Guard Evan Mathis and defesnvie end Michael Johnson go at it in the Oklahoma drill. (AP photo)
Posted: 7:15 a.m.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. - The Oklahoma drill is kind of like dogs and cats. You either like it or you don't, but either way the Bengals' good karma continued with head coach Marvin Lewis' annual Throwback Period of the game's oldest drill.
"No one got hurt and everyone had fun," observed offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski on Sunday evening at Georgetown College.
Which is just the kind of camp it's been. It's been one long Twitter with 79 characters. Chad Ochocinco is joking instead of sulking. Tank Johnson is mentoring instead of struggling. Pat Sims is grinding instead of cruising. Kyle Cook is hitting instead of sitting.
Or, as backup quarterback Jordan Palmer said, "We've just got some good dudes."
Here is the way The Ocho signed off his Twitter account early this morning: "I am having a ball in camp, I hope I don't hit that wall no time soon man, get healthy bra and let's get it. Meet me in Miami (home of the Super Bowl)."
And Johnson ended his day with, "As I lay in the bed thinkin about my day all I can think of is I have 2 continue 2 lead by example! Actions speak louder than words!! Yadig."
The Bengals looked to have fun Sunday.
The day before Lewis had warned The Oklahoma is not really football the way we know it. Not with an offensive blocker lined up against a defensive player assigned to tackle the runner after a handoff in an alley about five yards wide. Which is why the defense argues it's slanted to the offense.
"Hate it," groused one defensive player. "It's not how you play football."
"I love the Oklahoma," said offensive line coach Paul Alexander. "You have to be a man, stand up, block your guy in front of everybody. There's nowhere to hide."
And that's just it. It looks like the ultimate in a physical challenge, but it's more of a mental thing than anything else. "Set a tempo," as Lewis likes to say. The last part of the show also yields a rare look into what he's thinking about certain players when he annually rolls out a handful of matchups that are quite intriguing.
"He tries to get a challenge. It's usually some younger guys or its some guys we're really trying to count on," Bratkowski said. "So he puts him in there and says, 'we're counting on you; let's see what you can do.' "
Which is why he called on his new center and his prized rookie and pitted Cook vs. SAM linebacker Rey Maualuga.
"I just think he was looking around, saw me, center vs. linebacker," said Cook after he pushed Maualuga out of the way in an impressive set against college football's defending Defensive Player of the Year. Then he smiled and said, "It would have been nice if it would have been me against Dhani (Jones)."
Remember when Cook and Jones, the starting middle linebacker, got into a scuffle during the spring?
Lewis sent another message when he called out for a second time fullback Jeremi Johnson, a veteran looking to bottle the talent of a few years ago after getting cut last year following a knee injury. Lewis matched him against WILL linebacker Keith Rivers, last year's No. 1 pick that missed most of last season with a broken jaw, and Johnson finished off his second win of the day.
"You don't get to do too much in football when you're playing just man-on-man and with a gap and a responsibility. It's kind of mano-a-mano the way it's supposed to be," Lewis had said on Saturday. "We've been out here for three practices and whatever it was in the spring, 17 practices or whatever it was, and you had guys running into each other and running into each other. Now they can run into each other."
It was more than that for Cook. He knew it was a challenge. He has been here for three years, has yet to snap the ball in an NFL game, and now he's supposed to be Richie Braham. He knew what he had to do against Maualuga.
"I don't want to call myself a rookie, but I'm a newcomer on the scene," Cook admitted. "That's where you need to establish a presence with the guys. You're there to do battle. You're showing them you're bringing something to the table. It didn't really matter who I was going against."
The Oklahoma is supposed to strip the player bare and reveal the mental as well as the physical. Cook exposed the persona he's trying to assume in a division full of in-your-face personas.
"You just don't want to roll over and say just because you've been in the league for seven, eight, nine, 10 years, whatever it is that you can walk all over me," Cook said. "It doesn't matter whether it is Dhani on my team or Ray Lewis on the other team I'm going to do the same thing no matter who I'm playing against. If you do it now in practice you're going to be doing it in a game."
Truth be told, at the moment Cook believes his top asset isn't his strength, which is formidable. (He won the spring's bench press heaving 225 pounds 39 times). But it is, he says, his grasp of the offense and ability to communicate it to his offense. As if to underscore how much that had been missing the past couple years, Cook is rooming with the three quarterbacks in an unorthodox arrangement.
"Not really. I roomed with Drew Stanton for five years at Michigan State," Cook said. "You really don't spend a lot of time with them because when you're back in the room you're usually by yourself resting. But we're having a good time. We haven't seen Carson (Palmer) in awhile. He's sick and been shut in his room for two days."
The guy who was really having fun was wide receiver Maurice Purify, a rookie free agent last year from Nebraska that toiled on the practice squad. The 6-3, 226-pounder has earned such a physical reputation in practice that receivers coach Mike Sheppard urged Lewis to match him with five-time Pro Bowl safety Roy Williams, the big-time hitter that made the NFL change a rule.
Purify was so upset that he didn't win his match against safety Kyries Hebert that "I took it out on Roy," he said. This time Williams got horse-collared by the kid. Except there was no collar.
Purify just drove him five yards straight back and with the offense whooping like it had scored on the first series against Denver, Purify says Williams grabbed his facemask as Purify tumbled on top of him. After a brief scuffle, Purify admitted he would get in touch with his family and friends.
"How I took out Roy?" he said.
But he's not joking. He needed Sunday if he's got any kind of shot to make this team. At best, you'd have to figure there are seven receivers ahead of him. Or maybe not since Bratkowski said he's been extremely impressed with Purify's game this camp.
But even Purify admitted it's a longshot for him to make it as a receiver.
"But not special teams," he said. "I'll do anything they want. I'll block on run plays, whatever. Gunner. Vise. Kickoff return. Cover. ... The coaches look at every play you make on tape."
"That says a lot about him," Cook said. "He's looking to bring something to the table and he stepped up."
So did Sims, the third-rounder from last year that has been criticized in the past for easing through the week before paying hard in games. But not Sunday.
He hit leadoff and beat right guard Bobbie Williams before dragging down the chiseled 225 pounds of running back Cedric Benson. Lewis called Sims out for an encore against backup guard Andrew Crummey and Sims took him left before he spun back into the hole to make the tackle.
"He's a hell of a run stopper," Johnson said. "With me being here, a veteran player, he's playing a little better now because he sees how he has to play better every day and we're going to be good as a result of it."
Sims says Johnson is "my big brother," and that it doesn't matter who's going to be playing at that tackle spot next to Domata Peko. He says Johnson will play first and second downs and he'll take third on some series and on others it will be the opposite and sometimes "we're both going to be on the field at the same time."
As for cruising Sunday, Sims said, "If you don't get intense for the Oklahoma drill, I don't know what to say about your football team."
He said enough on the first snap when, "I just wanted to set the tempo for everybody. That's what I was trying to do. Just give everybody a great feeling."
Despite what looks to be month-long injuries to key backups David Jones (foot) and Brandon Johnson (hamstring), players and coaches kept talking up the good vibes.
"It's a healthy environment. Everybody is really into what we're doing," Bratkowski said. "There's no running around, pouting, people worried about their own situations. It's healthy. It's fun."
Purify won't have to text Maualuga, his friend for the past 10 years growing up in Eureka, Calif., about his date with Williams. Asked if he could take out Maualuga, Purify gave an exaggerated turn of his head one way and then the other before saying, "Since he's not out here, I'll say 'yes.' "