Rookie tight end Tyler Eifert looks for running room after hauling in a pass during Wednesday's OTA session.
Updated: 6 p.m.
This is how it is supposed to work.
The Bengals lined up in the red zone Wednesday and quarterback Andy Dalton made use of those ballyhooed weapons, firing touchdown passes to wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham, as well as another scoring strike to rookie tight end Tyler Eifert in seven-on-seven.
"When you put Jermaine and Tyler in there who are both 6-6 and then A.J. who is 6-4, we've got some big targets to throw to," Dalton said after the fifth voluntary workout of the offseason, otherwise known as an OTA.
"And then you have Mo (Sanu) who is 6-2. We've got targets to throw to and spreading the ball around."
Word is that Dalton and the offense had a rough go on Tuesday, but he responded with a day that put the offense's potential on display. It helped that two of the top three cornerbacks (Leon Hall and Adam Jones) were sidelined, but the offense still hummed despite the presence of the rookies in pivotal roles in the passing game, Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard.
"Last year was a good year and not a great year; we expect a great one," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said of the burden and potential glory. "We've got a lot of young weapons on the offensive side of the ball we've continued to add the last couple of years. I'm really excited about the opportunity of getting out on field and going for greatness.
"I mean, it's one thing to try and be good, it's another thing to try and win, it's another thing to try and be great. That's what we want to be."
The Bengals flashed what they could be when they put Gresham and Eifert on the field at the same time in the red zone. Green thought the double tight-end formation with Gresham and Eifert running downfield helped him score his touchdown.
"If we were in three-receiver sets, the safety would have been coming over the top of me," Green said. "But I was one-on-one."
Green, lined up tight to the line, simply can't be covered one-on-one on what he called "an outside fade," and Dalton converted.
But offensive coordinator Jay Gruden says only two things are going to prevent defenses from playing two-deep zones and rolling up on Green and neither of them are two tight-end sets: Running the ball and passing production away from Green.
Or, as Dalton said, "It's all about options" after he hit Gresham down the middle over a zone for a score out of another two tight-end set.
"That's the thing. When you get in those situations, who are you going to take away?" Dalton asked. "A.J.? Jermaine? Tyler? That's what they're going to have start figuring out."
Eifert was all over the place Wednesday making all kinds catches. Green calls him "a natural pass catcher."
"He's got a real good feel for running routes and getting open," Dalton said. "It shows you what he did in college by playing all over the place, whether it is split out wide or in the slot. He's done a lot of the stuff we're asking him to do."
Dalton loves how Eifert and Bernard have walked in here and consumed the offense.
"From Day One nothing has seemed too big for (Eifert). It's like 'You want to go do this, OK I'll go do this.' He does it really well. That's why we picked him with the first pick and he's really well deserving," Dalton said.
"With those guys being in there, there's already the comfort level that we're not having to worry about what they're doing. It seems like they have already been here for a while. The good thing with those guys is if they don't know, they are asking questions. Whether it is telling Tyler a route or Gio knowing his protections. The biggest thing right now is there haven't been a lot of communications issues or errors by those guys. "
IN A RUSH: To James Harrison, it's all about timing. The transplanted Steelers sack ace had just completed his fifth practice as a member of the Bengals when he was asked how the transition is going.
"If you had asked me that yesterday, I would have told you I was down bad," Harrison said after Wednesday's voluntary workout known as an OTA.
"But today I had a chance to go over all the stuff we put in yesterday. I think the first week we put in a few things. And then yesterday I think we threw in maybe as three times as much as we did the whole first week. I had a chance to go back last night and go over the defenses and had a whole better time of executing."
That's probably because he thinks too much is being made of his switch from a 3-4 outside linebacker in Pittsburgh to a SAM backer in Mike Zimmer's 4-3 defense.
"Yes, you all do," Harrison said when asked if the media has made too much of the differences. "I'm playing SAM, so I'm basically doing the same thing I do in a 3-4 defense. It's just that I'll switch where I'm lining up. I'll be in a 40 or 30, stacked behind a tackle or guard or whatever it may be. And I'll do my job from there.
"Their terminology is some of the same terminology, but it means something different. Every now and then I'll revert to doing something that was previously done with the Steelers but means something different here. Once I get the terminology together and just getting used to certain fits, I think I'll be all right."
Put head coach Marvin Lewis in that same category.
"Really very little. I've watched James since he's been in the league. Each week we're playing the common opponents and so forth. So he's a great fit and an easy fit to plug and play with and what we're doing," Lewis said. "A lot of our principles are identical to what he learned as a player in Pittsurgh, some things that I have transferred through the years. So it's been a pretty easy transition for him, and as he keeps going, we keep having an opportunity to expand on his skills and his ability in what we do defensively.
Harrison, he of the 64 career sacks during a career he became known for his terrifying bull rush from the perimeter, thinks the Bengals are going to use him like the Steelers did earlier in his career. Lately he was dropping more into pass coverage and rushing less in Pittsburgh.
So the biggest adjustment he looked to be facing—pass coverage—may be moot.
"It's really not that much of a difference. Actually, with some of the stuff they're doing now, it looks like I may be rushing a little more than I had in previous years," Harrison said. "I think I'll be covering a little less here."
But there sounds like there is one major difference he's coveting. Always a marked man in Pittsburgh because he was the marquee Steelers pass rusher, Harrison is joining a line that already has double-digit sackers in tackle Geno Atkins and right end Michael Johnson, as well as a combined 10.5 sacks from two other ends in Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry.
"(Zimmer) is doing some things that will hopefully get me some one-on-ones with a lot of interior linemen," Harrison said. "Let the guys who were here continue to do the outside rushing that they were doing."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» The Bengals opened their fifth voluntary practice (OTA) of the spring to the media Wednesday and it didn't look much different than the first one last week with no Andre Smith at right tackle and cornerback Adam Jones on the sidelines with what is believed to be a strained calf.
In the absence of Smith and left tackle Andrew Whitworth (rehabbing knee), veteran backup tackle Anthony Collins and fifth-round pick Tanner Hawkinson were working at both tackles with the first offensive line. With left guard Clint Boling (rehabbbing ankle) out, veteran free agent pickup Mike Pollak worked with the first group. Backup right tackle Dennis Roland, who didn't work last week, was on the field this time.
Smith's absence comes in the wake of signing a three-year, $18 million deal, Cincinnati's second biggest move in free agency next to franchising right end Michael Johnson. Head coach Marvin Lewis said after practice that the club has been in touch with Smith and it expects him to be here once he works through some personal issues.
"He's got to deal with something personally and when he gets it finished and tied together, then he'll be here and ready to go with everybody else," Lewis said. "But this is still voluntary so he's not missing anything that he's required to be at. He's just got to continue with the work he's been doing in this offseason thus far and when he gets here, he will."
Also on offense, backup tight end Orson Charles, like he did last week, worked some plays out of the fullback spot. Rookie running back Rex Burkhead, who tweaked a muscle in rookie camp, was back full go.
» On defense, Taylor Mays lined up at one safety and Jeromy Miles at the other with the first group with Reggie Nelson doing just individual drills with an unknown but apparently minor ailment. Brandon Ghee lined up opposite Terence Newman at cornerback. Jones, Leon Hall (thumb) and Dre Kirkpatrick (knee) were the corners who weren't working. Hall is expected back next week and Kirkpatrick isn't expected to go until training camp. Hall was doing individual drills Wednesday.
» Two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins didn't work because of an illness and Devon Still took his snaps in the first group.
» The first two draft picks, tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard, continue to draw raves as Eifert carved up a seven-on-seven period in the red zone. But don't sleep on sixth-rounder Cobi Hamilton, the wide receiver from Arkansas who has caught just about everything with 6-2, 212-pound physicality.
"Cobi has not disappointed us at all. We really think he's going to make us better," Lewis said.