Updated: 6:30 p.m.
Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has a lot of faith in his guys now that he's in the third year of his system and the first seven voluntary practices on the field (OTAs) have seemed to vindicate his plan to drench his players with installation insanity that first week.
"I pretty much threw everything in there the first … couple of days. Once I was looking at the board I was like 'Did I do that to these guys?' but they didn't miss a beat," Gruden said Monday after OTA 7. "They've done a good job of keeping their mind fresh when they came in here and there have been very few (mistakes), even with the new guys. We've had a few here and there. That's to be expected but I really like how they've come out here mentally. From a mental standpoint they've done a good job with all of the things we've done."
But now the heavy lifting of the basics is behind the Bengals with next week's June 11-13 mandatory minicamp the last official act before the July 25 start of training camp.
"I think all of the core concepts and things we like are pretty much in," Gruden said. "Obviously each week you play somebody that calls for different types of strategy, but for the most part all the core concepts, runs, passes are pretty much in right now."
Gruden likes how a bunch of guys came back in excellent shape, starting with a pair of two-time Pro Bowlers in wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham. But so did guys like running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and center Kyle Cook, fully healthy after last season's ankle injury kept him shelved until December.
And like everyone else around Paul Brown Stadium, Gruden can't stop talking about the club's first two draft picks, tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard.
"A.J. impresses me every day. Kyle Cook has come back in great shape and done a good job at center," Gruden said. "Tyler has done some great things. He has a good feel and understanding for the game. They can be tall and they can catch but if you don't have an understanding or feel for defenses you are not going to be good. He has all that.
"Gio has done a great job coming in here. He has done a great job in space. Benny came back well. I'm happy with everyone. The thing about our offense is they came back and are willing to work hard, they are all unselfish and have a great understanding of what it is going to take for us to get to the next level."
NO-HUDDLE NO-BRAINER: Gruden and quarterback Andy Dalton are on the same page when it comes to the no-huddle. The duo would love to use it more than they did last year and they think Eifert and Bernard markedly improve the concept because of their versatility.
But there is a ways to go, as Gruden opined after Dalton and backup quarterback Josh Johnson ran a few no-huddle snaps at the end of Monday's practice.
"It's a great tool when you have the players that can work it. The addition of those two guys will be good. I don't know how much better it will make no-huddle, but better players make a better team whether you huddle or not," Gruden said. "I think we have the ability to do it any time. Andy really likes it, so I really like it. It's a matter of communicating the calls the right way, making sure we utilize it properly.
"(Dalton) likes it. He likes the up-tempo stuff, no question about it. So we have to give it to him more."
The defense also wants to get a look at the no-huddle, because it figures to see it plenty in games against the Patriots and Bills. Dalton, like any quarterback, likes directing a fast-paced game, but he also senses this season's version can be more multiple.
Just like the conventional offense has been enhanced by the addition of another pass-catching tight end and a running back with receiver skills, so has the no-huddle, Dalton says.
"Last year we did no-huddle with three receivers; now we can do it with two tight ends," Dalton said Monday. "With Gio, we can even go empty (no backs). There are just so many different things we can do now. You're just trying to maximize your talents. There's definitely more things you can do in no-huddle with those two guys."
No-huddle and the hurry-up at the end of the half or game are two different concepts for Dalton.
"In the hurry-up, you're just trying to get lined up as quickly as possible and are trying to score," Dalton said. "In the no-huddle you're just trying to mix up the tempo. Sometimes going fast, sometimes going slow."
It is left to Gruden to piece it together and as he suggested Monday, the nuances of his system is a work in progress. But in Dalton, Gruden thinks he has the biggest piece of all when it comes to the no-huddle page of the playbook.
"There are certain things we probably need to add in no-huddle to use because there are a certain number of plays we really can't get to without calling in the huddle," Gruden said. "We like different personnel groups. We don't have no-huddle for all of them, but I think the more we can do out of that and try to get any kind of advantage that we can on the defense with tempo, with no-huddle, with formations, and give Andy the ability at the line of scrimmage to play off what he sees instead of just calling a play in the huddle" is good.
"Now we can see what they're doing and he's got a great understanding of what concepts we like against certain defenses both in the running game and the passing game. It's pretty solid."
YOUTH SERVES O-LINE: Right tackle Andre Smith, who has told the club he's dealing with personal issues according to head coach Marvin Lewis, wasn't here again and has missed all the OTAs. Veteran Anthony Collins has been getting the bulk of Smith's snaps with the first group while fifth-rounder Tanner Hawkinson continues to get most of the snaps at left tackle for the rehabbing Andrew Whitworth.
"It's hard but you can assess a lot. We're going up against one hell of a defensive line," Gruden said. "They've been thrown into the fire. They're competing and getting to learn what to do and how to do it but they are doing it against great people. We're encouraged by what they're doing. They're not near where what they need to be but we can see they have talent and with time they will be better.
"They've had no choice. They are being thrown into the fire. I think they've done pretty well from a mental standpoint. Now from a physical standpoint with the technique and fundamentals it needs to come along. We'll take our lumps from time to time but we have high expectations for them. You can see that they are continually getting better every day."
Hawkinson has been getting a ton of snaps at not only left tackle, but also left guard. He estimated last week during one 60-play practice that he had about 40. It also means the two seventh-rounders, Ohio State right tackle Reid Fragel and South Carolina center T.J. Johnson, are getting plenty of work. Backup centeer Trevor Robinson (shoulder) is expected to work in training camp.
"I think they've all done (well). They're going to struggle. This a brand new pace and tempo to them," Gruden said. "Hawkinson played at Kansas and Fragel at Ohio State, I understand that, and T.J. played at South Carolina but when you're going against Michael Johnson and (Carlos) Dunlap, James Harrison and these guys every down, and Geno (Atkins), that's a different ballgame for them.
"They've done (well) for their first camp, so far, but they have to do a lot better, no question about it, to become the guys that we're going to be excited about. We're excited about the progress that they've made and the tools that they have but now it's up them to get a little bit stronger and sharper mentally."
Gruden thinks Smith is going to be ready when he shows up, which is a finable offense if he doesn't at next week's June 11-13 mandatory minicamp.
(According to Pro Football Talk, fines are up to $11,025 for missing the first day, $22,050 for the second day and $33,075 for the third day for a total hit of $66,150.)
"He'll be in shape. He's going through some things that he and Coach Lewis know about I'm sure when the time is right he will be here," Gruden said. "As long as he's keeping an eye on his weight it will be good for Fragel and Hawkinson and let them play. Get them adjusted to what it is going to be like during training camp so that the first time they see it they will have a good understanding of it and adjust to it."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Zac Robinson, one of the three backup quarterback candidates, didn't work Monday and Gruden said it was because of soreness in his elbow. Indications are Robinson may not throw again until training camp next month, but his situation appeared to be unrelated to Monday's post-practice workout for Western Michigan rookie Alex Carder. It didn't look like the Bengals were immediately going to sign Carder, recently cut by the Lions, but they wanted to get him on their board and may look at him later. None of the backup candidates, Robinson, Josh Johnson and John Skelton, are eilgible for the practice squad and the club is always looking for a young guy to develop.
While Gruden said none of the candidates has played well enough to ease the team's doubts about the No. 2 spot behind Dalton, he said there is time for one of them to secure the job with the work in training camp and the preseason games. The problem is getting Dalton his snaps before everyone else.
"That leaves scraps for the other three. They struggle sometimes, they do OK but its hard for them to get into a rhythm. It's not easy for them," Gruden said. "John has had the toughest go because he is new to all of this. I don't think he has ever worked in a West Coast offense. He came from Arizona. It's totally different formations and pass protections, route concepts so he started from total scratch where Josh had some experience in Tampa so he has a leg up. Zac has been here too for a couple years."
Johnson may literally have a leg up, especially with Robinson down. Not only was Johnson exposed to a good part of Gruden's playbook during his rookie year in Tampa Bay in 2008, but Gruden loves his athleticism and saw it again Monday.
"Josh showed today why he is here. He had a couple runs that would have been 40-yard gains and that is going to be a great equalizer," Gruden said. "If you are going to be a backup QB in this league the great equalizer is going to be able to run. Zac was coming along great until he had tendinitis in the elbow. None of them have made the No. 2 job feel cozy for us but it's not dire straits either.
"They are all doing things that are pretty good. Some of them do one thing good and then what the heck are you doing? It's a process, which is why these OTAs are very important for us. Get them the reps because training camp is going to be huge and then the four preseason games. Get them as many reps as we can now, evaluate them and figure out who our two, three and four are and then get them the work in the preseason to make a decision."
» Right end Michael Johnson had a tipped pass of backup quarterback Josh Johnson on a play SAM backer James Harrison lined up tight in the middle and blitzed. Dunlap, who never moved Robert Geathers out of the starting lineup last year, has been working with the first group in the first seven OTAs. But he won't be impressed unless he's with the first group at next week's minicamp.
"Let's see what happens when it's mandatory," Dunlap said. "We've got all kinds of rookies playing everywhere, so let's see how it goes. Rob isn't just going to let me have it."
» With cornerback Adam Jones (calf) still out, Brandon Ghee was the third corner with Hall and Terence Newman.