TRAINING CAMP 2008 INDEX: Features, news, notes, video, photos, schedule and more* * *
Posted: 6:30 a.m.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Here's something you haven't seen very often lately coming out of the Bengals huddle down here at training camp:
Running back Chris Perry for one. As Rudi Johnson enters his second week resting a sore hamstring, Perry keeps pounding it just about every practice and looks like he's running easily for the first time in three years.
But Perry and friends are also running the ball more out of a double tight-end formation than they have before and while offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski is quick to downplay the new liberal use of the package, he also welcomes it.
Bratkowski "It's a change of pace. It can't be the whole package; it has to be part of the package," Bratkowski said Wednesday of double tights. "It's a nice adjustment to have. Every time we used that personnel group in the past, it was pretty heavy pass in that grouping. Now it will give us a chance to be a better running team."
The man who has made it possible, Ben Utecht, the free-agent tight end from the Colts who caught 68 balls from Peyton Manning the past two seasons, has been impressed how the Bengals have so readily adapted their playbook to two tight ends.
Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh has often talked this offseason about how different the Bengals offense is from what the Colts do. But Utecht is starting to see one familiar thread.
"We're getting good rotation in there," Utecht said of double tight ends. "We're probably using it about the same (as Indy). We're working on making it a comfortable part of the offense. It's not an easy thing (to change), especially when your team is so used to running regular with the tight end or fullback. It will take some time. We've got all preseason to get used to it. There's a big adjustment for everyone. Especially for the quarterback. He's got to get used to having both tight ends on the field, especially in the passing game."
Actually, Carson Palmer is just fine, thank you. On one snap Wednesday night he saw both tight ends, Utecht and Reggie Kelly, splayed in front of him on underneath routes to the sidelines and he fired a 15-yard completion to Utecht running below Kelly.
Palmer "If anything, it's easier," Palmer said of throwing to two tights. "The guy is 6-6. You can't miss him streaking down the field."
It's not exactly culture shock for an offense that would so often go to three wides. But call it culture stirring. With no clear-cut No. 3 wideout and two established NFL tight ends, there is also some necessity here.
"We've wanted to get to that," Palmer said of using multiple tight ends. "We're still running pretty much the same plays, just different people in different spots. The defense has to recognize certain formations because we can pass out of it as easily as we can run out of it."
The critique that began last season spilled from everywhere. From NFL Network to head coach Marvin Lewis to the e-mail from Des Moines and the caller from Norwood.
The Bengals had become stale on offense, they said. Lewis doesn't say predictable, but he thinks he has stirred the pot this offseason and says the varying tight-end formations are going to cut down on the constant flow of three-receiver sets defenses saw last year.
And he's looking at it from a defensive coach's perspective.
Lewis "I don't know if it will be one tight end, two tight ends or three tight ends," Lewis said, "but it does in preparation for a defensive football team make a difference if you're preparing for a percentage of four or five different personnel groupings as opposed to two or three.
"You've got to allot practice time for that. It waters down what you can do in some of your base counts. It certainly waters down what you can do in pressures and things like that because you've got to feel good about adjustments based on motion and formation changes."
The ironic thing it may do is show people just how important Kelly has been the last five years. Utecht will probably end up catching more balls in a season than Kelly ever has here (he better catch more than 21) and he makes virtually as much money per year ($3 million), but it is Kelly that makes so much of this possible.
"He's a phenomenal blocker," Palmer said. "There's not a better blocking tight end," but Lewis also reminds that when Kelly gets his hands on a ball, he never drops it.
Although Utecht had a knock for fumbling in Indianapolis, he has shown superb hands here and his lone workout with Palmer after Tuesday's practice shows his commitment.
"I want to know how he wants things," Utecht said. "I want to go to him one-on-one to ask him questions. 'How do you want it?' 'How do you want this route run?' 'What are you thinking?' 'Where do you want the ball?' "
At the moment, the ball looks like it could be anywhere. That is exactly what Bratkowski is looking for without sacrificing his offense's most feared weapon in the quick strike to the wide receivers.
"As long as you've got explosive guys on the outside," Bratkowski said, "you can be explosive."