If it's possible in his second Bengals training camp, cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is having a better camp than last year's spectacular coming-out-party. (See below, Play of the Day.)
Awuzie, still a football junkie after all these years, looked up from his phone before Sunday's practice. The screen was busy with football, but Awuzie took the time to agree.
"I would say I am. Mentally, though, I know what's to come. I have the end in mind more now," said Awuzie, the best thing the Bengals got out of Dallas since Andy Dalton. "Last year I was just trying to master the process on a different team. Now I'm kind of used to this team. I'm used to the guys. I know how everything works."
How Awuzie works is study. He makes it his business to know cornerbacks past and present. When you tell him that last year he played the best corner around these parts since Leon Hall's heyday, he knows exactly who you're talking about because he watched him and the Bengals from the previous decade.
"I loved Leon. He used to be one of my favorite corners, actually," said Awuzie of a guy that took his last snap in Cincinnati when he was a junior at Colorado. "I just love watching corners and Leon was one of them. Johnathan Joseph, right? I used to watch them a lot. Terence Newman? Right. Reggie Nelson. That whole era. I was trying to learn something.
"The thing that stood out with Leon was the way he played the nickel position. He was very explosive with interceptions in the slot. And on the outside, too. He's one of those corners not a lot of people remember, but he has lot of respect among the DBs now."
By coincidence, one of those cornerbacks that played with Hall, Newman and Nelson, cornerback Adam Jones, stopped by Sunday. Awuzie didn't watch Jones as much as Hall, but he saw enough to remember.
"Very tough. A physical corner," Awuzioe said. "It's been a long time since I watched his tape. But he was physical and very intense."
The cornerback opposite Awuzie, Eli Apple, goes back even farther than Hall. A couple of days ago he retweeted clips of Bengals all-time interceptions leader Ken Riley, a guy that made his 65th and last interception in 1983, the year before Hall and Joseph were born.
"I didn't know about him until I got here (last year)," Apple said. "Now I'm a big fan. I wanted to wear No. 13, but you can't do that to a legend."
Naturally, Awuzie, the tape junkie, took a long look at the Riley clip and count him now as one of the many pushing for Riley's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"That was cool to see. He had nine picks in a season," Awuzie said of 47 years ago. "Those are plays that would be hard to make today. The best players in each generation can play in any era. I think he's one of those guys. Now that the Bengals are in the national spotlight, maybe that will help (his case)."
And the idea is to stay in the national spotlight.
"I'm definitely in the same mind frame of being hungry and humble and grind and at the same time I do know we have big goals," Awuzie said. "I try to temper my emotions and everything when I get there. Another year of playing with each other. I know there's a lot of consistency in the back end right now with the calls. We're just getting more and more comfortable with each other. Our standards are getting higher, too, because we know exactly where we want to go now."
PLAY OF THE DAY: CB Chidobe Awuzie
The offense had a couple of Move The Ball periods on Sunday, but they barely moved the ball. Part of the reason is because the cornerbacks, like everyone else on defense, continue to excel. Not even Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase could bail them out.
Awuzie was isolated on Chase on a little slant and Chase couldn't get away from him. Awuzie reached across Chase's stomach to bat the ball and it bounced up in the air and Awuzie caught it for the interception.
"The toughest part was covering the route. I didn't know what he was running until he ran it," Awuzie said. "Can't let him get any separation. I was able to stay with him and make something happen."
PLAYER OF THE DAY: NT D.J. READER
That moving the ball period? Not so much in another dominating effort by the defense. And, as usual, Reader was barking all the way through it, motivating his fellow defenders and challenging the offense as leader inspiring guys on both sides of the ball.
Edgers Trey Hendrickson (two more sacks) and Sam Hubbard (a batch of more pressures) were huge again, but it all starts with Reader up front stopping the run and on Sunday there was no room to run as Reader continues to have a superb camp.
"Oh yeah, I like to talk out there," Reader said. "If not, practice is dead."
Reader doesn't just go after his teammates. At the end of Sunday's first Move The Ball period, he was going at it with special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons. Simmons acts as the official who marks the yardage. And that can be tough in a period that's not live and a run can only be stopped by judging "a Thud."
Apparently on this one run, Simmons didn't call the Thud soon enough and Reader felt too many yards were given.
"Darrin and I have to hash it over there on the sidelines," Reader said. "I don't always get the call I want. I really care about that extra yard. I don't really like to see that."
Simmons gets it and loves it because he knows how much Reader's talking means to the team, especially the defense.
"I love it. I love the banter," Simmons said. "He brings toughness and respectability, too. He does a great job with that. He's all about the defense."
"Looking for some calls," Reader said.
"He gets plenty of calls," Simmons said.
And so it goes.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Former Bengals CB Adam Jones
"Hey. Website guy's dying."
Actually, this quote is from almost seven years ago. We're running it here in honor of Jones' appearance at Sunday practice.
The Bengals were boarding their charter flight back to Cincinnati after a brutal overtime loss in eight degrees in Denver late in the 2015 season. The Bengals.com correspondent's asthma kicked in as he boarded. His inhaler didn't work and appeared to be frozen. He buckled in the aisle.
Two players helped him. Vontaze Burfict gave up his seat and Jones, not wanting to confuse anyone with names, yelled for help.
Help came with an inhaler from the training staff. But none came for those two guys a few weeks later in the Wild Card against Pittsburgh. No good deed goes unpunished.
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Khalid Kareem, the third-year edge, practiced for the first time this year and he had a story to tell.
"I played through a torn labrum," Kareem revealed of the right shoulder injury he suffered in last season's preseason finale against Miami.
Instead of getting surgery, he sucked it up twice. First when he came off injured reserve in November and then after he made one of the plays of the year Dec. 19 in Denver. Kareem got a concussion and aggravated the shoulder on the same play, when he wrenched the ball from Broncos quarterback Drew Lock in the red zone and saved the win.
But he just wasn't going to stop playing. He ended up playing back-to-back career-high snaps in the finale against Cleveland (48) and the Wild Card win over Las Vegas (29). Nine days after taking 10 snaps in the Super Bowl, he underwent surgery.
"It was a life-long dream. I couldn't miss that opportunity," Kareem said of the playoff run.
He had the other shoulder fixed earlier in his career and looked pretty relieved as he walked off the field Sunday.
"I feel good and it feels good to be out there with the guys again." …
Old friend Mike Zimmer surfaced at camp Sunday, his first time back on the Kettering Health Practice Felds nearly six years to the day. That's when he was the head coach of the Vikings and the Vikes scrimmaged the Bengals two days before they played in the Aug. 12, 2016 preseason opener.
And that had been the first time he'd been back since ending his six-year run as the Bengals defensive coordinator with four top ten efforts and four play-off berths.
He was to here to visit some old friends (Bengals president Mike Brown, special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons) as well as visit his son, new Bengals offensive analyst Adam Zimmer.
Of course, the Zimmers were here for last year's opener, a 27-24 Vikings loss in overtime highlighted by Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt's fumble recovery that the Vikes still wonder about.
"The next week we lost when we missed a (37-yard) field goal on the last play," Mike Zimmer said of a 34-33 loss to Arizona. "We missed the playoffs by a game."
It makes you wonder about the bounces. Zimmer was fired despite being the third winningest coach in Vikes history. But no time to mope. The avid outdoorsman has moved back to his Walton, Ky., ranch, about a half-hour from Paul Brown Stadium, and is expanding Zim Fork. He's putting in a second lake and plans to stock it.
But he also had time to swap a few thoughts with defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo …
Quarterback Joe Burrow looks to be progressing. No cart on Sunday. He was on the field all practice and stood behind the offense in the 87-degree heat …
Swing tackle D'Ante Smith looks to be dealing with a back or hip issue. He's walking gingerly, but they're hoping it's not long-term …