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Training Camp Report: NFL's Best Slot Players Bearing Bengals Camp

Tyler Boyd (left) and Mike Hilton: The NFL's best inside men.
Tyler Boyd (left) and Mike Hilton: The NFL's best inside men.

File this one under the dog-eared football cliché of "Some days the bear gets you and some days you get the bear," as Bengals training camp steamed on Thursday at the Kettering Health Practice Fields.

You have to expect it in a camp featuring a bear of a matchup pitting the NFL's best slot receiver in Tyler Boyd against the league's best slot cornerback in Mike Hilton.

"He wins some, I win some," said Boyd Wednesday after he ran a deadly post pattern against Hilton on an all-out Zero cover blitz for a long touchdown off quarterback Joe Burrow's throw to the post.

On Thursday, Hilton won some. Specifically twice. As in two interceptions off Burrow and Boyd. Two picks off Seamless Joe. He hasn't thrown two picks in his last eight games.

"Knowing Joe," Hilton said. "He'll be cool, calm collected about it. But I know tomorrow he's definitely going to be coming out with that fire."

 One came off a Zero blitz that rocked Burrow and forced him to fire one deep and over Boyd and into the hands of the leaping Hilton. Another came on a route over the middle where Hilton gave Boyd no room to breathe on a slant. He reached in, broke it up with his right hand and as Boyd slid past him, Hilton saw his tip hanging in front of his eyes and grabbed it and was gone.

"Man coverage. Third and medium, so I was expecting an intermediate route," Hilton said. "Once that ball is in the air, you have to go get it."

On the Zero blitz, they got better pressure on Burrow than they did Wednesday even though edge Trey Hendrickson was getting a veteran day off after again torturing the tackles on Wednesday. Burrow reared back and seemed to just get rid of it in the face of the heat, hanging it up high enough that two other defensive backs could have caught it.

"That's the thing about Zero blitz," Hilton said. It's going to force their quarterback into a bad throw and it gives us an opportunity to make a play."

These Bengals like to say iron is sharpening iron in these practices and that is exactly what they're getting with Boyd vs. Hilton.

"It's best on best," Hilton said. "We go back and forth every day in practice. Just making each other better. (Boyd) just doesn't get the respect he deserves because our outside receivers are some of the best receivers in football. If you ask anybody, TB is really probably the best slot receiver in all of football and he has the tape to back it up.

"I win some. He wins some."

Which is where we came in.

PLAYER OF THE DAY: CB Mike Hilton (see above)

PLAY OF THE DAY: WR Tee Higgins.

It's not like Burrow had a bad day. It wasn't vintage Seamless Joe, but he made some big-time throws, particularly to Higgins.

By the way, Higgins looks massively and monstrously good. He came back at the beginning of this week in team drills for the first time since undergoing offseason shoulder surgery and he just keeps getting better and more physical. He made all kinds of catches Thursday from Burrow, such as a one-handed pluck off a back-shoulder throw and a diving catch over the middle in seven-on-seven.

And Higgins made the Play of the Day against, of all people, The Player of the Day. This time the bear won. From the two-yard line, Burrow knew exactly where he was going when he saw the 6-4 Higgins towering over the 5-9 Hilton and lofted a fade into the right corner of the end zone.

As usual, Hilton had the route blanketed. But it seems like Burrow and Higgins are already in mid-season sync. "He threw it," Higgins said, "where I could only get it."


MLB Logan Wilson on his longest field goals in high school:

"In a game 53 (yards). When I was practicing by myself it was 60. Back in my prime. I'm not in my prime anymore."

SLANTS AND SCREENS: Wilson, an all-state punter at Casper, Wyo.'s Natrona County High School (not to mention a wide receiver and safety) kicked his team into a night off Friday.

Head coach Zac Taylor ended Thursday's practice after kicker Evan McPherson hit a 55-yarder to complete a 6-for-6 day. Just a reminder there's no emergency replacement for that. Then Taylor challenged Wilson with a 33-yard PAT. If he made it, no meetings after the next practice. He didn't tell him they would keep trying until he made it, but he only needed one.

"I remember the basics of it," Wilson said of the mechanics. "My ball flight wasn't the best. What it did do was go between the uprights."

Wilson hasn't kicked since those Glory Days and when he mentioned his prowess to special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons , he asked Wilson to kick a few. He was a bit intrigued.

"I just joked with Darrin and just kind of kicked a couple," Wilson said. "And he said, 'Be ready, we might need you for something.' He kept it low key so that was what it was for. Glad I had been practicing."

Simmons shrugged. He didn't even want to say he could use Wilson in an emergency.

"If necessary. We shouldn't have to get to that point. God forbid, yes," Wilson said.

Hilton had an idea he could do it because he had once talked to Wilson about his kicking exploits and discovered he had been all-state.

"He's multi-versatile," Hilton said. "He's flying around out there in the middle of the field and then kicks it like that."

Taylor: "He's been practicing for that. You never know when you're going to need an emergency kicker. I don't think we knew at first that he had that talent … He's an option. He'd be an option." …

Wilson's PAT came two days shy of the 13th anniversary of Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco kicking a PAT in a preseason game in Foxboro, Mass. It proved to be the decisive point in a 7-6 win over the Patriots in a game started by Tom Brady. Simmons found an emergency guy that night when Shayne Graham's groin injury prevented him from kicking. But he never had to use him again. Although, The Ocho was on deck for a winning PAT in Indy the next year. With under two minutes left, Mike Nugent tore his ACL on an on-side kick that the Bengals recovered, trailing, 23-17. But they fumbled a few plays later ...

It was a day to pull out the antique clichés of the gridiron. Ever hear, "They're tired of hitting guys in the same colored uniform."?

Center Ted Karras and defensive tackle B.J. Hill know it. After some scuffles, Karras told the defense what it could do with the 50 yards the offense had just generated scoring a touchdown in a move-the-ball drill. Hill had a snappy rejoinder

"It happens. You don't want it to go overboard," Taylor said. "The guys have been going against the same people over and over so it's time to get a new opponent out there."

Karras also got into it with edge Joseph Ossai and, trying to break the tension, linebacker Germaine Pratt hopped on Karras' back.

"It's good to see that with the offensive line having that mean streak. That's what we except from both ends," Hilton said.

Or, as Wilson said, "It gets a little competitive, but it's all love and brotherhood in the locker room." …

There were reasons the offense was frustrated. Even though the defense had three starting linemen not working, they won most of the day as Burrow's backups threw two more interceptions to the backups, one by rookie cornerback Allan George and one by slot cornerback Jalen Davis …

It appeared that edge Trey Hendrickson and nose tackle D.J. Reader were getting a day off while edge Sam Hubbard worked on the rehab field with right tackle La'el Collins with both in full pads …Ossai and Cam Sample had active days in place of Hendrickson and Hubbard …

Collins' backup, Isaiah Prince, left the field with a wrist injury and on the next play backup center Trey Hill left with an unknown ailment …

Rookie left guard Cordell Volson figures to get his first NFL start Sunday night (7 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in New York against the Giants. Taylor announced that the left guard in the preseason opener, Jackson Carman, has COVID-19 and needs back-to-back negative tests to return …

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