Andrew Whitworth looks on from the sidelines at training camp on Wednesday.
Updated: 9:50 p.m.
Rookie tight end Tyler Eifert grew up in Fort Wayne, Ind., loving Colts tight end Dallas Clark. On Wednesday the man who drafted Clark 10 years ago in nearly the same place the Bengals took Eifert says there's no doubt Eifert can have a career like his idol and sizes him up favorably like Indy's old No. 44.
"Absolutely," said Bill Polian, the former Colts president who worked practice for Sirius Radio. "He was one of the few guys in this draft that I said is can't-miss and I think he'll have a spectacular effect on this offense. Maybe not this year, maybe not early because it takes times for rookies. But once he gets his legs under him and understands the National Football League, he'll be a big factor in this offense."
Polian also thinks the 6-6, 250-pound Eifert is going to be able to do more things on the line of scrimmage than the 6-3 Clark, listed at 257 pounds when he came out of Iowa. But Polian's not so sure about that.
"Tyler is bigger. I think he probably weighs more than Dallas did coming out," Polian said. "Because he's longer, he's a little bit more of a blocker and in-line blocker than Dallas was. But they're both marvelous receiving tight ends."
Because he played with two Pro Bowl wide receivers in Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, Clark caught more than 50 balls only three times and it took 100 catches in 2009 to get him to his one Pro Bowl. Eifert has a shot at putting up more numbers with the evolving corps of Bengals receivers, but Clark's 50 career TDs and more than 5,000 receiving yards are certainly worthy goals.
Eifert went No. 21 and Clark went No. 24. Polian admits Eifert is "unique."
"He's taller than Dallas; a good bit taller," Polian said. "He's got excellent hands, an excellent feel for route-running. His speed is comparable to Dallas. The hands are in the same ballpark. He's more of a rebounder than Dallas in his style of catching. But he makes as many spectacular grabs."
By a "rebounder," Polian means that Eifert uses his body to win contested balls.
"He'll go up and fight DBs for balls and out-jump them," he said. "He's got long arms and a long body. He's a good jumper and he can make catches in the air, which is hard for people to do. Dallas could do that, too. He can get off the ground and catch the ball exceptionally well. At the college level he won the vast majority of contested balls that were thrown to him. He's unique in that way."
QB TAKE: If you don't think stats tell the whole QB story in a game, then how about practice?
Just ask Jim Miller, the former Steelers and Bears quarterback now a bulwark for Sirius Radio who also worked practice Wednesday. Lewis said before it began that the last three workouts before the Bengals head to Atlanta on Sunday to practice with the Falcons are going to be devoted primarily to special teams and situations.
In red-zone work in 7-on-7 Andy Dalton threw touchdown passes to his two favorite tight ends, Eifert and Gresham and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins. But he wasn't as successful in 11-on-11, when cornerback Terence Newman picked him off when his blitz option wasn't available and defensive tackle Devon Still batted down a ball headed to Eifert's back shoulder.
And in another 7-on-7 drill Dalton had Hawkins open on a deep cross and overthrew it.
Lewis also wasn't pleased with a drill at the end of practice when he gave the offense the ball with a two-point lead and first-and-10 (Hello, Tony Romo) and told them to get a first down. But Dalton threw way short of wide receiver Mohamed Sanu on the sideline on first down and after running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran it on second down, Dalton led the offense out in an interesting formation on third down where Eifert and Gresham started inside and shifted outside. But they could never get the play off because the line false-started.
But Miller liked what he saw from Dalton in the morning walkthrough as well as his handling of the offense during practice.
"Yeah, he'd probably like to have that ball back to Hawkins but his decision-making is good," Miller said. "That's what the kid is known for. He's sharp in his precision. You're not going to look your best every day working out the kinks. In the walkthrough you can see he's mentally sharp. I think the physical things will come. You put people around him and he'll be fine. I really like the skill players."
Miller left camp raving about how the Bengals look ready to use those weapons to help Dalton. On his notepad he wrote "Matchup Football."
"That's what the Bengals are doing," Miller said. "They're working on a lot of things. I really think Tyler Eifert is going to make all the difference in the world. You saw a lot of shifts, motions, both Eifert and Gresham are attached and then, boom; they shift and explode into a different formation. Now the defense has to adjust. They're walking out linebackers (to cover in space). They're pretty much able to work out any matchup they want to do."
NO, NO: The coaches got all over cornerback Shaun Prater a couple of times Wednesday for being too aggressive. First he tangled with rookie receiver Roy Roundtree, but they really got mad when he threw Hawkins to the ground on what was supposed to be a simple pass to set up a hurry-up field goal. After Hawkins got up and pushed Prater to the ground, Prater got pulled off the field by unhappy defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
Exhibit A of Lewis always talking about young guys needing to learn to practice. Prater was on IR his entire rookie season last year.
PLAY OF THE DAY: The best interception of camp so far. It came in 11-on-11 when safety Jeromy Miles got his hand on a pass over the middle. It bounced high in the air and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga stretched out to make a diving catch.
PLAYER OF THE DAY: Cornerback Terence Newman. Newman, the second-oldest Bengal at 34 (James Harrison is 35), looked 23 after he had two straight days off. In seven-on-seven he ran step-for-step with 23-year-old wide receiver Mohamed Sanu down the right sideline and tipped Dalton's pass away.
Then in 11-on-11, the defense blitzed and Newman sensed that there was a problem with Dalton's hot receiver. Without that available, Newman thought Dalton was just trying to heave it out-of-bounds but alertly saw he didn't throw it long enough and hauled it in like he was the receiver.
FIRST HIT: Free-agent defensive tackle Larry Black saw his rookie year end Wednesday afternoon when he dislocated his ankle early in the practice at Paul Brown Stadium, the club's first major injury of the season. Black, a local product out of Wyoming High School and Indiana, was characterized as "a good prospect" by Lewis and he indicated Black would be back next year as "a medical redshirt."
Lewis confirmed that left end Carlos Dunlap suffered a concussion Monday and it's believed to be a mild one. Lewis said Dunlap reported he didn't feel well after he had practiced and is now undergoing the NFL protocol before he returns.
Rookie running back Giovani Bernard (hamstring) dressed for the full-padded practice, but didn't work. Neither did tight end Alex Smith (sore knee). Cornerback Leon Hall sat out with what Lewis indicated was some sort of illness and that he wasn't happy that he was held out. Hall is expected back for Thursday night's practice
QUOTE OF THE DAY:Lewis on having some NFL officials work the Wednesday practice after last year's experience with the replacement officials: "(Last year) preparing my slide (for the players) I said, 'I don't recognize any of these names.' It was the others. Just like in 'Lost.' No pun intended."
ANOTHER QUOTE OF THE DAY:More Lewis, this time if he's looking forward to watching the first Hard Knocks next Tuesday at 10 p.m. on HBO: "I'm not anxious to see any of it but, yeah, I have to watch it." Asked if he has to watch it before it airs so he has a hand in the editing he said, "No, I just like to watch it; I didn't say all that."
THURSDAY NIGHT HITS: New Bengals SAM linebacker James Harrison says he's not a fan of practicing against another team before a preseason game because it's "like playing three games" since the intensity gets jacked up going against a different uniform.
But Lewis says the two practices Monday and Tuesday in Atlanta won't be live before the Thursday Aug. 8 preseason opener (8 p.m.-ESPN, WLWT Channel 5) against the Falcons.
He also said there'll be some live action in this Thursday's Family Night practice that runs from 6-8 p.m. at Paul Brown Stadium.
Lewis said he's not concerned about things getting out of hand in the Atlanta practices.
"The matchup may be different. It might be their first group and we might have a guy who is running with our second or third team right now, where literally in the game Thursday night that first group, a guy may not even see the field for them, or for us," Lewis said. "And yet he's practicing against that guy. But there will be some guys who spend a considerable amount of time working against each other. But it's in a controlled tempo, and on Thursday night they get to play live."
WHIT EASING BACK: Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth, coming off knee surgery during the offseason, won't work for the third straight practice Wednesday despite Tuesday's off day. He says it is merely part of the plan to gauge how much he can tolerate. He says it's only a matter of strengthening the ligament, plans to work on the side with rehab chief Nick Cosgray during practice, and isn't concerned about being ready for the real opener.
"Strength-wise it's good, feels solid. You're still going to have some bumps along the road as far as football's a violent game, so you're going to have to get yourself used to working yourself back through things," Whitworth said before Wednesday's practice. "That's why a lot of guys that have postseason surgery don't do a lot in the preseason sometimes just because you're kind of working through the whole deal of recovering from a surgery and trying to do football stuff. So we'll continue to have a plan to deal with it."
If Lewis holds true to his mindset, guys like Whitworth and wide receiver A.J. Green (knee) won't play in Atlanta. But there'll be time for offensive line coach Paul Alexander to get the work in.
"I think everyone needs some practice. I've watched it over the years and the guys who were franchised in the old days and held out and didn't go to training camp didn't play as well," Alexander said. "It didn't matter if they were the best player in the league or not. You need training camp, you need the reps and practice. Football isn't a game where you can just show up and do. He's very conscientious and he'll get it back as quickly as he can."
Whitworth isn't sure he needs all that much work, but it does need to be monitored.
"Depends on what the need is. Is need technically how much do I need to be ready? I don't think I need a lot," Whitworth said. "I understand how to play, I know what I am good at and I have done it for a long time. What is need, do I need to practice? I don't know, if you are coming back from surgery and you are going to push something a little too fast it becomes not a need because now you are doing more damage then you are doing positive. It's going to be just making sure that as the doctor keeps telling me, we have plenty of track record that you are tough. It's not a tough thing, you need to take care of yourself."
Like everyone else, Alexander is assuming Whitworth will be ready for Sept. 8 in Chicago, his 107th NFL game. The next most on the starting offense is running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis's 68, so Whitworth means so much on and off the field and in the classroom.
"Like Willie," Alexander said of Willie Anderson, the Bengals franchise right tackle of the previous decade.
BOLING BACK: Left guard Clint Boling (ankle, hamstring), coming off offseason surgery on his ankle, is going to go in individual drills Wednesday and return Thursday night. Defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (sprained knee) and wide receiver Tyrone Goard (mild concussion) are dealing with injuries on the side.
COOK AHEAD: Alexander says Kyle Cook has the upper hand in the center competition. He says Cook is now healthy after he limped through the stretch run and the Wild Card loss last season with a severe ankle surgery that knocked him out of the first dozen games. Trevor Robinson missed all spring with a pectoral injury and Alexander says his technique hasn't been as good as it was last season when Robinson was a rookie.
Alexander says even with Cook limping, he was the club's best option late in the year. ATTENDANCE:The Bengals flipped fields Wednesday in their rotation and used the one closest to the stadium. About 1,100 showed.
UP NEXT: Bengals Family Night at Thursday's practice from 6-8 p.m. in the stadium. It is free, with free parking in Lots D, E and F, all with entrances off Mehring Way near the stadium. Gates open at 5 p.m. with practice capped by an extended player autograph session, accessible to all fans.
The first 1,000 children to visit the Kids Club Booth receive a Bengals Lunch Box, a poster, plus a chance to win a Bengals Kids Club membership.