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What We Have Here Is A Rookie Communicating Like A Vet as Bengals Defense Gets It Going

S Jordan Battle runs through a drill during OTAs at Kettering Health Practice Field on Tuesday, June 6 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
S Jordan Battle runs through a drill during OTAs at Kettering Health Practice Field on Tuesday, June 6 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

A quick wellness check on the Bengals defense in their first days of 7-on-7 drills:

There may be no Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell at safety, but there is slot cornerback Mike Hilton still chattering and scrapping and knocking down a pass. There is linebacker Germaine Pratt, the man Bell said wakes up thinking about the ball, still putting an attempted pass to sleep when he bats it away over the middle.

And just like he envisioned it back when he was drafted in the third round, there is rookie safety Jordan Battle in the middle of it all. Giving the call to Hilton and his pick-six against Steelers. Making sure Pratt and his plethora of game-saving turnovers (Vikings, Chiefs, Vegas) is lined up. Conferring with cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt and his post-season pick.

"I don't think about it when I'm out there," Battle said after Tuesday's OTA. "But definitely, before I got here, I was like, 'Yeah, I'm coming in with guys who know how to win.

"It's kind of cool. Guys like Mike Hilton, who has been around the league forever. Guys like Cam Taylor. Talking with guys like Nick Scott. When you go out there on the field, these guys you watch who play in Super Bowls, make big plays in huge games. It's definitely kind of cool."

Battle, with an NFL-ready 52 games in the middle of Nick Saban's pro factory defense at Alabama, is getting a ton of reps so early because Scott's shoulder was opened up in the offseason like a Lou Anarumo playbook. Even before the Bengals signed him away from the Rams, he was recovering from a torn bicep and torn labrum in a rehab that is all but done.

"It took six months to heal. I'm 98 percent there. All I have to do is go back to L.A. to get cleared," Scott said. "I could have flown back out now, but they told me there was no reason and I'll wait to go when we're done here."

No hurry. The Bengals break camp for the summer after next week's mandatory minicamp. More time for Battle to sponge off Scott. When you think of Scott, think of him as a younger version of Josh Bynes, the well-respected veteran free-agent linebacker from Baltimore who showed rookie Logan Wilson how it's done in 2020.

"More snaps for the young guys, the better," Scott said. "Especially for J.B. J.B. is going to be fine. He's going to be a guy that can contribute right away. It's pretty evident he's there mentally. He understands concepts and everything like that and he's physical enough … I can't stress enough how good of an understanding he has of the things going on."

There will be mistakes and Hilton says that's OK. "Even if you yell something wrong, just be vocal, make sure we communicate and make sure we're on the same page." So far Battle has been the Battle that wooed the Bengals in the 18-minute interview at the NFL scouting combine.

"You can tell he's definitely polished. He was, what, a four-year starter at Alabama?" asked backup safety and special teams captain Michael Thomas, the club's longest-tenured NFL player. "He looks good out there. We're all trying to learn from each other. He's not shying away from opportunities. You like to see confidence out of the young guys."

An NFL safety has to have a special kind of confidence because he's in the middle of high-tech communication and must grow up fast enough to not only learn the verbiage but convey it to veterans who know the scheme inside and out. Battle not only has the confidence, he knows why he has it.

"It's different coming in as a freshman in college as opposed to coming in as a rookie in the NFL," Battle said. "You have background in leadership skills, especially playing four years at a high talent, high character school like Alabama. Coming from a school where you learn to be a leader and you grow as a person and player, it doesn't make it as hard to come in confidently. That all comes from going to a great program like that."

Battle says he's getting all kinds of feedback from the vets.

Dax Hill, last year's first-rounder taking over the other safety.

Hilton, the best slot cornerback in the league:

"The coaches are showing trust in him keeping up with the ones. He's being vocal and he's showing us he's able to communicate."

Scott played all 61 snaps of Super Bowl LVI in helping the Rams hold the red-hot Joe Burrow to 20 points. He's not critiquing Battle on every snap; instead he's offering tips on certain concepts. Such as, did you see the No. 1 (receiver) on this? You were fine with what you did, just know you can help over here. Maybe kick this way.

See the best photos of S Jordan Battle, the Bengals third pick in the 2023 NFL draft.

"They're helping me get acclimated as a player," Battle said. "It's a little different now that you're a pro. You don't have coaches or staff members always on what you have to get better at. You have to do that on your own. Evaluate yourself as much as the staff and coaches evaluate you.

"Getting better every day. It's a good message. (Tuesday) was a pretty good day communication-wise. That was a big emphasis because (Monday) we didn't communicate as much. We did a better job. You saw some tipped balls. That was good."

Hilton wanted the interception, but he looked to be in mid-season form as he dropped into his Cover Two zone. The league's best slot vs. the league's most accurate passer. Hilton vs. Joe Burrow.

Defense is always ahead of the offense.

"I wasn't expecting Joe to throw it. It kind of caught me off guard," Hilton said. "I read his shoulders. I knew I was in a good spot, so I wasn't expecting him to throw it, but he threw it. As long as they don't catch it, I'm happy. But I need the interception."

Battle, the son of a high school basketball coach in Miami, Fla., grew up playing AAU basketball and he loved watching sharpshooter Ray Allen. First with Seattle. Then with the Celtics, who became his favorite team. Then with the hometown Heat.

He was a bit torn when the Heat ousted the Celts to win the East last week, but now he's all in on Miami in the NBA finals. And like Ray Ray, Battle is going to take his shot.

"Communicate," Battle said, "and spread it to the rest of the defense."