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Training Camp Report: 'Veteran-y' Defense For Bengals Finds Love 

DT Zach Carter, DT DJ Reader, DT B.J. Hill and DE Sam Hubbard touch base during joint practice at the Kettering Health Practice Fields on Wednesday, August 9, 2023.
DT Zach Carter, DT DJ Reader, DT B.J. Hill and DE Sam Hubbard touch base during joint practice at the Kettering Health Practice Fields on Wednesday, August 9, 2023.

A couple of dust-ups, a Joe Burrow sighting with his dad's old team in town and another professional effort by a Bengals defense that head coach Zac Taylor says has been "veteran-y," this training camp.

Such was Wednesday's joint practice with the Packers at the Kettering Health Practice Fields in the run-up to the preseason opener between the two Friday night (7 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) across the street at Paycor Stadium.

It's the first time Burrow has appeared on the field since being carted off it 13 days ago with a calf injury. The timeline to return is still Taylor's "several weeks," retroactive to July 27.

"I asked him if he wanted to call any plays, and he said no, he's just going to watch," said offensive coordinator Brian Callahan after the longest workout of camp at two hours and 20 minutes.

"He's involved, talking to guys. He's probably a little more subdued and quiet than normal when he's just out there watching because he doesn't feel like he's involved in the action, but he's pretty active back there. He's not jumping up and down or anything, but he's pretty active."

Burrow didn't jump up and down, but he didn't appear to be walking with a limp, either. His passing game didn't get put in full gear as quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Jake Browning split reps with the ones and only tried one or two deep shots to Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase.

The best moments in the offense's team drills were Siemian's red-zone touchdown lob to wide receiver Tyler Boyd beating veteran cornerback Keisean Nixon with a toe tap, Browning's nice back-shoulder fade to wide receiver Kwamie Lassiter beating cornerback Tyrell Ford, Chase converting a third-and-six scooping up Siemian's well-placed low ball, and tight end Irv Smith going across the middle for a pair of about 15-yard gains in a move the ball drill.

"It wasn't an overly aggressive down the field style practice," Callahan said. "We certainly tried it once or twice. It was heavy red zone work. Red zone and third downs aren't generally aggressive downfield calls. You're trying to get distances. We weren't airing it out like crazy today as far as downfield shots."

The Bengals didn't use two-time 1,000-yard receiver Tee Higgins in team drills and neither did the Packers use two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander. Both worked as individuals.

Callahan may have been the worst guy to ask what he saw because he called the plays while Taylor went back and forth between the fields.

"It's fun. It's great. I've done this in the preseason before usually when we're split up with teams just so Zac can manage the rest of it. It just allows us to be more efficient with our time," Callahan said. "It's always fun. I always enjoy the opportunity. Zac lets me call preseason games, I've done before and I'll do some this year, it's good experience. I'm always appreciative of him letting me do that, so it's good.

"I'm looking down a lot more. I'm looking at the next call vs. just watching the practice. There's a lot more going on, so sometimes you're looking up and catching the end of the play and you're back down looking to get the next one ready. Just a lot more mentally going on. A lot less observing and a lot more active mental participation on my part."

Taylor wouldn't drop any hints on Friday's starting quarterback as Siemian and Browning battle to be Burrow's backup. Siemian hit eight of 14 passes and Browning five of nine in team drills.

"We'll continue to split some of those reps," Taylor said. "I won't get into how it's all going to fall yet because it can always change but they'll both get their opportunities.

Jimmy Burrow, Burrow's father, played three games for the 1976 Packers before he was released following a Green Bay loss at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. A safety, Jimmy Burrow went on to have a fine career as a safety in the CFL before becoming a long-time college defensive coordinator.

DEFENSE SHINES: The Bengals defense proved formidable against the Packers, now led by quarterback Jordan Love. Before practice, Taylor shared what makes his defense special: "veteran-y"

"I think, probably, an underrated portion of our defense is how smart they are," Taylor said. "They can make adjustments at the drop of a hat because they've played together for so many years. They're all so smart."

During the team periods the Bengals stifled the Packers with rushes, pass breakups, and one interception late in the practice. Whether it was Love or backups St. Xavier High School's Sean Clifford and Alex McGough the Bengals caused disruption.

During the first team period, the Packers had some early success with five to 15-yard passes but after a few adjustments, the Bengals defense began to gel.

The practice wasn't tackle, so most of the hits were thuds or pats on the side. If it were tackle, linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither and cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt would have had a tackle for loss each on the first team and the move-the-ball drill, respectively. Both plays were on Love.

Love also went deep to Packers wide receiver Romeo Doubs, but he was met by both Taylor-Britt and rookie cornerback DJ Turner II. Turner broke up the pass as the crowd erupted.

The defense made effective plays all over the field, showing playmakers at each level.

"I saw some guys making plays on the ball, (the defense) was sound in the run game", said defensive end Sam Hubbard. "Not too many explosive [plays], getting pressure on the quarterback. So, there's a lot of good things we can look at."

The D-Line took turns with rushes from Hubbard and nose tackle DJ Reader while defensive ends Trey Hendrickson, Cam Sample, and Myles Murphy each got to the quarterback.

Hendrickson thought Murphy's sack didn't count because the play got called back. Murphy jokingly disagreed.

"First of all, the sack did count," said Murphy. "Although it was a mishandled snap it was still a good rush."

O-LINE WORK: Center Ted Karras, who had a good rep against two-time Pro Bowl tackle Kenny Clark in one-on-ones, thought his offensive line came out of it well. Left tackle Orlando Brown had more than 100 pounds on edge Justin Hollins and it showed. Left guard Cordell Volson held up against Clark in one-on-ones and team. Backup right tackle Jackson Carman had his moments against No. 1 pick Lukas Van Ness.

"I thought it was great work," Karras said. "What a great advantage for me to go up against DJ Reader every day, B.J. Hill and the great D-line we have and another good NFL team comes in with a quality defensive lineman in Kenny Clark; to feel how he feels on my blocking in different situations that we have to perform in not the pressure of a game setting.

"Overall, a solid day. I thought we executed new looks and everyone responded in a way you wanted to respond in a situation like that."

Cody Ford again took most of the snaps with the ones at right guard as Alex Cappa nurses a strain in what Taylor called the lower body. Trey Hill also took a turn at right guard with the ones.

STAR-GAZING: New Bengals Ring of Honor member Chad Johnson was on the field mic'd up for a Madden game. At the end of practice the Ocho broke the huddle with the Bengals wide receivers. Ken Anderson, an inaugural Bengals ROH member, also took in the practice.

Pro Football Hall of Fame left tackle Anthony Munoz and Bengals ROH candidate Tim Krumrie, the anchors on either side of the Bengals' 1988 Super Bowl lines, watched the offensive and defensive lines do one-on-ones.

Krumrie, a Wisconsin native and College Football Hall-of-Famer who became the NFL's most prolific tackling nose guard, is one of the biggest oversights in Packers history. With Krumrie still on the board in the tenth round, the Pack drafted Indiana basketball player Jim Thomas. Thomas played four seasons in the NBA. Krumrie played 188 games with the Bengals.

But Krumrie is clearly in good standing with his hometown team 40 years later. Packers CEO Mark Murphy is working on getting Krumrie to Wisconsin for the Badgers' 2026 game at Lambeau Field against Notre Dame.

LOVE FOR LOVE: The Bengals think there is going to be life after Aaron Rodgers for the Pack after playing against Love.

The Bengals prepped for Wednesday by going back to the last preseason to watch tape of Love work against the 49ers in a sub-par 66 passer rating in which he completed barely (13 of 24) half of his passes for just 176 yards.

"Real strong arm. Obviously that's what he's known for," said slot cornerback Mike Hilton, who picked him off. "You can tell it's his (third) year, he sees things a little slower and his process is a little faster. I feel Green Bay got a good one."

Linebacker Germaine Pratt said he didn't know what to expect from Love.

"I thought Love was solid," Pratt said. "I was curious how he would run their system and I thought he did well. I think he'll do really well."

PLAYER OF THE DAY: DE Trey Hendrickson

It's not the first time the seven-year vet is the player of the day and it most likely won't be his last after his two-sack day. He manages to still create strong pass rushes while easing his way back into practice from his lower body injury.

Myles Murphy uses him as a guide to better his craft.

"Honestly, just learning from the guy who just said the sack didn't count," Murphy said. "Watching him, watching how he rushes, gets off the ball, I literally just mimic what he did and got in the backfield."

Murphy says Hendrickson's consistency is where he gains the most insight.

"He would stick to his rush. He didn't let the O-lineman affect his rush," Murphy said.

PLAY OF THE DAY: Slot cornerback Mike Hilton

Hilton is the face of 'veteran-y.' It was his seven-year savvy that outfoxed Love in the red zone even though the Packers bunched up three receivers and split them wide, leaving Hilton three-on-one.

But when Love checked to a screen pass, Hilton dared him to throw it by beating two of their blocks and he ended up playing catch with Green Bay's new quarterback with just one NFL start as he heads into his third season.

"He liked the numbers," Hilton said. "I just saw the check and let my instincts take over and made a play. I've got two blocks to beat and I did."

Pratt, in the middle of a red zone defense that finished seventh in the NFL in preventing touchdowns inside the 20-yard line, wasn't surprised.

"That's Mike understanding football. One of the best nickels in the game jumping a route," Pratt said. "We were top in the red zone, but we want to improve to be No. 1."

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Pratt on Hendrickson:

"You can't block him. They better start chipping him. I believe we have one of the best rushers in the game. He's unblockable."

SLANTS AND SCREENS: It sounded like the top half of the roster isn't playing Friday. Certainly not dinged starters like Cappa.

"With a lot of these guys where we know what we're getting, we're just being cautious," Taylor said. "So any time we can get an extra couple of days like today being one. Obviously, (Thursday's) just a walkthrough and then he's not playing in the game on Friday. So, you look at it as four days and then have a great chance to come back on Sunday …

But it sounds like rookie wide receiver Charlie Jones is going to be good to go six days after he got carted off the field with a shoulder injury. He was back in team drills and almost pulled in Siemian's high throw before it bounced away. He also caught every punt the Packers pumped at him …

Hilton knows the starters won't play Friday (they didn't play at all last preseason), so Wednesday was their opener. But he would like to get some kind of shot in one of the last two preseason games.

"I would like to," Hilton said. "Knowing how we started 0-2 last year because we didn't play in the preseason. It would be good to knock off some more rust and prepare for the season." …

Taylor talked extensively with old friend and Packers head coach Matt LaFleur Wednesday morning and in the days before to make sure the practice would be perfect. For instance:

"We wanted more red zone (7-on-7) work for our offense, and so that's what we'll do in 7-on-7 vs their defense. We'll do red zone (7-on-7). Talking about them, they wanted more fieldwork for 7-on-7 and third down, so their offense vs. our defense will be doing more field work and third down during that same period on different fields." …

Kicker Evan McPherson didn't have the easiest time with the goalposts that are about 10 feet narrower than the regulation 18 feet by six inches. He didn't make it in three tries against them, but it was tough to judge if a couple of them might have made it through real goalposts. Still, this is why McPherson is one of the best around: "If today was bad, Friday will be good."

Oh yeah, the scuffles. Unlike last year's Aaron Donald Helmet Fling late in the Bengals' joint practice against the Rams, these two fights didn't end it. The same guy appeared to be the culprit because starting left guard Elgton Jenkins getting led off the field by his own club.

"We talked about how we want to treat their team. It's like practicing against our own team. It's competitive. So there's that fine line," Taylor said before practice. "You've got professional athletes that it's important to.

"But at the same time, we want guys to protect each other in those moments where that's going to come up. Stay away from the quarterback. We don't want guys fighting. We don't want the storylines to be about guys getting in altercations and so again we'll focus on the right things today." …