NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth: "Giovani as good as there is."
This is why former Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth has won an Emmy all five years he's been the analyst in NBC's Sunday Night Football booth.
A rare day at home during football season, but he was over at Paul Brown Stadium at Wednesday's practice researching his old team before he calls its game Sunday (8 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) in Arizona.
And he likes what he sees. But he's like most other Bengals fans. He's expecting more.
"There's not a team across the board that has more physical talent than they do," Collinsworth said. "It's just a matter of can you make those big plays in big games?"
"Can you beat a Manning? Can you beat a Tom Brady? Can you beat an Aaron Rodgers? There are certain teams that have those guys that have proven themselves Super Bowl worthy. Right now they're certainly good enough to be in that hunt right now."
Two guys have caught Collinsworth's eye. He says running back Giovani Bernard is "as good as there is around," and quarterback Andy Dalton is at that age.
"Most young players, about this time, go back through history, this is when they start doing their best stuff," Collinsworth said. "He looked sharp today. He looked sharp on all the tape I saw so, why not?"
SEVENTH HEAVEN: Rookie running back Jeremy Hill isn't kidding. His goal is seven yards per carry and if you've got his high school and college numbers, maybe you're not nuts. He went for 6.3 yards per carry in 23 college games after a senior year in high school he went for 7.5
"I got close last year," he said of his 6.9 yard per at LSU, and his first nine NFL carries have netted 5.8 per this preseason.
No NFL running back has ever done that in a year since Lenny Moore's 7.0 in 1961 for the old Baltimore Colts and Hill gets how hard it is to do in the league.
"I know. But I want to set a high goal," Hill said. "The coaches want 4.5 and that's good. But if you fall short of that, maybe you're talking 3.5 or 3.8 and that's not too good."
It started in high school at Redemptorist in Baton Rouge. He told his coaches he was trying for ten yards per carry.
"They said, 'Are you kidding me?'" Hill said. "So I just came up with seven to make it a little lower."
It would certainly be a Bengals record. The best yards per season by someone who ran at least 100 times is 5.6 by James Brooks in 1989 on 221 carries.
WHIT KNOWS: Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth is convinced defensive tackle Geno Atkins is going to be fine whether he plays Sunday or not.
If anyone should know, it's Whitworth. Remember, he didn't take a snap or wear a pad last year until the second week of the regular season because of his own knee problem. And he had a good enough year that profootballfocus.com ranked him in the top 15 as both a guard and tackle.
"I know the skills that Geno has and those things just won't go away," Whitworth said. "He's a powerful guy. His power is what makes him so special. I would think he'll be fine.
"Only Geno can know how he feels and he's a powerful human being who I see working really hard in the weight room and everything else that he does. There's no reason to be concerned."
ANDRE SEEKS SNAPS: And then there's right tackle Andre Smith, who missed the first two preseason games with a concussion and would love to play Sunday. In fact, he thinks needs to play Sunday. He's back practicing, but is waiting to get clearance from head coach Marvin Lewis.
"I would much rather have a game (in the preseason)," Smith said. "You need to get tired at least one time in the preseason. Blow your lungs out. That's going to be one of the key things I take off preseason is just getting really tired, know what to expect in the regular season when you go on a 13, 14-play drive. Nothing like game reps."
Whitworth and Smith should have an interesting evening. Lewis isn't saying how long his guys will play, but he made it clear Wednesday that he's more worried about health than number of snaps, so it would be a surprise if they play into the second half.
But when they play they'll play the best part of a 10-6 Cardinals team that had 47 sacks last year. The Cards won't have the 4.5 of tackle Darnell Dockett, out for the year with an ACL injury, but they may have the 11.5 of the NFL's active sack leader, John Abraham. Since he just returned to the club last week from a holdout and said he needed to lose weight from eating too much candy, Whitworth may not be seeing the same old Abraham. Working against a 3-4, Smith could see Calais Campbell (nine sacks) and Matt Shaughnessy (three). But he most likely won't see old friend Frostee Rucker. Rucker, a third-round pick of the Bengals in 2006 who was here for six seasons, is moving inside with the loss of Dockett.
SQUAD ADD: The NFL's decision to add two players with not more than two years of NFL experience to the practice squad has pleased Lewis because he believes the move can keep some valuable youth around. The other eight spots are reserved for players who have not accrued a season toward free agency and Lewis saw some young players hurt by that. And he's got a long memory. He's thinking of linebacker Andre Frazier in 2006 and tight end Colin Cochart in 2012.
Now, it may help a guy like linebacker Jayson DiManche, fighting for a job even though he made it as a rookie last year.
"There's a guy, a Jayson DiManche-type guy who makes your football team, who makes your 53 and your 46 because of injury," said Lewis in theory. "The next year you draft a guy, and you get the guy back who was hurt, and now, even though he's a good young prospect, he's not allowed to be on the practice squad. To me, that was the significance of it.
"We had the Frazier kid a few years ago who had been in Pittsburgh. I think in '05 he got to play for the Steelers, played in every game on special teams, and then we signed him after that, and he wasn't practice-squad eligible. He would have been the 54th guy, but yet you can't keep him around. There are instances like that, now this gives them an opportunity to be on your squad, if they haven't been active but so many games. As a coach you've got to look at that and see. But that would be an instance right there."