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Listing into OTAs


Second-year wide receiver James Wright hopes to pick up where he left off last season.

The Bengals start their three weeks of voluntary practice on the field Tuesday morning (otherwise known as OTAs) and while it is closed to the public, here is a list of stuff for the media to watch. But let's take a shot of de-caf or sip some Liebfraumilch before going nuts about what is about to transpire.

Barring an injury, nothing is going to be decided in the next nine practices or in the mandatory minicamp in mid-June. In fact, more will be decided by analysts Sir Charles and Kenny Smith during TNT's coverage of the NBA playoffs than what is going to take place on the Paul Brown Stadium greensward from now until June 18.

This is just shorts and helmets. There are no true evaluations until the shoulder pads are strapped into place. The most important dates for the roster battles come in the first two weeks of training camp, which includes a few practices with the Giants at PBS before the Aug. 14 pre-season opener.

And while the Big Year or Else narrative is dramatic and convenient, that's not quite there. Every year there are veterans on the bubble, emerging young guys, promising rookies. If veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth's contract is up, then last spring it was the deals for Dalton and Pro Bowl WILL backer Vontaze Burfict that were dangling. Yes, about a dozen starters or regulars are up, but they'll get enough back that it won't be an expansion team. And you have to figure one of the tackles is going to be back.

As head coach Marvin Lewis will tell you, just because he has a year left on his deal of or is a lame duck, anything can happen in any given year. Bad or good. So what else is new? And no matter what happens, these are still going to be the Green-Dalton Bengals next season. There may be some different guys around them, but they'll be back.

They're all big years when the average players gets four of them and the best get maybe a decade or a little more.

All that said, here is a list of things to watch over the next month, keeping in mind what can primarily be judged in May and June is the progress of quarterbacks, wide receivers, and cornerbacks. And even then, it's nothing definitive.

INJURIES: We should get our first look at wide receiver Marvin Jones in nearly two years after a season he was hobbled by foot problems and ended up practicing just once. He caught 10 TDs in 2013 helped by a great down-field burst, so we'll get an idea if that speed is intact.

Also back for the first time since injuring his PCL in his break-out game last season is wide receiver James Wright. Wright, a seventh-rounder last season after not catching a ball at LSU in 2013, really came on the more work he got. He made three huge catches before getting hurt in the Nov. 30 win in Tampa and looked ready to emerge.

Tight end Tyler Eifert (elbow, shoulder) and right tackle Andre Smith (triceps) say they are coming along well, but it's doubtful they'll be working this spring and if they do it will be later. They're still headed on pace to start the first day of training camp.

And, let's have some more de-caf here, they don't know yet if Burfict is going to be ready for training camp. That doesn't mean he won't be. They hope he is, they think he will, but they just don't know yet because of the nature of microfracture knee surgery. They'll have a better idea later. Plus, don't sell Burfict short on anything. He's such a competitor. Any mention of starting the season the PUP list makes him extremely unhappy. The kid wants to play and they need the man that stirs their defense.

HOUSE CALL: Dr. Tom House, the USC quarterback guru, should be sponsoring this camp. All four quarterbacks spent at least a week there this offseason and Dalton spent two while AJ McCarron is going back for another week in July.

All eyes will be glued. McCarron's shoulder is healthy compared to last year at this time when, as a fifth-rounder, shoulder tendinitis prevented him from breaking a pane of glass with his arm strength. The coaches liked what he gave them at the end of last year after rehab and what they've seen on video from House and McCarron's workouts at the University of South Alabama.

It is Terrelle Pryor's fourth NFL team and third in the last eight months, but the first time he has been re-united with the man that drafted him in Oakland, Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. If things are going right this month, he'll be more accurate than he's ever been in the pocket and showing the same command of the offense he displayed two weeks ago in his tryout in the rookie minicamp.

And, of course, every Dalton throw will be dissected and scrutinized and labelled.

THE HALL UPDATE:  The cornerstone of the Bengals secondary, nine-year cornerback Leon Hall, has admitted this offseason that 2014 was not up to his usual par. A second torn Achilles rehab in three years last spring prevented him from working on technique and the other fundamentals corners need.

An elite corner just two ago, Hall is battling first-round picks Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard for a starting job. It's going to be tough to move Hall, 30, out of the slot, but he's out to prove that he can do more than that, like in the old days.  He's anxious to see how he responds after a normal offseason of being able to work on fundamentals.

UNVEILING OF CB JOSH SHAW: The Bengals think they've got something in their fourth-rounder out of USC. They were so enamored with his measurables (6-0, 201 pounds, 4.39 40, 25 reps of 225 pounds) that they made calls about trading up for him until they had to settle for him in their spot at No. 120.

Like Dennard did last season as a rookie playing in place of the sidelined Hall, look for Shaw to get some, but not as many, snaps in the slot. It will be interesting to see if he picks up the defense fast enough and is also able to play a little safety. They love his versatility, but they may not want to force feed him and could just ask him to play corner at first so he can get that down before playing another spot. Let's see.

USE OF RB JAMES WILDER: There has been some talk that the 6-2, 232-pound Wilder could get a few snaps at fullback in the quest to find a backup for starter Ryan Hewitt and broaden the versatility of the running back room at the same time.

Wilder, a college free agent from Florida State, spent all last year on the practice squad and impressed as a potential bruising big back. Backs are evaluated on getting out of and getting away from tackles and a fullback is graded on blocking, so all that won't be seen until training camp. But Wilder is a thick kid that seems to have enough upside to interest them.

DEBUT OF WR MARIO ALFORD: One thing we know about the seventh-rounder from West Virginia. His 4.25 40-yard dash is going to make him the fastest offensive player on the field with a nod to cornerback Onterio McCalebb on defense.

The 5-9, 180-pound Alford can fly, but can he get off the line of scrimmage against NFL corners? He'll find out pretty shortly against guys like the long, lean, 6-2 Kirkpatrick, the savvy and experienced duo of Hall and Adam Jones with a combined 164 NFL starts, and the strength of a guy like Shaw that has him by 20 pounds.

FISHER'S ASSIGNMENT: During the four practices of rookie minicamp, second-round pick Jake Fisher, a left tackle out of Oregon, played every line position but center. With Andre Smith not at right tackle yet, he would seem to be the obvious choice if he's going to be the first lineman off the bench.

FLIGHT OF HAWK: Not Kitty Hawk, but another native out of the Wright Brothers' Dayton area, former Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk. Hawk is as advertised, a solid veteran for the room and a product of a team-best 136 NFL starts (Whitworth has 132) who knows where to line up at all the spots.

 The big question at age 31 after a year he struggled is if he can still get there in time. We'll get an idea how well he can move this month, but everyone seems confident he's back to form. Hawk told Bengals radio voice Dan Hoard that the surgeon who removed his bone spurs right after the season assured him the surgery took care of what was nagging him last year and he's been full go ever since he arrived in Cincinnati.

THE KID TIGHT ENDS: No less than four rookie tight ends are going to line up this month, two draft picks and two free agents, and the "smallest," at 6-5, 245 pounds is the highest graded, third-rounder Tyler Kroft. The other guys are at least 6-6, 265 pounds and two are 6-8. If things go well this month, they should be running free and easy and looking bold and athletic with every pass they pluck. But they won't know what the've got until the pads come on, a run has been called and left end Carlos Dunlap is delivering them a forearm memo.   

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