Posted: 6:30 a.m.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. - The Bengals hit for real Friday night in the intrasquad scrimmage, so here are seven hard truths in honor of Aug. 7 as Bengaldom converges on Georgetown College to celebrate the high holiday. What players and coaches want to see unfold in the 6:30 p.m. drill that should go for about 40 plays.
1. PREPARE FOR THE B. SCOTT BLITZ
Fans will come into the gates talking about rookie defensive end Michael Johnson and they'll leave buzzing about rookie running back Bernard Scott.
Scott has already been anointed the best rookie of the first week of camp by none other than quarterback Carson Palmer. The kid has jets and a knack for getting outside. He's 5-10, 200 pounds and has already been compared to Titans running back Chris Johnson by at least one teammate after Johnson's Rookie of the Year season last year.
But Scott's not worried about showing his balls skills Friday. "That's pretty natural," he said.
"I just need to show them in a game situation I know what I'm doing," Scott said. "That I can pick up a blitz and I can adapt to the speed of the game. I've been holding my own (in blitz pickup) but I think I can get in better position."
Scott says he's going to concentrate on his hand placement and making sure the blitzers don't get their hands inside his.
2. DON'T LOOK FOR NO. 93 IN ONE SPOT
Of course, the fans will be murmuring about Johnson, too. Have you ever heard Marvin Lewis say anything that good about anybody? He said earlier this week that Johnson is as physical and as fast as any rookie he's ever been around.
The college defensive end is still going to put his hand on the ground at end, but this will be his first scrimmage playing in a bunch of spots as the Bengals try to unleash that 6-7, 265-pound threat on the passer. His outside linebacker coach, Paul Guenther, is looking mainly for consistency. SAM linebacker won't be the only place Johnson will be standing up, but he's been getting a lot of work there as well as rushing from the edge.
"We want to see him handle multiple responsibilities and how he responds in different game-time situations; down and distance," Guenther said. "He's got a lot on his plate right now. It's the point in camp where guys have to get over the hump and not let the mental part eat away at you."
Johnson is smart enough that he's been helping some veterans out with some coverage concepts. He's almost looked smoother doing that because he's just never going to look pretty against the mauling tackles. Right now he's fighting pad level, but he's also gotten in some licks during trench play. As Lewis said, Johnson has exceeded his expectations.
"He's truly a hybrid guy, so we're looking for him to put it all together," Guenther said. "Where he puts together five, six consecutive plays in a drive where he does everything right."
3. COUNT ON PALMER TO HENRY DEEP
Don't they always seem to manage to go long? Wide receiver Chris Henry has been Carson Palmer's most consistently successful deep target this camp and what else is new? From 2005 to 2007, Palmer hooked up with Henry eight times for touchdown passes of at least 25 yards.
This is a whole new deal, of course. Henry hasn't been in camp since '07 and Palmer wasn't with him in '08 but they don't look to have missed a beat. After Henry dropped a wide-open pass over the middle in the red zone during Thursday's no-huddle period, Palmer allowed that Henry had a tough day, "but he's a tough guy that will bounce back tomorrow. ... He loves to make the big play."
4. EXPECT CARSON CONFIDENCE
Palmer will be the first to say that the passing game hasn't been pretty. That the ball has been on the ground too much and that there have been too many little mistakes. He also says he likes the way it has progressed each day, but don't expect anything but his cool calm.
Remember, last year he knew right away the season was headed to disaster but he never let on. It certainly doesn't look as bad as last year, since the top four receivers have all practiced regularly and he says his elbow is just fine.
As for the observation that his arm looks strong but his accuracy is down as he tries to get back in sync with his receivers, Palmer politely disagrees.
"I don't think we've been off that much," he said. "My arm has felt great ... it's still early."
5. FULLBACK WIDE OPEN
Who is the starting fullback is a huge question but now that the tight ends are in such shambles how many fullbacks are the Bengals going to keep may be the bigger question.
Jeremi Johnson held the job from 2003-2007 during a stretch he secured the richest fullback deal in history, was named the Pro Bowl alternate and then got cut. He came into camp in much better shape than he had in years, but he acknowledged earlier this week it was going to take time for him to get back in the flow after missing a year.
He's been a pleasant surprise, but Thursday was not a good day. He dropped a pass out of the backfield and then flinched before the snap a play or two later in drawing the ire of offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski: "JJ, two critical mistakes in the red zone!"
Rookie Fui Vakapuna, the seventh-rounder, is getting a ton of work, too, and Friday is really the first time he'll be able to show the coaches what they think they saw in him without pads this spring. Rookie free agent Chris Pressley hasn't gotten much of a look, but this is his type of venue as a strong thumper. Stay tuned. J.D. Runnels Jr., is seeing some time, too.
6. THIRD CORNER ANYONE's JOB, TOO
With David Jones on the shelf four to six weeks with a screw in his foot, one of the names like Geoff Pope, Morgan Trent, Rico Murray, and the newly arrived Jamar Fletcher could be the third corner on Opening Day.
The scrimmage allows secondary coach Kevin Coyle to finally see if these guys can offer any run support. Even though Pope and Fletcher were on the roster last year, they didn't play that much and since they arrived during the season the real popping was over. The coaches have high regard for Trent, the sixth-rounder from Michigan, but Friday is a big day for him.
"The consistency in his play from tackling and run protection standpoint is a question that needs to be answered," Coyle said. "We've talked about it. I've seen him (on tape) physical in games and there have been games he has be more physical for us. He knows that.
"Obviously the No. 3 job is where someone has to step up and claim it. We've got a whole group of guys there."
At 6-1, 195 pounds, Trent is built to come up in the run game. The club got a glimpse of his toughness and commitment just a week after the draft when he did the same thing Jones did and suffered a stress fracture in his foot. But he willed himself through a tremendous rehab and would have been able to play in a game a month later.
7. ANTHONY COLLINS IS BETTER THAN YOU THINK
No, this hasn't been mandated by management because No. 1 pick Andre Smith is holding out and Collins is the starting right tackle. Hey, John Thornton likes him, too. He looks athletic in pass rush drills and he's not a small man at 6-5, 315. It wasn't all that long ago Collins was getting as much pub as someone named Jason Smith in the Big 12. Collins went into the draft and Smith stayed in school before becoming the No. 2 pick in this past draft.
(Maybe, in a sense, the Bengals will end up with two top 10 tackles again.)
"I want to see him step up and play relentless and in a scrimmage situation he will," said offensive line coach Paul Alexander. "That's what we're really looking for. We're looking to see who stands up, who finishes, who plays hard and competes, but with the poise.
"I want to see him get better because he has been getting better. He's better today than he was a week ago."
Alexander feels pretty good about his inexperienced crew. "The whole thing has been pretty good," he said. "To this point I've been pleasantly surprised. Now see if they can take it to the next step."
There is one more thing Alexander wants to see and it may be the most important. He lost a lineman a day before camp started with a failed physical and backup guard-center Dan Santucci is walking around with his foot in a boot and that always suggests at least a week or two out.
"We're down to 11," Alexander said. "I don't want to see anybody get hurt."