Wide receivers Andre Caldwell, Jerome Simpson and A.J. Green listen intently to quarterback Andy Dalton during Friday's practice.
Updated: 8-6-11, 7:30 a.m.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. — The biggest stat of 2010?
When the Bengals failed on third-and-one four times in a season finale they scored just seven points, they finished the season a horrendous 28-for-58 on third-and-two or less.
Head coach Marvin Lewis has let the word go forth and Friday night's full-padded work in short-yardage and goal line work before about 2,500 at Georgetown College reflected a major point of emphasis for new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. The offensive line must play downhill.
"In '09 we had that mentality and we're trying to get back into that mode to run the ball effectively," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "The problem with training camp is you get into rhythms. You just worry about scheme and stuff like that and not worrying about moving people. The object of this game is to move people from point A to point B. You've got to get out here and do that consistently to get that kind of mindset. It's got to be every day. It can't be a practice here or a practice there.
"If we make mistakes, we make mistakes, but you have to move people up and down the line."
Gruden didn't like the way the line came off the ball Thursday night, pounded it home, and thought it took a step forward Friday. The Bengals offense scored about 50 percent of the time on a handful of plays from the 2-yard line; not good enough, but Gruden liked what the line did and is looking for the young backs to be more physical. Plus, the Bengals have just added two tight ends and they need to get them coordinated into the mix.
"We've got to have it this year; it has to be emphasized," said right guard Bobbie Williams."It's something that we can't take for granted. I don't think we let it slip through the cracks last year. It just got overshadowed by other things. We can't do that this year."
Offensive line coach Paul Alexander said it back in February. The Bengals made a move to try and be more explosive in the passing game, and it didn't work. Now here we are back on the 2-yard line.
The line is certainly built for it with maulers like Williams, Nate Livings and the newly acquired Max Jean-Gilles at guard along with the massive Whitworth and the potential road grader at right tackle in Andre Smith.
And running back Cedric Benson's angry power running also fits, although the coaches continued to sit him out Friday night of most drills in an effort to ease him in. He wasn't happy about missing the slugfest but admitted, "They know I can run the ball."
Indeed, Whitworth believes Benson is a major reason the Bengals want to return to their smashmouth ways.
"(Gruden) knows we've got Ced coming back and an experienced offensive line," Whitworth said. "It's what (the line) does best."
So far, so good on Smith, taking part in his first training camp after a holdout and broken foot wiped out his first two.
"It's nice to see him working through basic fundamentals. He's just never really had the chance. Amazing," Alexander said. "He was better today than yesterday and he'll be better tomorrow. He's trying to be perfect. I told him tonight just have fun. Not that he played badly tonight, he played fine, but don't play worried. To heck with it. Just play."
Alexander is rotating the right tackles and backing Smith off in order to make sure the foot is OK. He started Anthony Collins on Thursday and came back with Dennis Roland on Friday with Smith getting a few reps behind both.
MORE OFFENSE: The one noticeable difference in Gruden's scheme is the offense just doesn't go three wide receivers that much and that figures since tight end is a key position in the West Coast offense. And the Bengals are loading up on them.
In a significant move Friday they signed six-year veteran Bo Scaife (reports say for a year at $1 million) and he figures to be their No. 2 tight end in a slew of double and triple sets with Jermaine Gresham and three with Chase Coffman. The Bengals also claimed John Nalbone, a second-year player from the Eagles, while Garrrett Mills remains sidelined with a foot problem.
There's an outside shot the Bengals could keep four tight ends since Gruden uses them so much and rookie free agent Colin Cochart has caught everyone's eye.
"The more tight ends, the better. It helps us in the run game and the passing game," Gruden said. "It will help load up the box for A.J. (Green) to get open down the field. You have two tight ends in there and a lot of times the defense has to put seven, eight men in the box and it leaves our receivers one-on-one a lot. We move people around two tight ends, three tight ends hopefully."
Gruden calls Scaife "a good get" because of his experience. He may not be known as a killer blocker, but 251 career catches automatically makes Scaife the career leader on this young club.
"He knows how to run routes and he's caught a lot of balls in his career," Gruden said. "He's got a little bit of an attitude. He's a tough guy."
Speaking of Green, ho hum. Another practice, another highlight film. He was again all over the place and the stadium erupted when Green beat a blitz downfield and rookie quarterback Andy Dalton avoided it by ripping a 50-yard bomb down the left sideline. Green chased it down and then in all-out dive, he stretched it off the grass.
"I could take a chair out to seven-on-seven and just watch 18 (Green) and 89 (Jerome Simpson)," Whitworth said. "The competitiveness in the receivers room has been tremendous."
DEFENSIVE STANDS: The front seven had a pretty busy night and the play of the club's new outside linebackers, Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard, didn't go unnoticed.
"They're pros. They've been playing in the league a few years," Lewis said. "They're playing similar positions for them. It makes it a quick jump-start right into the defense. Making the change terminology-wise, yet they're still doing the same skills we looked at on tape and why we'd thought they'd be a fit here."
Lawson blew up one running play by knocking over his blocker and was draped all over Simpson on a screen pass.
Another guy all over the place was left end Carlos Dunlap. He asserted himself in the run game several times and on one snap ended up covering Coffman about 25 yards downfield. Tackle Domata Peko, left end Robert Geathers, and rookie SAM linebacker Dontay Moch also were around the ball often. Safety Tom Nelson checked in with an interception of quarterback Dan LeFevour.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Quarterback Andy Dalton looked to survive the blitz drills pretty much unscathed and looked a lot more decisive Friday than he did earlier in the week. Bruce Gradkowski looked better Friday than Thursday.
» Something you never see in the regular season: After cornerback Morgan Trent delivered the hit of the night over the middle breaking up a pass to rookie running back Jay Finley with a huge pop, one of the NFL refs working the practice went to the sidelines to compliment him and position coach Kevin Coyle.
It was a legal hit in this season of scrutiny on player safety. Trent hit with his shoulder and kept the target area—below the armpits—low.
» An eighth official has been assigned to the Bengals Aug. 25 preseason game at Paul Brown Stadium against Carolina. He'll be a deep judge, giving the crew an extra presence in center field as the league's experiment continues.
» One of the camp favorites is hometown DeQuin Evans, the Kentucky defensive end making the switch to outside backer. Morning, noon and night he's in linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald's room, whether anybody else is in there or not.
» The list of guys that didn't work Friday: Mills, cornerbacks Adam Jones, Brandon Ghee, Jonathan Wade and David Pender, safety Gibril Wilson, defensive tackles Tank Johnson and Pat Sims, running back Bernard Scott, fullback Fui Vakapuna, and linebacker Keith Rivers.
» The theme for Saturday's noon workout is the same even though it is not the Mock Game. There are no teams and no scoreboard, but the coaches are working on the operations and mechanics of running a game. As Gruden says, "There's more to football than just calling plays."