With the preseason opener closing in and working in their last day of pads before meeting the Super Bowl champs, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor hurried them up into Saturday night's game (7:30-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in Tampa with a pair of two-minute drills Wednesday.
Both the first team and the second team drove into field-goal range, where their quarterbacks spiked the ball to set up field-goal attempts they'll save for the games as the Paul Brown Stadium practice fields shimmered at 92 degrees.
(When Austin Seibert did kick field goals at the end of practice, he was just as hot. Six of six, including 50, 53 and 54-yarders.)
Quarterback Joe Burrow had another accurate day. He didn't go deep, but he moved the ball through the middle of the field and went 5 for 6 in his two-minute offering, spiced by back-to-back first down throws to slot receiver Tyler Boyd. One came as Burrow scrambled to his right and he got plenty on it as he hit Boyd up field just as he went out of bounds.
Another favorite target in the drive and all day, actually, was tight end C.J. Uzomah. He had two catches over the middle for a first down to start the two-minute drill and earlier in team he hit one for about 20 yards running away from the backers.
Backup quarterback Brandon Allen, Saturday's starter, continued his strong camp and drove his club for a field-goal try, helped by a classic Auden Tate reach-and-grab catch by all 6-foot-5 of him. Tate is clearly the fourth receiver these days behind the Big Three of Boyd, Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase. But like he said before Wednesday's practice, not much has changed since he arrived here in the seventh round in 2018.
"Whatever the team needs to be done, I do it," Tate said. Whether it's coming in on third downs to make a catch or whether that's coming in tight to block against a D-End or a linebacker, I really don't care. I want to win. It's just trying to be an asset, not a liability."
PLAYER OF THE DAY: SCB Mike Hilton
The secondary chart that Hilton brought over from the Steelers has received more ink the man himself. The defensive backs not only track practice transgressions with small fines, but interceptions so the winner can get a pot after training camp.
Hilton doesn't have any picks this camp, but he'd be rolling in it if they kept track of sacks. On Wednesday he rang up what he believes is his third sack of the summer on a play he guaranteed would have been a sack-strip of Burrow. And his second sack in as many days.
"The other DBs don't blitz as much as me," Hilton said of a sack chart. "It would be unfair."
That's why they pilfered from Pittsburgh the NFL's most prolific sacking safety since Hilton blitzed into the league undrafted in 2017. The Bengals, last in sacks in 2020 with the third fewest turnovers since 2018, according to Pro Football Reference, are looking to put the heat on.
As it seems like it has been doing every other day, the defensive sideline buzzed after the play with, "Sack-strip Mike. Sack-strip."
"They know those kind of plays are game changers," Hilton said. "I feel this defense was missing a guy that can really spark them and make that kind of play … I definitely want to bring that energy to the defense. They can count on me going hard every play. That's been my mentality since I stepped into the league."
Hilton found himself playing chess with Burrow early in Wednesday's team drills. Burrow came out in an empty set and while Hilton admits that alignment makes it easier to blitz.
"He's going to get the ball out quickly," Hilton said. "You try to time it up. Try to beat him to the jump."
Not only did Hilton win this one, he got in so quickly he brushed Burrow as the play was whistled dead, a lot closer than he came Tuesday.
"You have to stay away from Nine," Hilton said. "I stayed away from him yesterday. Today I was close. I guess my angle. I had a free run at him.
"But he also wants to get used to the pressure feel. It's being smart, about protecting your teammates, especially the quarterback. Do your assignment and let him feel the pressure."
Here's why Hilton thinks it would have been a sack-strip:
"I could tell he felt me on the back side. On the ball search, he had it right here and I was coming over the top. That's the thing I would have focused on. We want to have more turnovers."
PLAY OF THE DAY: QB Brandon Allen to TE Thaddeus Moss
Moss, the second-year player plucked off waivers from Washington, is making a roster run for the spot behind C.J. Uzomah and Drew Sample. Best known as Burrow's national championship tight end (not the son of Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Randy Moss), Moss is one of these savvy guys that finds a way to make a play. His size (6-3, 249 pounds) supposedly makes him undersized.
But not in Wednesday's two-minute drill with the twos when Allen posted him up. Moss got loose down the middle of the field for about a 20-yarder that he plucked and quickly put away. It was the kind of route where Allen could pick his matchup.
"He had a nice size advantage and he went up to make a play," Allen said. "He plays bigger than he is like a lot of guys do in the league. He's definitely one of them. He goes up and makes plays. He's got a lot of athleticism in him, he's smart and goes make plays."
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Veteran LG Quinton Spain on making the transition from college to the NFL:
"It was off the field because once you make it, that's when stuff get real crazy off the field. Family, issues, problems come more. So it's the way I handled it. You just have to be able to tell them no. And you learn off the field just tell them no, point blank. It's going to hurt them, but if they see the bigger picture, they should understand. The NFL is not for long, so why would I spend more time trying to make sure y'all are good and it's going to hurt me at the end if my career comes short."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Swing tackle Fred Johnson (quad), who has been out since early in camp, returned to practice Wednesday … Cornerback Darius Phillips didn't work Wednesday, but it looked like it was more of a rest day and he'd be available Saturday … Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie got his hands on another ball when he broke up Burrow's pass to Sample in the end zone, but he dropped the pick. "Have to be aggressive," cornerbacks coach Steven Jackson advised. "Go get it."