It's a longshot, but the Bengals haven't given up on the idea of rookie left tackle Jonah Williams playing late in the year. His torn labrum may very well be a season-ender, but you could see them keeping him on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) at the start of the season rather ending his season on injured reserve in order to keep their proverbial options open.
That's a long way off, but Williams is showing them in this training camp why they used the 11th pick in the draft on him even though he won't work until the next camp. His sterling reputation as a student of the game has preceded him and he hasn't disappointed. He's attended every meeting and roamed behind the offensive line at every practice as if he's making his debut Aug. 10 in Kansas City.
"I want be as engaged as I can," said Williams during Wednesday's lunch break before practice. "I can't do anything physically right now, but I just want to feel like if all of a sudden I could hop in tomorrow, I want to be ready. That's the least I can do right now."
View some of the top photos from training camp on July 31, 2019, fueled by Gatorade.
Center Billy Price, the first-round pick before him, has been a huge help. He's expected to practice soon after dealing with an unknown ailment, but in the mean time he's taken a grateful Williams under his wing during practice. Price is the guy with the pen in his ear making sure they're banking the mental reps.
"He's the center, he's really engaged in the play calls," Williams said. "How would he call it? So I'll question him how to do this, how to do that. He's been real helpful."
Williams has his own schedule. He gets his treatment early in the morning or during lunch or both so he can get to the walk-throughs, meetings and practice. For instance, during a morning lift that he couldn't do on Tuesday, he had physical therapy. Like everyone else at camp, he's at the stadium until 9 p.m. or so. When he goes back to the hotel he and roommate Drew Sample study a bit more.
He admits it's achingly frustrating, but he doesn't know how else to do it but prepare for the Chiefs.
"It's my makeup. I would be bored out of my mind," Williams said. "I try to look at it as both a player and coach, from both perspectives. I want to understand as much as I can about what we do … That's my full-time job. To be the best Bengals player I can be. If I can't do it on the field, I want to make sure I'm doing it everywhere else."
Which is why they picked him No. 11.
Old friend Chris Crocker is at camp this week serving as an intern coach and it's no surprise. During his 71 games and six seasons as a Bengal, that's pretty much what he was when he helped defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer pull the strings in the secondary on four top 10 defenses in a run that included two division titles and four playoff berths.
But it took him awhile. Even when he was finishing up with the Bengals in 2013, he was officiating as well as putting his toe in the water on some media ventures. He always kept coaching close, though, and two years ago he made the commitment full time. He coached last year in the AFL with his secondary coach in Cincinnati when Kevin Coyle was the head coach in Atlanta. After this week he'll join Jon Hayes' staff in St. Louis in the XFL. Hayes, the only tight ends coach Marvin Lewis had with the Bengals, is the head man and he's got Crocker as an assistant secondary coach and co-special teams coach.
"Titles don't matter. I'll do whatever," Crocker said of what drew him back to the field. "I've had time away from the game and I like doing what I had been doing. Mentoring. Giving back. Giving guys information I've absorbed over the years. I'm trying to stay current. I'm in here this week getting some different perspectives and networking."
Lou Anarumo just arrived this year on his first defensive coordinator job with head coach Zac Taylor, but long before Zimmer rescued Crocker from the couch in midseason of 2008, Crocker and Anarumo were a team in college at Marshall and they've always managed to stay in touch. Which tells you something about both guys. Crocker says this defense won't finish like it did last season in last place.
"He's a guy that really cares about his players and for a college kid, that goes a long way. You go through a wall for him. I'm his biggest fan," Crocker said. "I've heard about some of the things from last year, there was lot of uncertainty, the coordinator (Teryl Austin) got fired during the season and it sounds like they just didn't have the opportunity to grow as a unit. This year there won't gray areas. They'll fix issues when they come up."
Left end Carlos Dunlap (one of the four defenders that played with Crocker as well as tackle Geno Atkins, safety Shawn Williams and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick) has compared Anarumo's pull-no-punches style to Zimmer and Crocker can see that.
"There is no other Zim. He's one of a kind," Crocker said. "What Lou does that is very similar is he holds guys accountable. That resonated with these guys early on. Lou is very honest and forthcoming and he's going to hold guys accountable."
The newest Bengal, cornerback Tony Lippett, got his first NFL start under Anarumo when both were in Miami in 2016. It just happened to be at PBS against one A.J. Green. Green didn't do all his damage against Lippett since he spread around his 10 catches for 173 yards in a 22-7 Bengals win, but Lippett certainly remembers that Thursday night game well.
"I didn't know I was starting until Tuesday," Lippett recalled before Wednesday's practice. "The message was get into the mindset and focus. I went up against him a few times man-to-man. I just tried to compete and have fun. He's a great receiver. It was tough, but this is the game we play."
Lippett, who played wide receiver at Michigan State before the Dolphins drafted him in the fifth round as a corner, is here because the Bengals are fighting through a range of nicks on the corner, including to slot corner Darqueze Dennard, Lippett's old college teammate.
"We came in together as freshman and we battled all the way until he left (for the draft). It's always been good battles," Lippett said.
He's not here because they're nicked at receiver.
"I'm a full-time cornerback," Lippett said. "I haven't thought about that."