The Bengals quietly handed out their 2021 AFC championship rings to players, coaches and staff during the work day Thursday at Paul Brown Stadium. And it matched the classy understated piece that caught Caroline Blackburn's eye when she went through her grandmother's jewelry box.
"We looked at a bunch of rings. But what we primarily tried to use were our '81 and '88 championship rings as models," said Blackburn, the club's senior manager of digital strategy who oversaw the project.
"We wanted a balance. Knowing in the modern day you have to make it a little bit flashier. So we landed on this one. But we did try to tie it to our other two. They match so nicely. We wanted something that would fit in with those and, like we've always been focused on, a good nod back to our history and tradition."
The ring glints with both bling and legend. The orange and black "B," is set in a diamond-cut black stone with five orange sapphires each on the top and bottom of the logo. The ten sapphires represent the club's ten AFC division titles.
On the right side of the ring is an image of the Lamar Hunt Trophy surrounded by three round sapphires signifying the Bengals' three conference championships.
But the instructions were clear. No ceremony. Nothing gaudy or large. There is still a bigger ring to get. The players appreciated that.
"Getting one of these means something, especially in this league," said nose tackle D.J. Reader. "Winning the conference is a big deal, but we have more to go, though. They did a good job celebrating our accomplishments and did a really good job designing them. I really like them. I'll wear it sooner or later."
On the left side is the player's name and jersey number set in diamonds with the backdrop of a Bengals tiger stripe a salute to the fans.
"We wanted to make sure we acknowledged our past in subtle and subdued ways," Blackburn said, "and also have something that our players are excited about. It does bring a lot of interesting emotions from people. It does make you look back and say, gosh you were so close to having such a different memory."
Cornerback Mike Hilton is thinking of a bigger one, too.
"We're trying to get the other one in the near future," Hilton said. "Anther ring to get. It looked good. It shined well, so that's always a plus. I'll probably put it up or give it to my father. But it's exciting to have that."
Running back Joe Mixon has a spot for it already.
"It looked nice, but we're not settling. We want to get the big one," Mixon said. "I'll put it up in the trophy case. It's definitely a great memory. But the ultimate is to get the big one."
Blackburn, whose grandmother is Nancy Brown, the ultimate den mother of Bengals fans everywhere and the wife of Bengals president Mike Brown, is also hoping the next order is for the big one.
"This is the first one in my lifetime," Blackburn said. "It will always have a little bit of that 'so close' feel, but it's also important to appreciate and celebrate the special moments. You can't take them for granted. It's important for us that everybody who helped what was truly a team effort have something that will always help them remember such a special year."
Reader plans to wear it for big occasions because it is such a big moment.
"It reminds you how close you were," Reader said. "You want to celebrate that accomplishment. Making it that far is a thing to celebrate. I'm glad we got a ring for it."
PLAYER OF THE DAY: TE Hayden Hurst
Thursday's second practice of training camp unfolded how you would have expected. With some soreness kicking in and the adrenaline melting in the 82-degree heat, it was a little slower than the first day in helmets and no pads. But just as tedious as head coach Zac Taylor works to install of much his offense and defense as he can before the pads come on next week.
But even as quarterback Joe Burrow sits out recovering from an appendectomy, the offense flexed its muscles with Hurst, the new tight end, showing what he can do. He made a nice contested catch down the seam, leaping over tight coverage by slot cornerback Mike Hilton and securing the ball as he went to the ground. Later he used a smooth move on linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither to get open on a short hitch route on the right side.
"It's coming hard going to a new team with a whole new terminology," said tight end coach James Casey. "He's doing a great job learning the offense and getting comfortable with it. He's a pro. He's smart. That's what you do. Come out every day and make a few plays."
But Casey doesn't want you to look at that leaping catch. He wants you to look at quarterback Brandon Allen's 55-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Ja'Marr Chase. Hurst was matched up on 14-sacker Trey Hendrickson, with some help from left tackle Jonah Williams.
"That's a tough spot against a defensive end of his caliber even with pads on," Casey said. "Nobody says anything about it. But he did a good job against a tough edge guy. That's a lot of what the tight end has to do is hold up in pass protection. People don't always see that."
Two catches. One contested. Holding up on a long ball against one of the league's top pass rushers in Hendrickson.
A good day for a tight end.
PLAY OF THE DAY: SS Vonn Bell
A day after safeties coach Robert Livingston waxed poetically about the importance of the veteran Bell as leader and playmaker, he showed why on one of the first passes of the day in team. The offense went out of a formation the defense hadn't really seen and Bell went on instinct to pick off Allen's bootleg on a play-action fake.
"Reading my keys," Bell said. "They were doing an inside run digging out the safety. I knew he wasn't touching me, so knew it would be a boot."
Bell then played his responsibility and dropped into coverage before trying to outfox a fellow vet in Allen. At the last instant he flipped his hips open and was rewarded with Allen hurriedly throwing it low and away from him, but high enough for Bell to pluck it and go for what could have been a pick-six.
"That's what I was talking about," Livingston said.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: RB Joe Mixon on his individual goals for this season:
"I just want to break the season rushing record here. If anything else comes from that, even better."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Burrow apparently stopped into the facility quickly Thursday to get his scar checked, but he didn't hang around as he continues to recover from Tuesday's surgery …
On that 55-yard touchdown pass to Chase, it looked like it could have been a busted coverage as defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo went right to rookie free safety Dax Hill. But Chase also made a nice move on cornerback Eli Apple that helped free him, too. Apple also had a pass defensed against Chase on another long one …
Offensive line coach Frank Pollack wasted no time getting into a rotation with the backups as right guard Alex Cappa and right tackle La'el Collins are still nursing injuries. Hakeem Adeniji and Isaiah Prince, the right guard-tackle combo that started the Super Bowl, started with the ones Wednesday. On Thursday Pollack went with D'Ante Smith at right tackle and rookie Cordell Volson at right guard. Left guard Jackson Carman stayed put for a second straight day …
First-year wide receiver Pooka Williams, Jr., has made some nice catches the first two days. On Thursday he caught one lying down when a come-back route was badly underthrown …
On Wednesday, Apple complimented the accuracy of Allen and Jake Browning and in Thursday's first seven-on-seven the ball didn't hit the ground until the last pass ….
The Bengals go again Friday at 2:15 p.m. …