Snapshot of a contender

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Strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton has helped give Adam Jones 'a 25-year-old body.'

Two plays.

They are as much about coaching as well as playing and provide a snapshot of what makes the Bengals a contender as training camp heads into its last public practice Thursday at 1 p.m. on the Paul Brown Stadium practice fields.

The plays show you the trust that cornerback Adam Jones has developed with the coaches on the field and in the weight room in his sixth season with the Bengals after a year he was arguably their best player.

They came during Monday's practice, when he jumped one route for an interception and jumped another for a pass defensed.

"They were in three by one," recalled Jones' of the offense's formation of receivers.  "We were in a blitz and I see two go out and (wide receiver Brandon Tate) can only run two routes from there. Curl and go. He's not going to run a post with a middle of the field safety there."

Jones jumped in front of Tate for the interception on a short pass over the middle and he's not so sure that would have happened three years ago. Former Bengals cornerback Terence Newman helped him quite a bit with his route concepts, but when Vance Joseph arrived to coach the corners last year, something clicked.

"I've had a lot of cornerbacks coaches, but it's the little things he teaches," Jones said. "For instance, in one call he already eliminated four routes for me when nobody else broke it down like that."

The same bond has grown in the weight room, where Jones has spent the last two offseasons sculpting a body that turns 32 in six weeks into what coaches and players call the body of a three-year veteran. While most players flee the facility until April, Jones takes off a mere month after the season before hooking back up with strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton for at least two days a week at the start.

Morton can't coach him, according to the collective bargaining agreement, until the official off-season workouts start in April. But he can supervise his workouts and make sure he's safe. Jones believes his offseasons under Morton have played a major role in him playing what he calls the best corner of his life.

(And sine he's coming off an All-Pro year as a special teamer, his return skills aren't too shabby, either.)

"There's no cheating," Jones says of Morton's regimen. "Ask him how much I squat."

Morton reports the number Jones balances while digging in is 455 pounds and while that's remarkable enough for an elderly football player at 5-10, 180 pounds, it's the way he does it that impresses Morton.

"He comes in every day off during the season on Tuesday to get in his squatting," Morton says.  "That's part of his plan. It's a great move for him. It gives him lower body strength. It's armor building. That's part of his equation. It's really tremendous for his legs."

Jones likes how Morton does it. There's a plan complete with milestones for a raging bull of a competitor. Like he says, "There's no cheating," and he likes that no-nonsense approach from Joseph, a notorious straight shooter.

"I trust him. He's been straight up with me," Jones said. "You have a couple of coaches come in here and B.S. players. Tell you this, tell you that. Don't tell you honestly the truth. V.J. is going to tell you uncut. Instead of, 'That was all right.' He doesn't coach like that. He expects guys to do it his way . . . (or) he'll find somebody else."

Joseph, 42, is a formidable figure in NFL coaching circles, where he's quietly seen as a future head coaching candidate even though he has yet to be a defensive coordinator. For now, his work with Jones and the rest of the cornerbacks is something to put on the resume.

"I'm their eyes and ears," Joseph said. "You can coach guys without beating them down.

"What's wrong is wrong. What's right is right . . . That way you don't get into, 'I thought,' or 'Maybe.' It's not beating guys down."

Joseph's coaching models are a composite. He says Bill McCartney, for whom he played at Colorado, was "no-nonsense, hard. He beat guys down a little." In San Francisco, he felt Mike Singletary was 'no-nonsense," while Mike Nolan was more of a player's coach. He says an NFL secondary coach has to offer an environment that's loose and fun, but also tight at the same time.

Cincinnati Bengals host Training Camp Practice at Paul Brown Stadium Practice Fields 08/19/2015

It's an approach that's appealing to youngsters as well as vets and Joseph's crew runs the race from nine-year man Leon Hall to undrafted rookie Troy Hill, making a serious run at the sixth and last corner spot.

Jones is at the point in his career when asked about what-ifs and maybes he offers, "If I never would have got suspended, I'd have $100 million right now, so you know how that goes."

In an odd way, that year suspension and another year in exile have allowed Jones to keep the tread on his body while storing up football acumen.

 "I would say the mental aspect of my game has caught up with the physical part,' Jones said. "I can still run pretty fast and my hips are pretty good. All that is still there, but I've probably gone from a C-plus student to an A-minus as far as technique, knowing where to be, knowing when to press, what leverage to press on."

Jones won't give himself an A until he's one of the top five in the league as branded by "you (media) guys,' but Joseph won't let him as he raves about his "25-year-old body."

"If corners can make it past their 30th birthday and still have their health," Joseph says, "they're good players because now their experience and physical ability come together . . . He should be playing well. No excuse. That's what I expect. You can run, change direction and you're (31) years old, why wouldn't you play well? Easy, right?"

Why are the Bengals contenders? Guys like Jones and Joseph have been the ultimate professionals this training camp.

 After last season, Joseph could have had his dream job, going back to the Broncos and Colorado as defensive coordinator under his head coach in Houston, Gary Kubiak. But the Bengals, realizing what an excellent job Joseph had done in his first season with the club, held him to his contract. Joseph hasn't said a word, calling it a matter of business and a contract and saying it's nothing personal.

Meanwhile, Jones is in the last year of his deal and yet he has said only, "I know there are some young guys ahead of me that need to get paid first."

On Wednesday, while Jones talked about the importance of waking up every day with something to improve on, Joseph called the relationship between a coach and player "a partnership, not a dictatorship . . . It's not college football, it's professional football."

Meanwhile, Morton shook his head. Jones, who didn't miss a workout this offseason, has already started up his regular-season squatting regimen three weeks before the opener.

"I don't know what he was like before he got here about his approach," Morton said. "But his progress from a working standpoint has been phenomenal."

That second play? When he jumped in front of wide receiver Denarius Moore and knocked down another pass over the middle? Jones smiled as he turned to safety Shawn Williams at his locker.

"You can tell I'm really studying the defense," Jones said. "My bud gave me the sky call late. I didn't hear it. If I don't hear it, I have to lock on regardless. Those are V.J.'s little details and we're all on the same page . . . If Shawn says 'Sky,' earlier, I punch off that dude and . . ."

And, he doesn't get his hand on the ball.

But he did. That's the kind of good stuff that seems to happen when you're a contender and the coaching and the playing is one in the same.

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