GEORGETOWN, Ky. — It was the toughest of training camps and the easiest of training camps.
But as the Bengals broke from Georgetown College after Thursday morning's practice, the consensus is that their conditioning isn't that far behind the previous eight training camps of head coach Marvin Lewis. Even though the lockout wiped out all of the club's offseason conditioning and the new collective bargaining agreement limited Lewis to one workout per day, three of the offensive bulwarks say it's the best they've ever felt.
"It's been pretty rough; a lot of damn plays," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "But it's the best I've ever felt. I think we're where we need to be."
Running back Cedric Benson, who bolted out of the gate with 6.2 yards per carry in Friday's preseason opener, thinks the team is ready.
"I think it's good. I don't think it's something that stands out in significance," Benson said. "I know I'm in the best shape I've ever been in. I took advantage of that extra time and it looks like a lot of other guys did, too. There are always going to be a couple, but everybody looked good in the game. Nobody looked gassed. I feel like I did a lot of great things in the offseason to be in top form."
Center Kyle Cook observed, "We played that entire first half Friday and that's the most we ever played that early. I feel great."
Lewis said he thinks his team is in comparable shape. On one hand, they went full pads more than any other camp. On the other, they only had one practice per day. Some at camp believe the lack of an offseason and the one-a-days have contributed to there being fewer contact injuries.
"I think for the most part it's been comparable," Lewis said. "There might be a guy or two and that's because the numbers at those spots, they had to round into shape quicker because there are more repetitions."
The Bengals did have an unusual number of pulled muscles at one position—wide receiver—but they believe it ended up team-wide with about the same number of pulls as at a regular training camp. What was different is that they think pulls were all moderate and none were severe.
"I'm going to reserve judgment," said strength coach Chip Morton. "Now that we've done it, we have to study this format and learn from it."
TRESSEL VISITS: A day after he visited Browns training camp, former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel came here to visit with Bengals president Mike Brown, a long-time supporter of the Buckeys since his father coached them in the early 1940s and led them to a national title. After practice, Tressel chatted with head coach Marvin Lewis and he checked in with his old kicker Mike Nugent. He didn't meet the media.
"My claim to fame is I was his first recruit," said Nugent, a Centerville, Ohio product. "The recruiting class was already set, but when he came in he offered me a scholarship."
While Nugent rehabbed his knee this spring at Ohio State, Tressell saw him coming off the practice field and Nugent motioned to his crutches telling Tressel, "I shouldn't be here like this."
Since then Tressel resigned under fire, but they didn't talk football Thursday.
"We caught up," Nugent. "I just love the way he ran his program. I think guys like him, Marvin, Tony Dungy find a way to do it the right way by caring about the players but yet being able to coach them.
"He should be remembered at Ohio State for the million good things he did. Not for one thing that went wrong."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Offensive line coach Paul Alexander says he'll flip a coin to determine if rookie Clint Boling is going to replace left guard Nate Livings or right guard Bobbie Williams as early as the game's second drive so "I can see what he does against (starters)." He'll also play the other guard later in the game.
» The Bengals finally got back all of their receivers in time for the last practice. A.J. Green, who left Wednesday's practice with sore muscles around the knee, told the coaches he wanted to play and he didn't miss a beat. He caught two leaping red-zone touchdowns from quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton also had a good goal-line period, where he hit rookie tight end Colin Cochart for a touchdown.
» Wide receiver Jerome Simpson made a flying over-the-middle catch in 11-on-11 and plucked the line drive from cornerback Nate Clements.
» Tight end Bo Scaife made a leaping one-handed grab down the middle. No. 1 tight end Jermaine Gresham didn't practice all week with an unknown ailment, but it doesn't seem serious. Left end Carlos Dunlap (knee) also missed every practice this week, but indications are it's not a serious problem. Same with rookie running back Jay Finley, unknown ailment. Cornerback Brandon Ghee (hamstring) who has barely practiced this camp, was also out.
PASSING IT ON: One of the more diehard Bengals fans remains Matt Anderson, son of Ken Anderson, the Bengals all-time leading passer. Even though his first child is due any day, Matt visited training camp this week and put another seal of approval on rookie quarterback Andy Dalton wearing his father's No. 14.
The day after the draft back in April, Ken Anderson, now retired after 17 seasons as an NFL assistant coach, said he had no problem with the jersey given to Dalton.
"In the end, nine out of 10 people won't even notice," Ken Anderson said then. "I just hope he plays well."
Matt is that one in 10.
"As a Bengals fan, I hope he wears it for 14 years and not just for two or something like that," Matt said on the sidelines. "It doesn't bother me in the least. I hope when I take my kid to the game and he's six, seven, eight years old, I can say, 'That was your grandpa's number, too."
They know it's a boy and Grandpa has already sent him an Anderson 14 jersey. In fact, the kid already has two of them before he's even been announced.
"He's ready. He'll be wearing the Anderson 14 jersey, not the Dalton 14 jersey, but we're rooting for him," Matt said.
'12 TALKS: Despite having their lowest attended camp at the school, Georgetown officials still would like to get the Bengals back next year and it sounds like they could. Todd Gambill, the school's dean of students, said Thursday the sides are talking about 2012 and hope to have some kind of an announcement in a few weeks.