Rex Burkhead has been all over the yard this summer.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson detest when running back Rex Burkhead is called a wide receiver. Wide receivers coach James Urban made it easy on him.
"When they ask what you are," Urban told Burkhead, "tell them you're a football player."
He is all of that and during Friday night's workout on the Paul Brown Stadium practice fields he sure looked more like a wide receiver. With starting wide receiver Marvin Jones (hamstring) sitting out indefinitely, Burkhead has eased into the slot. He's become a frequent target for quarterback Andy Dalton rather than last season's gimmick that turned out be a brilliant response to an injury-riddled Wild Card Game.
In the perfect hurry-up drill in which Dalton hit all eight of his passes, Burkhead got a first down in the crevices coming out of the slot and is proving to be a very tough matchup for linebackers, safeties, and even cornerbacks.
Remember, the 5-10, 215-pound Burkhead finished in the top five in five of seven categories for backs at the 2013 NFL scouting combine. He may have run 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash, but he corked off 1.63 seconds in the first 10 yards, 2.73 seconds in the first 20 yards, and wheeled around the three-cone in 6.85 seconds to show his burst and agility.
"He's a tough tackle," Jackson said. "His 10 times were off the chart. His three cone was off the chart. He's very talented."
Told it sure looked like Burkhead was playing wide receiver, Jackson held the cards close and said, "We're going to put our best players out there."
Dalton, Burkhead's fellow Texan, offered, "He's a running back who can catch…He's really quick and can make guys miss."
He must be able to catch because Burkhead was one of the six guys he took with him to Dr. Tom House's quarterbacks camp at USC a few weeks back. Burkhead thinks he's a product of Texas' love of seven-on-seven camps and drills.
"I grew up playing a lot of seven-on-seven in Texas all through the summer," Burkhead said. "I had to play receiver. I couldn't be a running back. You can't run the ball. I think it helped my agility and catching. I'm using my strengths. There are slot guys smaller than me. Not many are 215 pounds."
Cornerback Darqueze Dennard agrees with Urban.
"He can run, he catch, he can block, he can do it all," Dennard said. "I don't see him as a running back. I don't see him as a receiver. I see him as a player."
Burkhead says he feels much more comfortable than the second-year running back pressed into receiver in the Wild Card Game after a dogs-sleeping-with-cats-disaster of Biblical proportions knocked out two starting wide receivers and two starting tight ends. He had an idea during the offseaon that it might be more than a Band-Aid approach.
"It was kind of in my head," said Burkhead, much more comfortable now at receiver. "Absolutely after getting used to it in the spring."
With Jones out, Burkhead sure seems like a wide receiver…
"If the same thing happens during the season," Burkhead said, "I can hopefully fill that void and (we won't) miss a beat on offense."
Running back? Or wide receiver?
"He's not a wide receiver," Lewis said. "He's a half back."
Dalton sifted the first hurry-up drill of camp.
PERFECTLY HURRIED: Dalton hit all eight of his passes in the first hurry-up drill of training camp (call it one-minute or two-minute) in Friday night's practice.
Tight end Tyler Eifert caught half the balls in a drill where Burkhead (one), and wide receivers A.J. Green (one) and Mohamed Sanu (two) were targets as well against much of the first-team defense. But with 12 seconds left in the first half from the defense's 12-yard line, the Bengals got the play they wanted when Sanu was isolated one-on-one at the 5 against rookie cornerback Troy Hill. The defense isn't allowed to tackle him, but the offense thought the 6-2, 210-pound Sanu would crash in. Lewis called it for the defense. Half over. No points.
"Twelve seconds left. No timeouts. They're in cover zero,' said Jackson of an all-out blitz with man coverage. "He's a big man to take down in that situation….I think we score… The question is if he stays in bounds (can the offense spike it in time to get a field goal or another play). Marvin said no. Marvin is always on the side of the defense."
Cincinnati Bengals host training camp practice at Paul Brown Stadium Practice Fields 08/07/2015
The Bengals tuned up for Saturday's 1:30 p.m. Family Day practice at Paul Brown Stadium with a padded workout that wasn't as consistent as Jackson wished. Later in the practice, the No. 1 s struggled against the backups. Dalton went 2-for-6 in the last team session, but Jackson praised his work in the hurry-up.
"I thought he was outstanding. I thought he did real good in that. We just have to be consistent from the first play to the 30th to the 50th to the 70th play," Jackson said. "I thought he did some good things in the two minute. I think there were some things we did in the scoring zone I wish we had back. But I thought it was overall decent day. Not great, but decent."
Dalton said the key was the first play. As linebacker Chris Carter came on a blitz into Dalton's face, he darted a ball to Green between the safeties for what was ruled about a 20-yard pickup, although Dalton thought he would have scored.
"For the first time, mechanically, the way everybody moved down the field, I thought it was good,:" Dalton said. "We knew we were going to get points."
MAC ATTACK: When the Bengals put the first offensive line in front of backup quarterback AJ McCarron at the end of practice, he came alive in what had been a tough evening to that point against the first-team pass rush and finished the session 4-for-5 and leaving the field with red-zone touchdown passes to veteran wide receiver Denarius Moore and rookie tight end Tyler Kroft.
Combined with McCaron's play Thursday, it looks like the fifth-round pick from Alabama is getting comfortable a week into his first NFL training camp. But he'll tell you he's felt pretty good, it just isn't always very pretty for the backups against the first team of a good defense.
"I think we're getting into a rhythm," McCarron said. "I think we've made some plays even when the pocket has broken down."
McCarron and Josh Johnson had messy and curtailed hurry-up drills, just the opposite of the first team. But then came the move of the offensive lines. A coincidence McCarron's best sequence came with his best protection?
"I've got to give him those opportunities so that he can feel comfortable being in there with those guys and they're comfortable with them hearing him call plays and run the offense," Jackson said. "He's had some other days that I think I can remember. But obviously that one was pretty good. My disappointment is 'we've got to protect better."
HEAD SHAKER: Lewis, a member of the NFL Competition Committee, is sometimes at a loss to explain what the NFL is doing. Friday was another example as he talked about the new concussion protocol, which was explained to the local media by a pair of NFL officials working the practice, head linesman Steve Stelljes and back judge Lee Dyer.
On Thursday the refs presented a 10-minute film to the Bengals and took questions regarding rule changes and new points of emphasis.
If the independent certified trainer sees an injury that has gone undetected by either the refs or the team's trainers and doctors, he can call the ref with a medical timeout and the player has to immediately leave for testing.
Flash back to the Super Bowl. Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman might not have been on the field for one of the plays that won the game, a 21-yard catch that came four plays after the snap he appeared to get dinged. He was examined after the series and passed the concussion protocol. But the sequence of events is believed to have spurred the rule and that has Lewis fuming.
"That's no change. Guys are going to keep playing football. They're making too much out of nothing. Guys have been playing football for a long time. All of a sudden they didn't become soft," Lewis said. "The people have already done it. We've got job justification going on, big time.
"Guys are going to play football. I don't know what staying in the game is. Guys are going to play football. If a guy has something where he needs to come out, he's going to come out. It's not going to change. Just because one person, one team doesn't do the job right, then we have to have all this other red tape and all that. That's baloney. It's ridiculous how we keep doing things. If everybody does what they're supposed to do, we don't have any issues."
Mohamed Sanu is on the NFL's video showing the league what it means by catching through to the ground.
WHAT'S A CATCH: The refs also talked to the club about clarifying the Calvin Johnson Rule which is now the Dez Bryant rule after his catch against Green Bay was taken away and cost the Cowboys a playoff victory last January. The key phrase is a player, "Must clearly become a runner and have the ability to ward off a defender or defend against contact."
Lewis could see that.
"The catch hasn't changed. The catch is a catch," Lewis said. " Get up and hand the ball to the official. When the (Bryant) play occurred, right away when they showed the replay I said 'That ball's incomplete.' To me, the definition didn't change, they just reinforced it and made it clearer. Reaching for the goal line, until you have completed the catch and are a runner, is not catching the ball.
"The only emphasis we've made for our players is get up and hand the ball to the official. Plain and simple. "
After the Bryant catch, the next play that appears on the NFL video is Sanu making his wondrous catch in Houston last season, a total stretch-out dive on third down. Before he hit the ground, he secured the ball and the league must have thought it was the textbook shot of catching a ball and controlling it through the ground.
"That was cool. I hope I can keep making plays like that," Sanu said. "I thought (Bryant) made the catch because the ground can't cause a fumble. But they know the rules better than we do and we follow them. You can't bobble it. You can't use the any part of the ground to make the catch. You've got to secure it before you hit the ground."
He showed everybody how.
PLAYER OF THE DAY: TE Tyler Eifert
Eifert looks like he's bounced back fine from last season's injury plagued mess. The only evidence is a brace on the elbow he dislocated. On Friday he drove the first-team defense nuts in that hurry-up session, catching half the balls from a variety of positions, three straight in the last 40 seconds. On one he was wide open. On another he appeared to come out of the slot and beat linebacker A.J. Hawk, and on another he appeared to line up outside and move quickly for a short pass out of bounds to stop the clock at 12 seconds.
"Eifert,' said one defender, "is really going to help us."
"He's a first-round draft pick. He has ability," Jackson said. "He's working through some things, still growing and learning. He's going to be a huge part of what we do."
PLAY OF THE DAY: Another one for rookie tight end Tyler Kroft. And it was good awareness by McCarron. His pre-snap read yielded a blitz and he changed the protection. He had time to throw about a 20-yarder over the middle to Kroft and Kroft was strong enough to body up and win the fight for the ball even though linebacker Marquis Flowers was called for pass interference.
"Tyler's running some good routes," McCarron said. "He's got a way of getting separation."
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Burkhead on if he would be mad if a reporter called him a wide receiver:
"I would and Hue would be mad at me."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Wide receiver Marvin Jones (hamstring), middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (hamstring), wide receiver Onterio McCaelebb (knee) running back Cedric Peerman (unknown) and defensive end Sam Montgomery (unknown) didn't work Friday night. Cornerback Adam Jones got a veteran's day off.