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Camp report: depth charge on third down


Rey Maualuga has been there for the Oklahoma Drill and done that.

Updated: 7:45 p.m.

With about a period-and-a-half devoted to third down, the Bengals defense showed why it was second best in the NFL in third down efficiency last season during Saturday's practice on the Paul Brown Stadium practice fields.

With their best cornerback, Leon Hall, taking off the third day in his comeback from a torn Achilles' and Dre Kirkpatrick icing his hamstring on the sideline, the Bengals had plenty of depth in front of a crowd estimated at about 1,300 on a humid 83-degree afternoon.

For the second straight day, cornerback Adam Jones was all over the place as he got his hands on three balls, including a deep one headed to wide receiver A.J. Green that was helped by quarterback Andy Dalton getting flushed out of the pocket.

Rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard, who bumped-and-ran his way into the first round at Michigan State, celebrated his first day of NFL shoulder pads with a diving interception of Dalton. Aiming for wide receiver Mohamed Sanu on a deep sideline route, Dalton ended up hitting a sliding Dennard snaring the overthrow with an all-out dive.

Dalton finished the day 13 of 21, according to Bengals radio voice Dan Hoard, his toughest day of the three because third down is never easy. Especially against the AFC leaders on third down.

"It's good for our younger guys to see how (the older players) are out here competing every snap,' said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. "(Jones) is playing with good technique. He's playing within the system. That's what we want.

"Today was the first day we were in shoulder pads, so Quez was in his comfort zone."

Jones, the eight-year veteran, looks as comfortable as he's ever been. Like he did last season, Jones took over for Hall and made a particularly good play on rookie wide receiver James Wright in front of the first-down sticks. Everyone also seems to be responding to new cornerbacks coach Vance Joseph.

"I'm just trying to compete and have fun out there," said Jones, who turns 31 in two months. "I'm healthy. My body feels good. Coach is doing a good job explaining   the defense, knowing where the help is on certain routes. It eliminates certain routes so you only have to defend three routes. It makes it a lot easier.

"Coach Joseph is doing a heck of a job explaining different things and different techniques and that's helped me a lot. He's one of the better coaches I've ever had."

Green may have given a little bit too much away when Jones jumped up to knock away a deep ball down the middle. Jones knew he had safety Reggie Nelson in the middle and he had an idea Green was going long because he had caught a shorter route on him earlier in the day.

"I asked him what it was and he said it was 'a choice route, so if you're on to me I'm going to bend it.' It's just having some fun."

Throw some veteran knowledge in with the fun and you've got a dangerous corner.

PLAYER OF THE DAY: Take a bow, Adam Jones.

PLAY OF THE DAY: Dennard's diving interception.

Head coach Marvin Lewis doesn't like his players diving in practice, but Dennard said, "I needed to catch that. Just to make some plays. I practice how I play in the game. If I did it in a game and I hadn't done it before, who knows? I might have dropped it. It will be second nature in the game."

With his shoulder pads in place, Dennard was able to play his beloved press coverage for the first time as a pro ("It's my forte") and he gave slot receiver Sanu a bump and ran as he continues to play with the first defense in the slot.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "There's good linemen in the NFL.  You just can't bull rush every guy. You have to be able to (defend) a reach block, a cut-off block, a base block, a pass set. From the stance to his footwork, all those things, it's like blowing the engine out, re-tooling it and putting it back in." Guenther on project defensive tackle LaKendrick Ross.

QUOTE OF THE DAY II:  "The faster that gets over with, the better for me. I just like to get back to football. They get their hit the first day in pads and all that stuff and guys get all excited. I usually kind of stand off to the side and let it happen, then get back to real football." Guenther on the Oklahoma Drill.

SLANTS AND SCREENS: Rookie quarterback A.J. McCarron is on an extended rehab throwing program that may determine if he's headed to injured reserve or the roster. The early signs seem to be good. He threw for the second time Saturday and appeared to have pretty good juice from 40 yards…

No word how bad Kirkpatrick's hamstring is….

Ross left the field and came back with an unknown ailment…

Left guard Clint Boling, coming back from an ACL, was back after taking Friday off. Left guard Mike Pollak (knee) was backed off after he returned Friday. It looks like those two are going to be alternating...

Defensive tackle Devon Still (back) practiced Saturday as the PUP list grows ever shorter. He hadn't worked since herniating a disc in the Dec. 18 practice...

The Bengals put West Virginia undrafted rookie tackle Curtis Feigt on the waived/left camp list...

OKIE HYPE: The two most overrated things of training camp.

If it's not the active/physically unable to perform list, then it has to be the Oklahoma Drill.

(Active PUP? It's like the census. A bureaucratic necessity that means absolutely nothing.)

The Oklahoma Drill traditionally takes place early in the first full padded practice, which makes it Sunday shortly after 3 p.m. on the Paul Brown Stadium practice fields.  A ball carrier lines up behind an offensive player asked to block a defensive player and said defensive player must shed the block and make the tackle.

Since it is the first shred of news to come out of camp since, well, the PUP list, the Oklahoma Drill is given enough words and video worthy of a conference championship game. But here's how the Bengals middle linebacker views it.

"It is over-rated. If you don't make the tackle, does that make you less of a player?" Rey Maualuga asked before Saturday's practice. "I think everyone is just worried about the initial contact. I think everyone thinks of the Oklahoma Drill as a smash-mouth, downhill, who's going to get the upper hand? If you don't make the tackle, 'ooooh, the blocker won.' You can dominate the blocker but not make the tackle. Does that mean you lost? I don't think so. I think everyone does put too much into it. The older you get, you're just trying to get through it."

Let's see. Maualuga is just 27 and only in his sixth season, so he can remember when it meant more to him.

"You want to impress your teammates. You want to impress everyone around you. It will be Sunday, so I'm assuming everyone goes to church and then comes to practice, so there's going to be a bigger crowd," he said. "Everyone knows the Oklahoma Drill's coming. People are going to talk. 'Oh, this guy lost. We thought he was going to win but he didn't.' It's a drill. It's the Oklahoma Drill. It doesn't mean you're good, not good. Someone would overpower you and beat you in that drill, but …… It's a chance for everyone to hit somebody. We've got full pads. Some of the young guys are going to go against the older guys. We're just trying to see what they have."

BODINE ADJUSTING:  In the first two days of practice, the ball has rarely been on the ground for the offense even though they had a 24-day gap between snaps in new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's up-tempo offense. Even more impressive is that rookie center Russell Bodine hasn't had any misfires with the quarterbacks.

It's the first concrete sign that Bodine is finding comfort level in the offense. The Bengals are basically calling their plays at the line of scrimmage and while Bodine worked in primarily a no huddle offense at North Carolina, there are differences.

"This is more complex. We rarely checked in college," Bodine said. "We had a couple of plays where we would check to this if they showed us this, but we definitely do a lot more of that now."

More time in the playbook and around the scheme are making things better, he says. He took a week of vacation during the break, but for the other three weeks he spent 20-30 minutes each day on his iPad going through the playbook.

"Things slow down for you a little bit," Bodine said.

In the first two practices, Bodine worked with left guards Clint Boling and Mike Pollak, guys he didn't have in the spring because they were coming back from knee issues, but that hardly seemed to faze him. Since Pollak is also a center (and is expected to get snaps there eventually), that figures to assist Bodine.

"Both Mike and Clint have more experience than me. They've both been a great help," Bodine said. "Mike's a real vet, smart guy, he's been around the system, so having him next to me has been a big help."

MAD DASH: If you think second-year running back Rex Burkhead looks a little faster this year, he agrees with you. Burkhead, a 2013 sixth-rounder who figures to play more than the one game he played last year, went back on track this offseason when he went home to Plano, Texas.

Burkhead didn't run track in high school, where he played football and played on a state championship basketball team. But the track coach doubled as the football team's conditioning coach and Burkhead remembered how well he got him ready for the season.

So Burkhead hunted him down and got involved in his excruciating sprinting drills. The days varied, but they met twice a week. One day he had to pull a sled 50 yards 20 times with a minute break in between. Then on another day he would run six 300-meter sprints with a two-minute rest in between.

"I worked on top speed and explosion as well. That's one of my goals coming into the preseason. I want to make some explosion-type plays for this team," Burkhead said. "He has great workouts and I wanted to be in the best shape possible. He didn't time us, but I can feel it. I feel faster."

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