As the Bengals prepared for their first practice of training camp Friday at 3 p.m. on the Paul Brown Stadium practice fields, their versatility on both sides of the ball should be on display.
With all their offensive weapons in a re-union, look for guys like tight end Tyler Eifert and running backs Giovani Bernard and Rex Burkhead to line up all over the place. And with veteran A.J. Hawk able to line up at both outside backer spots and cornerback Leon Hall nosing around at safety, the defense is also going to be switching around.
Don't get too excited about that first first-team defensive snap. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has pledged he's going to rotate his backers through. Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga isn't practicing Friday ("I think I'll be back in a few days," he said), so Vincent Rey would figure to line up there. And you could get Hawk at SAM and third-round pick P.J. Dawson at WILL, or Emmanuel Lamur at SAM and Hawk at WILL as WILL backer Vontaze Burfict (knee) figures to miss the first couple of weeks of practice.
Head coach Marvin Lewis, who broke into the NFL 23 summers ago as a Steelers 3-4 linebackers coach, thinks he can help Hawk adjust to a 4-3 once the pads come on Monday. Hawk is coming out of a 3-4 Packers defense built by Dom Capers, Lewis' coordinator in Pittsburgh all those years ago.
"He's got leadership abilities and abilities to make plays,' said Lewis in a news conference before Friday's practice. "He's a smart guy. He'll get to the right spot all the time. He's made a little transition to playing a different style of defense and what we're asking him to do and how to play blocks. That will be the biggest thing. To get his eyes right. I think I can really help with some of those things and make him more effective as a linebacker."
MORE MARV ON ANDY: Lewis continues to heap praise on quarterback Andy Dalton's expanding leadership skills. Enough to say Friday that left tackle Andrew Whitworth, for years the club's de facto offensive captain, is "cutting his ties to allow Andy to keep going."
"As Whit would say," Lewis said, "he's passed the baton to Andy. He's happy to give it up. And that's a good thing. Andy has done a good job of accepting it."
Asked if that makes Dalton the unofficial offensive captain, Lewis said, "He's the unofficial offensive captain. He's leading the polls right now. I don't know if he'll win Iowa."
No surprise. Whitworth and Dalton were last year's offensive captains.
When it comes to fan reaction, Dalton has taken the high road and did it again Friday when he was asked about the lukewarm reception he received when he was announced with mixed reviews at a celebrity softball game earlier this month
"They didn't boo when I hit my two home runs,' he said with a laugh. "I think I heard lots of cheers. I think that whole thing, it wasn't everybody. If you look at a video or two it makes it seem like it's more than what it was but there are a lot of loyal fans, a lot of people that have backed me, that have supported me. That's all I've heard. It's unfortunate that was the reaction initially but after hitting a couple of home runs it was a lot of cheers.
LITTLE ROOM: Lewis made it pretty clear that wide receiver Greg Little is running out of chances. A 2011 second-round pick, Little hooked up with the team that released him back in February on Thursday in the wake of No. 4 receiver James Wright (knee) going to injured reserve for the season.
Lewis likes Little's experience, physicality and the three catches that helped them beat Baltimore last season. He showed Little tape of him last season peeling tacklers off running back Jeremy Hill in the running game. Lewis' point is that Little has to do it more consistently (particularly the physical part) and not talk about how it fell apart with Browns head coach Mike Pettine a year ago.
"He comes in with somewhat an understanding of the offense. He's not like a rookie you're getting here in August," Lewis said. "He's a guy that's going to be able to walk in and have recollection from last year. Let's learn to do it the right way. Let's learn to do it consistently all the time….Stay quiet. Be quiet. Be seen and not heard…This is generally the last stop for people when I'm done tolerating."
Little gets it. He's been around. He's 26 and made the plea to Lewis even before they cut him. After the Browns cut him an offseason ago, he didn't hook on with Cincinnati until October and played in his first game after three practices.
"Just coming in, it was just kind of a joke because you're learning so much so quickly. Then you're on to the next week and you're trying to learn that week," Little said. "That's what I tried to reiterate to Marvin at the exit meeting. Just let me come in and have a normal offseason and try to learn the system and show you what I can do with that."
Although the offer came 24 hours before the first practice of training camp, Little says he's grateful.
"It's much easier to learn in training camp when you have the time and they're installing it instead of you have 20 other guys on the offense that kind of know the game plan already," he said Friday. "So it's kind of expedited and you have to take extra time at night and just try to create time to grab a coach and try to brush up on it."
B-DAY: Happy 27th birthday, A.J. Green.