High-est 5 items on rookie camp list


Giovani Bernard

The five biggest things unfolding when the Bengals rookie minicamp takes the field at Paul Brown Stadium for five practices from Friday to Sunday mornings:

THE BIG GUYS: As in first-round pick Tyler Eifert and second-round pick Giovani Bernard.

Eifert, the tight end from Notre Dame, and Bernard, the running back from North Carolina, debut in what amounts to basically a passing camp designed to unleash their wares. The Bengals drafted them to beef up the passing game and Eifert's athleticism and ballhawking, as well as Bernard's nifty pass routes and reliable hands should have plenty of chances to be put on display.

But like any camp where no one has worked together, it's not going to be NFL Films material and it is probably going to look downright ugly at times as the tryout quarterbacks scramble to develop some kind of timing with a potpourri of drafted, undrafted and tryout receivers.

Still, the cream always figures to rise.

One thing not to look for this weekend is if Eifert can block the way the Bengals want. As someone once said about being able to tell if a tight end can block, "You can only do it when he's wearing pads and the guy across from him is mad."

So check back about Aug. 15 on that one.

It's a nice what-could-have-been-reunion for Eifert and Bernard. When Bernard was coming out of St. Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, he committed to Notre Dame before head coach Charlie Weis got whacked in favor of Brian Kelly. Kelly's staff whiffed on Bernard (he never heard from them) and Bernard ended up in Chapel Hill.

By the way, when Bernard hits the turf Friday, it won't be his first PBS practice and the Aug. 17 preseason game against the Titans won't be his first game here. He was here as an Aquinas sophomore when they walked through before beating Elder.

SPEED: There is plenty of it in the camp that features The Combine's Fastest Player in Auburn free-agent running back Onterio McCalebb making the switch to cornerback.

Remember the 5-11, 190-pound Taveon Rogers? He made the switch from wide receiver to corner during the last training camp as an undrafted player out of New Mexico State. He went on season-ending injured reserve when he hurt his shoulder in the third preseason game against Green Bay before he got a chance to return kicks, so he'll make his season debut with the rest of the veterans at next week's first OTA.

Rogers is a burner who returned three kickoffs for TDs as a senior and averaged 27.1 yards per return as a junior. But his move to cornerback was necessitated in the middle of a training camp where the corners were dropping like names on a red carpet and the Bengals needed warm bodies to simply get through a practice. The move back to receiver may be all we need to know.

Yet McCalebb's move is planned, and secondary coach Mark Carrier says the club should have a pretty good idea by the end of the weekend if McCalebb can make the switch. If he ends up at receiver for the next camp on May 21, we'll know the answer.

"You'll have a sense of what he can and can't do," says Carrier, who is looking at three primary elements from McCalebb this weekend.

Can he backpedal? If he can't, here are the receiver gloves, kid. Can he adjust to playing a receiver as he runs routes and react to throws? And, can he understand the concepts well enough that he can shoot them back to Carrier and assistant Adam Zimmer?

"There are guys in this league that find a way mentally to get it done," Carrier says. "They're not the most athletic guys, but they make it."

LINING THEM UP: Eifert and Bernard are going to have to fight through the cameras this weekend, but it is Shawn Williams, the third-round pick out of Georgia, that may end up being the one rookie Opening Day starter in Chicago.

The Bengals are still seeking a bright, physical safety that can cover consistently enough to line up opposite the free safety-ish Reggie Nelson. In short, the Bengals are looking for a young Chris Crocker and that means Williams is going to have to not only know the playbook, he's going to have to communicate it to the secondary.

And the 5-11, 213-pound Williams comes in with the rep of running a pro-style show at Georgia. The Bengals will want to see how quickly he grasps their concepts and gets everyone in their spots like he did in college.

This is going to be a whirlwind weekend for him. The Bulldogs didn't ask Williams to leave the box much, but the Bengals think they've got a guy that can cover enough. He'll get a taste here of NFL coverage quite quickly. Mr. Williams, meet Mr. Eifert.

But don't get too caught up in this weekend. The coaches won't. One of the reasons the Bengals liked Williams in the draft is because the guys they get from Georgia have had a tendency to improve once they get here. And there are still a bunch on the roster with left end Robert Geathers (2004), defensive tackle Geno Atkins (2010), wide receiver A.J. Green, left guard Clint Boling (2011) and tight end Orson Charles (2012). That group alone suggests Williams is going to be at least a regular pretty much right away.

THE HUNT BEGINS: These padless camps don't give too much on linemen, especially the first one. But even in a camp like this, you ought to be able to appreciate the world-class athletic skills of SMU defensive end Margus Hunt, the other second-round pick.

The man goes 6-8, 277 pounds, has international medals for throwing, and runs a blistering 4.6 seconds in the 40. Now try on the fact that the 6-5, 250-pound Eifert runs a 4.69 and this should be quite interesting no matter what transpires.

This weekend should also be a good gauge about just where Hunt is in his development as a relatively new player compared to other top college prospects. A mini Senior Bowl, if you will. Plus, the Bengals can go back and look at other ends they've had in this camp recently, such as Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap, and make the comparison.

The parlor game to play on Hunt is picking the regular-season game he will suit up for the first time. He could go awhile before he gets his shot and that should suit his development.

REX-A-MANIA: Sixth-round pick Rex Burkhead comes into this camp with a lot of off-field ink for his powerful community service while in college. But the people at Nebraska are convinced the Bengals have found more than that at running back.

"They don't know what they're getting," says Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown.

Burkhead knows he has a lot to prove. He knows this isn't the Big 10. Not with a guy like Hunt running loose and his own 4.69 40 being questioned in his bid to stick behind Bernard, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Cedric Peerman.

In one sense, this kind of camp may not be the greatest setting for Burkhead. He's a physical player that grinds it out doing all the little things and the no-pads uniform speeds up the game.

But in another sense, it's a great forum to show his excellent feel for the game and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He's known for his aptitude to think and that's one thing guys have to do faster at these camps than run. Usually the guys that pick up the Xs and Os quickest are the camp stars.

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