Updated: 7:45 p.m.
Andy Dalton admitted "it's a rookie minicamp," and "it's early," but he and fellow quarterback Josh Johnson snuck a peak Friday morning at the first proceedings from the Paul Brown Stadium runway and Dalton liked what he saw from his two newest weapons.
Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert lined up in at least four different spots while making a one-handed grab on a go route and North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard flashed some quicks in the passing game on routes over the middle.
"You can tell Tyler has really good body control when the ball is in the air, but you could see that on film when you're watching him in college," Dalton said. "It's hard to tell with running backs with no pads, no nothing on. But (Bernard) has a little wiggle to him, you can see that. That would be a good complement for Benny, who's more of a power back."
GO-GO GIO:** New Bengals running backs coach Hue Jackson loves speed. Top-end speed, in-the-box quickness, open-field jets, any kind of speed. It's how he built his top 10 offenses in Oakland and that's why he likes Bernard.
"He has kind of beat that into my brain after Day One or day half of one. Faster is better. That's the type of players they want for this team and so far so good," Bernard said. "Speed, speed, speed. It is something I learned with my last head coach (Larry Fedora at UNC). He was a big speed guy. Everything is about speed and going as fast as you can."
Jackson, the man who brought you 1,000-yard receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the last decade, has struck up a good rapport with another personality-plus guy in Bernard.
"Just meeting him at the combine, I knew he is a great coach," Bernard said. "At the combine I said hopefully I end up with you guys. He teaches it very well. It is going to continue to grow and get better."
Bernard looked comfortable catching the ball, another reason the Bengals made him the first back drafted. He calls catching "second nature."
"It went (well). Just understanding the playbook and working through the jitters," Bernard said. "At the end of the day you just have to have fun. It will come as second nature sooner or later. Being on top of it. Just have to work through it and have fun with it."
SCHAFFER RETURNS: Popular linebacker J.K. Schaffer, trying to join just a handful that have played for the Bengals after playing both high school and college in Cincinnati, was back on the field Friday after spending all his rookie season on practice squads.
"I just never got that many quality reps with the actual calls and making adjustments. It was just on the cards and everything was drawn up. I think it's a real good opportunity for me to get back myself rolling and get back into some football," Schaffer said. "It was like being redshirted. I was never redshirted in college but I kind of felt like that's what was going on. I had a lot of older guys, even the younger rookies that had been here longer, helping me out to get to know the playbook, just learning how everything goes and how to practice and do all of that stuff. It was a yearlong of development for me."
The Bengals have him lined up at middle backer for this camp (backed up by free agent rookie Jordan Campbell of New Mexico Highlands), but Schaffer believes he can play all three spots. A product of LaSalle High School and the University of Cincinnati, the 6-0, 232-pound Schaffer feels he has benefited from the offseason program as well as his time with linebackers coach Paul Guenther.
"I might have put on some muscle and trimmed off some fat. I'm around the same weight but I'm moving a lot better, I'm a lot more flexible and I'm a lot leaner," he said. "I'm not out there thinking too much. I'm reacting. I'm physically doing it. I've gotten mental reps, I've gotten the slower practice reps and now it's nice to put it into actual work. It definitely helps a lot. I don't feel mentally tired out there. I feel like I'm out there running around fast and I know what I'm doing. "
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer thinks Schaffer can play all three spots and he likes his brains, which are big premiums for Zimmer, and now that Schaffer has spent half a season on the practice squad here Zimmer sees some confidence.
"He's kind of the big-shot now. He knows a little bit more about what's going on now," Zimmer said. "You see him in a different role than he has been. In the past, he hasn't been a follower but, get in line, do what you're supposed to do. This way he gets to take charge a little bit. Help some other guys where other guys have been helping him."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Maybe it is a small world after all. Eifert made the trip down from Fort Wayne, Ind., Thursday with his quarterback at Bishop Dwenger High School and Notre Dame teammate John Goodman. Goodman, a wide receiver for the Fighting Irish, is on a tryout with the Bengals.
Eifert says it was like driving to a high school football camp back in the day. The 6-3, 206-pound Goodman, who got to South Bend a year before Eifert, said he advised then-head coach Charlie Weis to recruit Eifert.
"That's back when he played wide receiver," Goodman said. "He's put on about 50 pounds since."
» While Eifert was basically doing all he's ever done, Auburn free-agent running back Onterio McCalebb spent Friday morning learning a new position from secondary coach Mark Carrier. His switch to cornerback is a bid to get his sub-4.3 speed and 170 pounds somewhere on the roster.
"I learned some stuff I never knew from Coach Carrier," McCalebb said.
As expected the toughest thing for a running back-turned-cornerback in his first 90 minutes was trying to play backward smoothly as McCalebb struggled with technique.
"The backpedal. When you open up and turn, you keep your shoulders down," he said. "There's another practice today and I'll just work on the mistakes I made and learn the calls. I haven't played it in some years, but I'm going to compete out there."
The Bengals called in the heavy artillery for this one. Ken Riley, the club's all-time leading interceptions leader with 65, read of McCalebb's switch and reached out to him via phone. Riley, as every Cincinnati school kid knows, was a quarterback coming out of Florida A&M when the Bengals took him in the sixth round in 1969.
After the first two practices, there was caution but it sounded like the experiment is still on. Head coach Marvin Lewis certainly saw the quickness that is needed on the corner.
"He's got all the want-to, and there was a big progression technically from practice one from practice two. That's all we need to keep seeing from him," Lewis said. " A thing we weren't necessarily sure about with Onterio was 'Does he have the quickness to be a corner?' After watching him in two practices, I don't have any doubt of that."
Zimmer sounds ready to hang with it for now.
"I noticed he can run," Zimmer said. "(His technique) wasn't bad. He was OK."
» Zimmer made sure Georgia safety Shawn Williams got into the coverage drills quickly with classic Zimmer:
"Did you ever cover any receivers at Georgia? What are you waiting for?"
When sixth-rounder Cobi Hamilton—a wide receiver from Arkansas—caught a ball in front of Williams, Zimmer quietly called Williams over with a finger and chatted. It might not sound like it, but Zimmer has high hopes for the third-rounder to cover well after primarily playing in the box in college.
"He's got the ability to cover. He's got to work on his technique some," Zimmer said after the second practice. ""If he just gets his body position in good shape he should be good."
Zimmer says he's not worrying about how Williams responds to the Xs and Os this weekend becaue they're so simple "if he can't do that we're in trouble."
» Williams and Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead took turns as the personal punt protectors when the proceedings finally got around to special teams coach Darrin Simmons in the second practice. He sent back Bernard and Minnesota free agent Troy Stoudermire to return them.
» Ashland's Taylor Housewright and Central Michigan's Ryan Radcliff are serving as the camp's tryout QBs, but the most intriguing tryout guy is former Wisconsin star running back John Clay. Clay battled his weight after an injury and hasn't played since he came into the NFL in 2011, when he played just two games for the Steelers, rushing for 41 yards and a TD on 10 carries.
The 6-1 Clay, who says he's 254 pounds, said he tore his quad last year during a season he didn't hook on with an NFL club and is looking to put the tough times behind him. "I'm just trying to find a home," he said. "Working hard and thankful I've got an opportunity to try and show something here."
The way Lewis is talking about Bernard and sixth-rounder Rex Burkhead, it sounds like a tough road here.
» Great timing. Just as Lewis broke up the post-practice huddle, thunder rolled in and rain pounded PBS, but the afternoon practice went on in a steady rain until Lewis cut it short by about 25 minutes.