight hamstring," Taylor said. "He could have practiced but I told him, 'You're not practicing.' Let's just get him healthy. There was no need for him to go. We need some young backs to step up and it gives them a chance. He absolutely could have practiced we just held him out for precautionary reasons."

_The officials are in town and the flags were flying. On Tuesday they're set to meet with the local media to explain new rules like the inscrutable pass interference jigsaw puzzle. On Monday they hit Jackson with one and linebacker Nick Vigil for another covering tight end Tyler Eifert down the seam.

There were also some holding calls on the line and Taylor is going to make sure his players get the point. He's glad to see the refs, actually.

"We let the players know what the point of emphasis is after each practice, but it's good for them to actually see the flag thrown and be able to process what's going on in that moment," Taylor said. "When you don't have the officials out here sometimes you just play through it and it's not as realistic so it's good to get them out there and get a real game situation going on."