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Messages and motivation as spring clears


 Like second-round pick Jeremy Hill, first-round pick Darqueze Dennard has been as advertised.

After Monday's practice, Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth observed that he's now been through nine years of these spring practices and they're just like all the rest.

"I don't think you can know anything right now," he said.

Well, there is one thing.

"You know how we work and we work hard and in the years we've been good, this is the way we've worked," Whitworth said. "The real key is does this last? Does this sustain?  The teams that sustained that kind of effort in training camp and during the season have been good. The teams that haven't been able to sustain it haven't been good."

Which is maybe why head coach Marvin Lewis sent his message at the end of Monday's workout. With a couple of plays left in the day, he blew his stack after a practice marked by sloppy execution and an approach not always conducive to work without pads.

 "We needed a little bit of a reminder of what it's going to be like and what's important,' Lewis said as players and coaches exited the Paul Brown Stadium field. "We can't be complacent, we can't be average, we have to make sure we keep working. We keep doing the little things correct and moving forward with them. We can't go sideways at any point.

"I just had to do something different. We are not going anywhere. We got a couple more days left. I expect things to run smoothly over the next couple of days and we are going to remind them of that. We are not going to hit a peak last week and start going downward, we want to keep going upward. "

Whitworth, one of the de facto captains, said Lewis was also concerned about players getting hurt.

"Just making sure everything is clean and pure and all that," Whitworth said. "Trying to keep guys off the ground, hold each other up. This time of year guys start to get competitive, you're ready to put pads on. That time will come. That's his thing. Be patient.  What we're asking people to do, be good at it."

Lewis usually schedules an off-field event for one of the nine OTA days, so Tuesday may be the last work until they break the spring camps and don't return until the last week in July for training camp. All the more reason to hammer home his point one more time.

"That's a good time to re-charge and get ready for the season. Because then they are getting ready to go seven days a week from start until finish," Lewis said. "Players have to continue on their regimen. We've got a lot of data and information we've gained from them over this period of time and want to continue and use it wisely as we wind into training camp." 

Despite his reaction to Monday's practice. Lewis has to like what he sees, even though it's not much without pads.

New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has implemented his up-tempo style with vigor and his players are saying all the right things. Teammates and coaches are saying this is the best quarterback Andy Dalton has ever thrown here and new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is getting plenty of impressive play out of two basically new figures in the nickel package in first-round pick Darqueze Dennard at slot cornerback and linebacker Emmanuel Lamur.

The one thing people around the team have been talking about is how big, fast and competitive this roster is.  It has been on display every day on defense where veterans like the 6-4, 240-pound Lamur and rookies like sixth-round pick Marquis Flowers, a 6-3, 235-pounder (out Monday with what looked to be a muscle pull)  have been flying around. And when veteran free-agent pickup Danieal Manning was able to come back from his rehab from last year's broken leg to join the No. 2 defense, it gave a preview of how tough Lewis' final cut is going to be.

"They're rounding into the vision we have for them," Lew is said of his defense. "The guys have been here – a lot of them – and I think Darqueze has fit in well. I think Flowers is going to do a great job. We've got some guys we've brought in here as young guys who are really going to help us. Danieal Manning is getting some good snaps now. We've got some guys that are going to help us that way."

As Whitworth says, sometimes it's been tough to tell exactly what's going on out there.

"We've got a top ten offense and top three defense," Whitworth said. "It's hard to say what what's. We've got two good groups with a lot of talent."

Take this play from Monday's practice:

Cornerback Adam Jones, just sitting all over wide receiver Mohamed Sanu on a short out, breaks seamlessly on Dalton's pass, jumps in front of Sanu, and bats it in the air, where safety George Iloka collects the interception.

The offense will probably tell you the defense knew it was coming. The defense will probably tell you that's what you get when you've got a sly veteran corner in Jones.

"It's gone well. We've been pleased by what we've gotten done and basically trying our whole goal this offseason is to get to the first game in September with everybody healthy and full speed,"  Lewis said. "So far so good."

With all of Bengaldom looking to knock on wood at that point, they have to feel fortunate the top two draft picks have worked out so well. Dennard walked right in and looked at home in the rehabbing Leon Hall's spot in the first-team slot and LSU running back Jeremy Hall showed why they've got him running second team ahead of incumbent BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

"I feel like I earned some trust of my teammates," Dennard said Monday of his spring. "They're starting to open up to me. I'm doing anything to help the team out….It's just communicating. They're starting to trust things that I say. Things like making checks and things like that. They're starting to listen to me a little bit and things like that. That's one way they've kind of opened their trust to me."

Dennard could take his rookie contract that he signed last week and head back home to Georgia after next week's rookie symposium. Instead, he's going to spend the month before camp continuing to work out at his training spot at XPE Sports in Boca Raton, Fla., where former NFL cornerback  Samari Rolle works with the defensive backs and Hall-of-Famer Cris Carter works with the wide receivers. This is exactly the kind of serious student they thought they were drafting at No. 24.

"I need to focus up and really get my body right," Dennard said. "And basically just getting everything feeling well and not having any distractions so I can put all my focus on football."

The 6-1, 233-pound Hill can't show his true value as the big back complement to starter Giovani Bernard without pads, but he admits he came on the last few weeks after a slow start. When some thought it looked like Hill might be out of shape, Jackson disagreed.

"I think people see that he's not as quick as Gio. He's not as fast as some other guys. So I think some people look at that and maybe he's not this or that," Jackson said. "I think he's in shape. He has to play the way I want him to play. I think he's finding that out, how you have to go about it. This is not college football anymore. But he's everything I thought he is. He's going to be a good player."

Hill, who sounds like a 10-year veteran even though he doesn't turn 22 until near the halfway point of his rookie season,  took a while to get into the flow.

"It's just finding that rhythm, finding that pace. We're doing a lot of tempo," Hill said. "You just have to get the speed of the game and finish plays. You definitely have to go all out every play. I think the biggest thing for me was just finding out how long practice is. When you can kind of hit it and hit it hard and not leave anything out there.

"Right now I'm at the point where I'm going hard on every single play and finishing every play strong because I know my body can do it. But those first couple of weeks out there, you kind of didn't know, so you were kind of picking your spots. But now I'm just going full speed and leaving it all out there."

Take this play from Monday:

Hill takes a handoff up the middle and goes down in one of those slow, grumbling piles that no doubt set off Lewis. But Hill bounces to his feet and races the requisite 30 or 40 yards down field that Jackson demands after a play.

"I probably would have turned around and got mad," Hill said of two weeks ago. "It's just finishing the plays, not getting worried about the little things."

Right now for Lewis, getting them into pads healthy makes everything else a little thing.

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