Andre Smith returned to the practice field on Monday.
Updated: 9:40 p.m.
Word out of Birmingham, Ala., is that when Andre Smith left to report to the Bengals last week, he was setting personal weightlifting records at his offseason place of business known as Warehouse Performance Institute.
On Monday he made his long-awaited 2013 debut on the field and he isn't the only one who thinks he's stronger.
"First time I saw him, I thought he was a lot stronger and bigger," said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. "I just thought he looked stronger, bigger. It's hard for him to be bigger, but he looked more defined and muscular.
"We just have to make sure he gets his legs under him and make sure he can handle the heat play-after-play. Not just take two and sit down. He's got to be able to handle five-, seven-, 10-play drives and he'll slowly get in that shape. ... Just looking at his stance and short yardage, he looks good."
Offensive line coach Paul Alexander loved his work in short yardage, where the offense looked to be perfect on a handul of tries, and was 4-for-6 on goal line. Even though Smith had't been on the field since January, the Bengals went right behind their tackle most of the time on the short stuff.
"He looked good. He looked ready to go," Alexander said.
If Smith has felt like all eyes are on him, they have been. His absence from the spring workouts and the mandatory minicamp after signing a three-year, $18 million deal have not sat well in fandom. But with head coach Marvin Lewis explaining it as personal reasons, his teammates—at least outwardly—have been fine about it.
"Everyone has been real cool. Everyone understands I had some things going on. They understand that's life outside of football. Everybody took it pretty well," Smith said, a few moments after linebacker James Harrison joshed with him during his post-practice standup with the media.
"I mean as far as that I knew it was going to get attention but I communicated with Marvin and the Brown family, so everything is well."
He seemed all right with the coaches, too, as Gruden brought more than a little humor to the moment.
"It was good to have him back out there. I forgot what he looked like in a uniform. Now I remember: ugly," Gruden said. "But it's good to have him back. I'm glad he took care of what he had to take care of off the field and he's back here with his teammates. No grudges, no hard feelings and I'm glad to get him back."
Smith is about five pounds or so heavier than when he reported in 2011, with the guestimates putting him in the low 340s. But he says he's in a lot better shape.
"My wind is great. My wind is doing really well. I'm really excited about that. I just have to continue to work on my technique, sharpen up some things and play even faster," said Smith, who indicated he's a little rusty. "I've got to bend some more. Got to be able to bend and move my feet better. Just things I can work on better throughout training camp so I can translate it over to the regular season."
The Bengals didn't waste any time getting Smith in there after they cleared him Monday, his calf injury now apparently healed. With left tackle Andrew Whitworth taking the second of three days off, Anthony Collins moved from right tackle to left and Smith moved into right.
"I think it's a big step, coming back and being with my team for the first time this season," Smith said. "It helps build camaraderie, me being out there and working with them. It was exciting and a great time today."
PLAY OF THE DAY:** The first team scored a touchdown on one of its three goal-line plays and how about this for a no-brainer? The offense split out rookie Tyler Eifert to the right and the 6-6 rookie tight end had no problem out-jumping 6-0 rookie safety Shawn Williams as quarterback Dalton floated an immediate fade off the snap.
PLAYER OF THE DAY: Williams. Despite giving up the TD, Williams capped off an excellent first week with an interception of quarterback John Skelton as he sat back in a fire zone when fellow safety Taylor Mays blitzed.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I think I took some of his fat and he took some of my muscle." Gruden on Andre Smith as told to Jay Morrison of The Dayton Daily News.
TIGHT QUARTERS: On their first trips in the red zone and on the goal line Monday, Gruden thought his guys flashed at times and not at others. Seven-on-seven in the red zone looked to be more productive than 11-on-11 with Dalton finding secondary people.
"The defense drops deep and we're throwing underneath and running after the catch. It was a good drill for us," Gruden said. "It was good for us to get that part of the offense installed."
Alexander thought the line got a good push and played much better than it did Sunday. "We made a lot of progress today," he said, particularly in short yardage running behind old-standbys Smith and right guard Kevin Zeitler.
After Dalton hit Eifert for a touchdown in goal line, rookie running back Giovani Bernard got enveloped up the middle on a push from defensive tackle Geno Atkins, middle linebacker Rey Maualuga and WILL backer Vontaze Burfict.
Then on the third snap backup defensive Devon Still got pressure and Dalton had to throw it away.
Backup quarterback Josh Johnson led the twos to three-for-three on the goal line on three runs as the line flexed its muscles. Bernard and fellow rookie running back Rex Burkhead cut back and muscled into the end zone and then Johnson kept the ball wide on a fake handoff that fooled everybody. Including media.
In red-zone work, Dalton went right for wide receiver Mohamed Sanu on the first snap (he of the four red-zone TDs in his last three games before he got hurt last season), but he overthrew what looked to be a fade and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick nearly picked it off with a leap but lost it as he went to the turf.
Then Dalton tried to hit Sanu leaking over the middle, but made him reach for it. It was batted in the air and Sanu caught it. On one last shot, Dalton hit tight end Jermaine Gresham in the back of the end zone, but safety Taylor Mays popped it free. Still, in a rough estimate, Dalton looked to complete eight of 12. There weren't many long ones, but he didn't force anything, either. As an example of how difficult this defense is to play, Atkins and Michael Johnson got pressure and blew up a pass against what looked to be a three tight-end set.
"That defense will have its day. They have an excellent coach and excellent players over there," Gruden said. "We can't make excuses that we don't have everybody on the offensive line or at wide receiver. We have to take advantage of the reps we're getting."
Gruden continues to like how Dalton is running things and getting the offense in and out of plays and improvising. There look to be little or no pre-snap problems. There's also been very little not-on-the-same-page confusion.
"It starts with the quarterback in handling the huddle and communicating and making sure he's a leader and everyone knows what to do," Gruden said.
CENTER OF COMPETITION: Listening to Gruden, second-year man Trevor Robinson is going to have to have a heck of a camp to beat out veteran Kyle Cook at center. And Gruden isn't ruling it out as Robinson emerges from missing the spring with a shoulder injury. In fact, Gruden says the Bengals would be OK either way, heightening the belief that the loser of the derby sticks as a backup guard-center.
"The good thing is Kyle's played a lot of football. Kyle knows this offense like the back of his hand. He's got that going for him. In order to beat Kyle Cook out, you better be really, really good," Gruden said. "Trevor's coming back from his pectoral injury and he's a little bit rusty. He's got to get back into the flow. And Kyle's done a pretty good job.
"We have a great luxury of two guys who can play. And Trevor can play a little bit of guard, which helps. I don't think we can go wrong either way, but with the knowledge Kyle has of the offense, right now at this stage he's doing very well."
INJURY UPDATE: Besides Smith, wide receiver Brandon Tate (hamstring) and long snapper Bryce Davis (illness) were cleared to work Monday. But the club is going slow on Green (knee). The word is he's improving, but he may not return until after the team's first practice after the preseason opener, which would be Aug. 10.
With a day off Tuesday, some vets got another day off Monday. For Whitworth (knee) and left guard Clint Boling (ankle) they'll get three days off because they also sat out Sunday. Whitworth, at least, indicated that's the plan for him. More vet off days Monday: Cornerbacks Leon Hall and Terence Newman and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Left end Carlos Dunlap walked off the field with trainer Paul Sparling late in practice, but it doesn't look to be serious.
ON THE HUNT: Margus Hunt knew once he got the call in the second round that he would soon see things he had never seen before.
Mark down Sunday's Oklahoma Drill for the Bengals rookie right end from SMU via Estonia.
"First time ever doing it, in that kind of fashion," Hunt said before Monday's practice. "We went up against D-linemen straight up, but never against an offensive guy and then having to make a tackle. It was definitely a great environment with guys going all out and everybody cheering for everybody."
Hunt particularly enjoyed the hit-a-thon put on by rookie safety Shawn Williams.
Now mark off another one. For the first time the 6-8, 277-pound Hunt went up against someone taller when he faced off against 6-9, 322-pound veteran right tackle Dennis Roland.
"Officially," Hunt said. "We had a guy that was 6-9, but I never went against him in that fashion. When I saw that matchup, I was excited. He's a big dude. It was a good way to see how they play with their pads down."
Hunt looked like he got just as low as Roland, if not lower, and he knows that's what he has to do now that the pads are on. Football is nothing new even though he's been playing just five years.
"It's good to be back playing again with the pads and learning," Hunt said. "Absolutely it's about leverage and staying low. They're coming at you fast and you have to be ready and in position."
DALTON UNFAZED: After three crisp sessions before the pads came on, the offense flagged on Sunday. Quarterback Andy Dalton went 4-for-10 in 11-on-11 after winging it about 70 percent but he was undaunted before Monday's practice.
"It's a whole different aspect once pads go on. Guys can be more physical out there at receiver and corner," Dalton said. "You have to get used to getting off guys, breaking press coverage and different things like that. We've had a couple of guys sitting out, different guys getting in, and they've got to take advantage of all these reps. But we've been in full pads one day. We'll see how it goes as the weeks go on."
Dalton preferred to expound on what has gone right in the first four days and certainly he's had different targets on different days. On Friday it was wide receiver Marvin Jones and rookie tight end Tyler Eifert. On Saturday it was wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and rookie running back Giovani Bernard.
"That's kind of the way this offense is. We've got a lot of guys that are playmakers. You're saying all this and A.J. (Green) hasn't even been on the field yet," Dalton said. "That's what this offense can do. It can be a different guy in different games, different plays, different series. It just kind of depends what's going on. But I'm really comfortable out there. Marvin, Mo, Jermaine (Gresham), Tyler, Gio, Hawk (Andrew Hawkins), all these guys. You just never know when your number is going to be called.
"You never know until the season gets going. Until you start playing games and get to go against some competition. We'll see how it plays out. We've got a lot of guys that I trust completely and have full confidence in."
Dalton says the way training camp is designed anybody can come out of the woodwork.
"We're installing so many different things. We might be working on one thing and it's, 'Hey, the tight end is probably going to catch more balls today.' Or the guys out wide are going to catch more balls based on what the defense is installing," he said.
"A different guy could get the ball a lot more just because of where we're at in training camp and the install process. That's how it works. You never know how a team is going to play us. We've got A.J. He could draw a lot of double coverage so that leaves other guys in one-on-ones."
For Dalton, there's enough talent and balance. But there's one thing that needs to be captured.
"The biggest thing for us is just being consistent. We have to be able to play well at the beginning of the year and just play through the whole season," Dalton said. "We have potential to do a lot of good things. Shoot, with the running game we've got Benny (Green-Ellis) and a great complement with Gio. In the passing game we just have to make sure everyone is on the same page and things like that. That's the biggest thing kind of going in camp is trying to find the guys that are going to help this team win. I think we know a good part of it. With training camp we're just trying to get better every day. We've done a good job of that so far." UP NEXT:The Bengals are off Tuesday and return to work at the Paul Brown Stadium practice fields Wednesday at 3 p.m. with the gates opening at 2.