Marquee matchup, 1-on-1 style, with A.J. Green (18) and Adam Jones.
The unbearable tension and heartbreak eased enough by the end of practice that Michael Johnson's head coach and agent were at least able to smile and sense relief about the knee injury he suffered Sunday during the Bengals' first day in shoulder pads.
Lewis said he felt good enough about the on-field examination by team doctors Marc Galloway and Kevin Reilly that he feels there is no major damage and that Johnson "should be OK."
"We had enough hands on him," said Lewis with a laugh. "The best thing is their exam. They've always been 100 percent with me from wherever it stands on those battlefield exams. They're pretty accurate and I feel pretty good about it."
Rather than a season-ending blown ACL, which is how it first appeared, it's sounding more and more like a sprained MCL, which takes in the neighborhood of four to six weeks to rehab. It's believed X-Rays or an MRI are pending.
Former Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton, Johnson's agent, arrived at the practice just in time to see Johnson get tangled up in the last play of a nine-on-seven drill. He stood up before sitting down on a cart that wheeled him to the locker room. After spending time with Johnson later, Thornton was upbeat.
"He can't remember how it happened. He's in good spirits," Thornton said. "He's talking about getting his 10-sack ($4 million) incentive."
The sequence cast quite a pall over Johnson's teammates and the estimated crowd of 1,900, the biggest of the opening weekend of training camp. Johnson, a fan favorite and an enormously popular teammate, made a triumphant return to Cincinnati in free agency back in March after a year hiatus. It's hoped his reunion with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins gets the Bengals defense closer to that No. 3 NFL ranking in 2013 after a No. 22 showing last season.
Before Galloway helped him get to his feet, the 28-year-Johnson asked to say a prayer.
"I said, 'I'm with you Mike,'" Lewis said. "Hopefully the Lord heard us. But that's so typical of Michael."
From a pragmatic standpoint, Lewis wants to look at the tape to make sure the Bengals' approach on the play didn't cause the injury since he preaches all the time to his players about staying on their feet during practice.
From a psychological standpoint, he knows how tough it is for everyone involved. He just has to go back two years ago and the badly broken leg of defensive tackle Larry Black, a rookie from the Cincinnati suburb of Wyoming.
"It's tough when it happens in a game. It's certainly more difficult when it happens out here in practice for his position mates and his teammates. I understand that," Lewis said. "(After) 36 years of coaching, (24) in the NFL, I can't tell you how many times I've been coaching when it happens. It's never good. I don't care who or what it is."
Even before Johnson's injury, Lewis had scratched the Oklahoma Drill for Monday. The ancient tough guy drill where an offensive player tries to make a block on a defender trying to tackle the ball-carrier tucked behind the offensive player, had been a staple of Lewis' first day in full pads up until last year. No reason was ever given last year for taking it off the schedule, but they ranged from the weather to favoring the half-line drill.
But with full pads on Monday, Lewis made it clear there is no room left for such drills like the Oklahoma Drill that lead to such player vulnerability. Fresh with a four-year, $20 million deal in hand, what happened to Johnson is another reminder.
"We've progressed beyond that. We know who the tough guys are around here," Lewis said. "We'll have a format not called (The Oklahoma). We'll get our work in.
"You only have so many (players) and some are shinier than others. You want to keep as many of the shiny ones as healthy as you can. Hopefully we shine some others. (Johnson) is a shiny one, just what he means as a player and as a man to the team. We have to pick it up."
MARQUEE MATCHUP: It's a lot like baseball. When the live action starts, the pitchers are ahead of the hitters and that's the way it looked Sunday with the Bengals easing into shoulder pads to get ready for Monday's first full day of pads.
The defense was ahead of the offense. Even though Michael Johnson was out, the defensive line kept bringing it as quarterbacks Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron didn't have much time to throw. And when they did, there wasn't a lot of execution.
Dalton looked decent at times completing 11 of 17 passes, many to wide receiver A.J. Green darting in and out of the middle of the field. But he wasn't razor sharp and uncorked an interception intended for wide receiver Brandon Tate near the sideline that was hauled in by backup cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris. He was late with the throw and Lewis-Harris was sitting there.
Cincinnati Bengals host training camp at Paul Brown Stadium practice fields 08/02/2015
But if you want to know how much talent is on this field, you just had to take a look at Green, the perennial Pro Bowler, going against starting cornerback Adam Jones.
Green had the crowd oohing and aahing during 1-on-1s when he beat Jones on an intermediate route and the always talkative Jones responded with a basic, "That won't happen again." And it didn't on their next snap, when Jones forced Green to make a catch out of bounds.
Then Green turned around Jones on a simple go route by getting off the line with a shove and sprinting past him as Dalton hung it up to him for a touchdown.
Sunday was the first day since the Wild Card Game the corners were able to press at the line (per the collective bargaining agreement) and that usually favors the defense. But when it comes to two heavyweights that goes by the boards.
"I love going against Pac. I agree. He's had a great two years," Green said. "I try to go against him every day because I know he's going to give it everything he's got against me and he's going to make me a better player."
MAC ATTACK: Still getting used to his shoulder pads, backup quarterback McCarron padded out Sunday for the first time since his bowl game for Alabama at the end of the 2013 season. He did practice for three weeks late last season, but that was in a limited setting. This was a full-bore 125-minute workout where the second-teamers and first-teamers were sometimes mixed and it showed.
As the Bengals worked on running plays in 9-on-7, McCarron fumbled a snap from first-string center Russell Bodine.
"I took the blame for that,' McCarron said. "That's the first time I've had snaps with Russ. Every center snaps differently. We're fine now. I was used to T.J. (Johnson). The timing is going to be off a little bit."
The center exchange was a problem for everybody Sunday. But it just wasn't the exchange. When McCarron had Green split wide to the right, Green kept running deep while McCarron threw a sideline pass. The two A.J.s weren't on the same page.
McCarron had run the same play earlier with wide receiver Jake Kumerow, the undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
"Miscommunication," McCarron said. "It was a press route and we executed it for a first down. We had the same route called and I thought A.J. was going to keep on it. He just converted. It goes to not having any reps with the first group. Him and Andy are thinking one thing. Jake and me, we're thinking another. It's just not having time with these guys. You have to get reps with them. That's what football is all about.
"As the second team, we'd have one good play and then not such a good play," McCarron said. "We'll be fine…We just need timing."
PLAYER OF THE DAY: DT Geno Atkins.
At the moment, this guy is the best player on the field either side of the ball. You can't block him. Run or pass. Kevin Zeitler is one of the finest right guards in the league and he's got his hands full.
PLAY OF THE DAY: Both the offense's starters and backup struggled at times Sunday, but on one scramble play by McCarron showed why the Bengals think he can be a competent NFL No. 2 once he gets settled.
While winning back-to-back national titles at Alabama, McCarron didn't overwhelm people with his arm and athleticism. But he was able to find a way using a little bit of everything, not to mention intangibles.
As the play broke down with pressure in the pocket, McCarron rolled to his right toward the sidelines and just before stepping out of bounds he fired a pass for rookie tight end C.J. Uzomah, negotiating with his own sidelines, and the fifth-rounder from, of all places, Auburn, went to the ground to catch it for a first down.
"When you've got (Johnny) Manziel in the same league, people don't pay attention to that as much," McCarron said. "But I felt like if you look at all the big games I was able to get out of stuff and make plays happen. I feel like I've always done a good job of extending plays. That's one thing I try. If nothing's there, find a way to make something happen."
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson on the first day of shoulder pads:
"We've got some work to do. Obviously it wasn't good enough. I'll be the first o tell you that. I think they know that. I don't like the turnovers. The ball's on the ground too much and the execution was way too sloppy. Not where I expected it to be. If the offense isn't going anywhere, nobody is having a good day."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Besides the pick and the center exchanges, the ball was all over the lot. Dalton and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu fouled up a simple flip in the backfield and tight end Tyler Eifert flat out dropped a ball after he caught it and turned up field…
Right end Wallace Gilberry sat out the last part of practice with ice wrapped around his hamstring…Wide receiver Marvin Jones also left to get wrapped, but came back…Wide receiver Onterio McCalebb went out with what looked to be a knee problem…