D.J. Reader, the Bengals' game-wrecking nose tackle (See the AFC Divisional in Tennessee), credits the youth of the defensive line for invigorating things up front this training camp.
And, after one-on-one pass rush drills earlier in the week, it's clear Reader has picked up where he left off and that looked to be the NFL's best nose tackle.
"As far as my position and my spot, I feel I'm the best. For sure," Reader said before Thursday's practice. "I think I've proven it my whole career. I know there are guys who feel they're the best and they should feel that way."
At 28, Reader can't quite believe he's the oldest defensive starter but that's how it sits on a line that basically has two additional rookies in Joseph Ossai and Wyatt Hubert, two 2021 draft picks coming off missed seasons because of injuries.
They join 2022 third-rounder Zach Carter, a Florida tackle, and seventh-rounder Jeffrey Gunter, an edge from Coastal Carolina, as well as CFA Tariqous Tisdale, a tackle-end from Mississippi. Throw in last year's fourth-rounder Cam Sample, who played most of his 310 snaps on the edge, and Reader likes what they're doing.
"It's a good group. It's fun," Reader said. "We've got a lot of young guys in our room and it gives you a lot of energy. Zach's having a good camp. Jeff's having a good camp. Tisdale, all those boys are having a good camp. They're eager to learn. Then you have second-year guys like Cam, Joseph and Wyatt … It's fun being around the young legs. They've got a lot of jokes. It's a good vibe."
_Big Willie Anderson, the greatest right tackle of his era and newest member of the Bengals Ring of Honor, spoke to the team and the offensive line before Thursday's practice. His speech to the team was inspired by one he gave to one of Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis' early teams. Anderson, then a team elder and captain, was greeted with push back from some of the younger players.
"That's in the past," they told him.
So on Thursday Anderson told the '22 Bengals to go beyond.
"Don't let last year be your ceiling," Anderson recalled what he said to the team. "It should be your base, your starting point … You set the starting point. Don't let last year be the best year of your career. You've got a young team."
Anderson also talked mentality to the O-line and conjured up memories of the brutal 24 power that brought defenses to their knees with Anderson and right guard Bobbie Williams bludgeoning the defense.
"He said every time that play was called, they already knew it was going one way," said left guard Jackson Carman. "They had one mission in that plan and that was to destroy the guy across from him."
Anderson, who runs an offensive line academy in Atlanta, worked with Carman before the Bengals drafted him. And before they took him, they called Anderson about him and got a hearty endorsement.
"He always has great words of wisdom and advice. He always keeps it real," Carman said. "Everything he said was real. He's been through it. He played at the highest level. If anybody knows about the mentality to be great, it's him."