With the aid of impassioned head coach Zac Taylor, the Bengals continued to work through social justice issues Friday in what emerged as a joint effort among players and management after president Mike Brown met with a group of players and coaches Friday morning.
In what center Trey Hopkins described as a "socially-distant," structure, Brown spoke to and then listened to a group that included Taylor, franchise wide receiver A.J. Green, rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, sack ace Carlos Dunlap, new veteran linebacker Josh Bynes and new veteran offensive lineman Xavier Su'a-Filo to discuss the players' plans to help make things better "in the community and the country," according to Taylor.
The players appear to be working on an evolving agenda that is involving the entire organization.
Saying he would talk about the topic as long as anyone wanted, Taylor spoke at an unscheduled Zoom news conference after Friday's practice about the "raw, emotional conversations," he and his staff have had with his players that have led to conversations about what they want to accomplish.
"We've all come to a great place of understanding and we will have more of a message to put out over the next 24 to 36 hours from the voice of the players, ownership, coaches, personnel staff," Taylor said. "We have planned more discussions later this afternoon, so I'm not going to get into too many specifics because you'll hear more from us later tomorrow. But it's been really eye-opening, productive and I look forward to continuing the discussions with our players today."
Taylor said he would have heard his players out if they wanted to join other NFL teams and cancel practice and detailed the last two days of meetings on the subject of how to deal with the issues.
"We support our players 100 percent. These meetings in the morning have run through some of our other meetings that we've had," Taylor said. "It's the priority right now, is to make sure that the players' voice is heard. We take whatever time we need to talk through these issues at hand and make sure we're all on the same page.
"I think the players have been comfortable with the time that they have available to them to talk with us. I was in a meeting last night with the coaching staff at 5:30 and I had a group of players come up to my office to talk about it. Because they just got out of a team meeting. I think the communication has been really good and everyone feels like we haven't cut short the time that we need to be able to talk about everything we need to talk about.
MIXON MISSES ANOTHER PRACTICE: Running back Joe Mixon missed his third straight practice on** Friday with what Taylor confirmed are migraine headaches. He also said he didn't think the absence was related to his negotiations for a contract extension.
"No. Joe has been an honest guy with us and we've always had great communication with Joe," Taylor said.
INJURY UPDATES: The assault on Bengals cornerbacks continued with Darius Phillips sitting out Friday with what Taylor called a day-to-day lower leg injury.
Wide receiver John Ross, who fell on his left arm jumping for a pass on Wednesday, was dressed but didn't practice and had the arm in some kind of a pad. But Taylor called it a minor injury and said he could get work in. Since Friday was reserved for goal-line and short yardage, Green didn't do much, either, as he continues to cool his hamstring.
Quarterback Ryan Finley (unknown illness), pass rushers Carlos Dunlap and Carl Lawson (unknown), left guard Michael Jordan (Covid protocol after the birth of his baby) and slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander remained out. Alexander is still at home in Florida after his father went missing and was found earlier this week.
"He's going through a very personal situation right now," Taylor said. "We've been in great, great communication with Mackensie. No further on update on his status right now."
SUNDAY'S SCRIMMAGE: As for Sunday night's scrimmage, Taylor said it's unclear if Green, Ross and Dunlap are going to play, but he says there is another week of camp left after that and another scrimmage on Sept. 3.
"We're counting down the minutes of time that we have left to prepare for that first game," Taylor said. "So we don't take any second for granted. Obviously there are some other things we have to tend to and bring some attention to. Again, I'm proud of our players for finding the right balance to make sure that the stuff that's off-the-field related, we're doing a great job drawing attention to it and spending the time that we need to spend on it and not just putting it by the wayside."
IN THE TRENCHES: There was some pretty good hitting in the trenches on Friday on the goal line and on a variety of third- and fourth-and-ones. Here were a couple of moments:
Rookie back-up left tackle Hakeem Adeniji, again starting with the ones in place of Jordan at left guard, couldn't pull fast enough to get a piece of end Sam Hubbard for Hubbard's stop short on the goal line. Running back Giovani Bernard used a nice pull by Su'a-Filo at right guard to get into the end zone on a short run and on another carry Bernard cut it outside with the angle on linebacker Germaine Pratt and Austin Calitro to outrace them to the left pylon.
But hear this. Adeniji, the sixth-rounder from Kansas, is going to be a starter at some point and maybe sooner rather than later. He's athletic and obviously smart because they feel like they can use him at both tackles and guards. As radio analyst Dave Lapham says in Friday's training camp report, a steal in the sixth.
The tight ends had a big day with at least three of them catching touchdown passes, Burrow hitting C.J. Uzomah and Cethan Carter and Jake Dolegala finding Mason Schreck.
SPECIAL TEAMS AT THE FOREFRONT: Taylor has given a lot of the last two practices to special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons as he seeks to replace his Pro Bowl alternate safety Clayton Fejedelem, now in Miami. Fejedelem was the kicking game's Burrow, a quarterback in every phase. Before that it was Rex Burkhead and then Fejedelem was the natural heir when Burkhead went to free agency the year Fejedelem was drafted. Before that it was running back Cedric Peerman, who inherited from linebacker Dan Skuta.
Simmons admitted Friday he's still looking for that guy.
"I think we're going to have to do it by committee," said Simmons, who may spread it out among veterans such as Bernard and Shawn Williams, among others. "We've drafted a couple of guys that might be that type, but I'm not sure they're ready yet."
He's talking about rookie linebackers Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaither, drafted in the third- and fourth- rounds, respectively, and he says the other linebacker, seventh-rounder Markus Bailey, is starting to come on after he missed most of his last year at Purdue with a torn ACL. The Bengals have always been a little shy with backers in the kicking game in the 3-4 AFC North, but they've had a dearth of speedy players there in recent year. This would have to be Simmons' fastest linebacker crew in at least more than a decade and maybe ever.
"The rookie linebackers we drafted are everything we thought they'd be," Simmons said of the speedy trio. "They're exactly what we're looking for."
CORRECTING ERRORS: But there are more than a few things keeping up Simmons at night as he heads into his 19th season here. For one thing he's worried about the penalties because the officials annually like to be hard on the kicking game in the preseason.
And he misses the ability to use the pre-season games as a teaching tool to correct errors.
It brought up memories of Skuta, an undrafted free agent in 2009 who never made a mistake in OTAs or training camp and then in the first scrimmage of camp, "lost his mind and couldn't even remember his name."
Then he thought he had Skuta calmed back down for the pre-season opener in New Orleans, but he stayed planted on his first NFL kickoff as everyone ran by him.
Skuta went on to have a solid rookie season for Simmons, but not before he had those chances to square him away. That can't happen this year.
"You miss that ability to replicate the emotion and the speed," Simmons said.