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Ten Quotes To Take From A Bengals Spring Into Training Camp

QB Joe Burrow during OTAs at the Kettering Health Practice Fields on Thursday, May 30, 2024 in Cincinnati, Ohio,
QB Joe Burrow during OTAs at the Kettering Health Practice Fields on Thursday, May 30, 2024 in Cincinnati, Ohio,

Ten quotes that stood out during the Bengals' spring camps and what they mean for the roster and the Xs and Os when training camp opens July 24:

"That's always the goal, so it's not bad to talk about it. But I think the way we were talking about it is that it was a given we were going to be in the Final Four. I think a lot of us have taken what happened last year to heart. I think we just have a really driven, focused team. And having a good spring was the first step and we did." _ Bengals center Ted Karras.

Karras may seem like a jolly good fellow and certainly is much of the time. But underneath he's also got a take-no-prisoners edge of playing nine NFL seasons at center with two of them ending up with the Lombardi. He knows what it's supposed to look like and last spring he heard enough talk about the Super Bowl to make him a bit uneasy.

But Tenacious Ted likes what he sees and hears now, which is a reminder this club isn't as young as you think. It's a nice brew of sages and students with the 2024 free-agent class conjuring up how the front office overhauled the roster in 2020 and 2021 with the help of young veterans who had won elsewhere and then led them to back-to-back AFC title games.

Running back Zack Moss has eight carries in two playoff wins, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins has been on the winning team in four of seven postseason games, right tackle Trent Brown was a big reason Belichick and Brady got that last ring together, and safety Geno Stone's AFC-leading seven interceptions helped the Ravens to last season's division title and championship game appearance.

Throw in Vonn Bell's return with his Cincy playoff heroics (his overtime pick of Patrick Mahomes in the 2021 AFC title game is a top-five franchise play), and, as Paul Brown himself would say, they've been there before.

"I'm not going to parse over six reps in a June practice. He's in a great place." _ Bengals offensive coordinator Dan Pitcher.

On the last day of the mandatory minicamp last week, Pitcher offered a pragmatic and sane guidepost on anything that takes place on the field between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice.

In this case, he was talking about Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow's comeback from surgery on his throwing wrist. While social media had an opinion on what each Burrow pass looked like, Pitcher wasn't about to act as arbiter.

What mattered is that during sessions Burrow hardly ever looked down the field, the coaches were impressed with how quickly he read his new receivers and how far along he is in the timing of the offense. Whether or not he's throwing 98-mile-per-hour gas every pass, whether or not he's keeping the ball off the ground in seven-on-seven, that wasn't the thrust of the spring.

They needed Burrow to simply get back in the swing and there were enough crisp passes and enough sharp calls at the line to have the Bengals jaunty, believing the first hurdle had been cleared.

Or, as head coach Zac Taylor said, "It's just his timing and getting through progressions is so impressive. That's really what separates him in one way from a lot of people in this league and that continues to show up just even as we do limited work here in the offseason."

"If you watch his initial kick on pass pro and how he gets his leg out as fast as possible, I was working on that today in practice … He's just saying, 'Play like you're 6-8, 350. Make those guys go through you. Play like you're big. Use your size to your advantage.'" _ Bengals rookie right tackle Amarius Mims.

Mims, the massive first-round right tackle from Georgia, was talking about the guy he's playing behind, the even more massive 10-year vet Trent Brown.

Mims paying such close attention to one of the NFL's best pass blockers of the last decade, shows you why he may not be a backup for very long. He won a lot of new friends this spring with a terrific personality to go with a demeanor that strives to be elite.

Born in October of 2002, Mims is the youngest player on the team. Brown, 31, born a month after Karras, is the second oldest. Mims made sure there's no generation gap and Brown closed it with his advice.

"He makes people uncomfortable, which I love. Because he's serious. He's got an edge. He's one of these guys who takes it to heart. He wakes up and wants to be the best. He's wired the right way and whenever you're wired that way, it does make people uncomfortable because he's separating himself mentally. Cam (Taylor-Britt) was the same way coming in." _Bengals cornerbacks coach Charles Burks on fifth-round pick Josh "Fig," Newton.

Newton promptly showed why the Bengals believe they've got a smart, rugged customer who can play both inside and out. When he showed up from Texas Christian for rookie minicamp, he proclaimed, "You listen. You read the room. Listen to the leaders. Listen to the people who have been driving this boat. Get around the Burrows. Get around the Chases. Get around the Mike Hiltons. The Cam Taylor-Britts. The DJ Turners."

Now it looks like with a solid camp he's got a good shot to line up behind the Hiltons, and Taylor-Britts, and Turners, not to mention the Dax Hills in the cornerback room after an impressive spring. If Mims has Trent and Orlando Brown Jr., at tackle to learn from, Newton has seemingly eased into a locker room where Hilton, the guy he studied on tape even before the draft, has taken him under his wing.

"With Vonn back, for me personally, having that extra voice at my rear, it takes a lot off my shoulders and lets me settle down and play my game. Another voice who knows the system and knows how to win. The energy was there. Once the football gets thrown around, it gets you going. But you could just tell from our first snap our communication is where it needs to be." _ Bengals slot cornerback Mike Hilton.

Hilton offered the observation on May 28, the day of their first seven-on-seven snaps and first 11-on-11 walkthrough plays of the season. It was the first time in the spring the defense could stand on the other side of the offense. It also marked the first time defensive starters such as Hilton, Taylor-Britt, linebackers Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson, and edgers Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard were on the field with safety Vonn Bell since the 2022 AFC title game.

It was only day one, but it was a big day because defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo and his staff had spent the offseason trying to fix the spate of big plays that stunned his secondary down last year's stretch. They made communication a point of emphasis and when "The Great Communicator," was cut loose in Carolina the first week of free agency, Bell was in the building the next day.

Bell nicknamed Anarumo "The Mad Scientist," during his first run here and he could get away with it because no one knows Anarumo's scheme better. It only took Logan Wilson day one to know what it meant.

"He's kind of just picked up where he left off," Wilson said. "I feel like we had really good communication out there … Even though a lot of us have been in the system now and know what we should be doing and what we should be in, but just even saying it, making sure we're all on the same page can get us playing high-level football."

"With the personnel we have this year, we'll be able to do a lot more with personnel groupings. Putting different people in different spots … And doing a lot of different things as far as eye candy and making teams adjust their personnel based on ours." _ Burrow last week after the first mandatory minicamp.

As Pitcher has said, this offseason didn't see the biggest changes in the Burrow playbook, but he agreed the departures of running back Joe Mixon and slot receiver Tyler Boyd mark the biggest change in skill positions in Seamless Joe's five seasons. It could be the return of the tight end, a position Burrow has used to bludgeon the big moments. Think C.J. Uzomah in Burrow's first prime-time win against Jacksonville in 2021 and Hayden Hurst in the 2022 playoffs against the Bills.

"Our tight-end room is a room that I'm very excited about. And I think they had an excellent spring. Tanner (Hudson), Mike (Gesicki), and Drew (Sample) obviously are the three experienced guys in the room. All of whom feel very comfortable in their own skin, know who they are, know how to play the game. They wouldn't stick around in the league for six, seven years a piece if that wasn't the case," said Pitcher, who says Gesicki and Hudson can play the slot.

"Those two guys are talented pass catchers and the thing that really stuck out this spring about those two players is how smart they both are, how they see the field and how they just have excellent feel."

"He can cover anybody on the field. He's a natural cover player. He's got the length to cover bigger targets, short-area quickness to cover space guys. He has the balance to anchor at the top of the route. He's got a lot of the tools that the elite corners around the league have." _Charles Burks on Dax Hill.

Burks said it on April 29, the day after the draft. It was the first day of the offseason workouts, when Zac Taylor confirmed that Hill was moving from safety to cornerback.

Burks also said that day he felt like he was getting a first-round pick in his room without turning in a card and that's pretty much what Burks saw in the ensuing six weeks. Burks didn't blink an eye and ran Hill with the first-teamers in last week's seven-on-seven in mandatory minicamp.

Hill keeps reminding you of Leon Hall, one of the top Bengals cornerbacks of all-time and a first-round pick in 2007. Not so much from a style standpoint They're different players. But they have the same temperament and versatility.

But both went to Michigan. Both have implacable personalities. Both close on the ball with Jedi quickness and smarts. And both can play any spot back there. If Hall hadn't blown out both Achilles', he probably could have played safety for three more years before he retired.

Hill says he felt comfortable playing outside cornerback for the first time and he looked it. It helps, he says, he already knows how to play safety in the system.

"If they motion to something, I kind of already know what the check is. I can change my leverage or change my alignment," Hill said. "You can only talk so much in the film room. You have to apply it on the field."

"We talked during the back end of the draft. He's very unique in that he's got a punting background. That really intrigued me. My agent told me a little bit about him. I looked up some stuff about Coach Simmons and my agent told me he's been in the game a long time. A great coach. I trusted that and I've seen it first-hand here." _ Bengals rookie punter Austin McNamara

With those words, McNamara, the rookie free agent from Texas Tech, provided a preface for the Darrin Simmons Training Camp.

Simmons, the Bengals assistant head coach and the NFL's longest-tenured kicking game coordinator, has quite a month in store in his 22nd summer at the helm. He not only has another punting competition on his hands between McNamara (the leg) and sophomore Brad Robbins (the experience), but he's grappling with the league's biggest rule change in 50 years as they revive the kick return.

They've done it, basically, by turning it into a scrimmage play, lining up the sides just five yards across from each other, and forcing returns with a landing zone, and penalizing kicks into and out of the end zone.

"We just have to learn how to judge and balance the space or lack of space that is between us," Simmons said. "It's going to be much more of a timing thing we have to get adjusted to. Things happen much faster. The blocks happen faster. The cover players are on top of the blockers much faster. Everything is happening much quicker."

That could mean another roster spot or two for linebackers and/or edgers: "Now you need guys who can work edges, but also hold-the-point types."

But, maybe not. Frankly, Simmons, always so prepared, isn't quite sure what is going to happen because, "It's something we've never done … It's invigorating to me because it's something completely different."

"I'm not going in there. He might have to. He's comfortable in there. I talked to him about it. He says, 'Coach, no problem. That's second nature to me.' I think he can swing anywhere he wants to swing in there. He's strong enough. Sometimes it's beating them to the punch. It's not so much heaviness, it's getting hands on them before they get their hands on me." _ Bengals defensive line coach Marion Hobby on rookie tackle Kris Jenkins Jr.

It shows you how much they believe in Jenkins, the rookie from Michigan. They're not looking for him to replace nose tackle DJ Reader by himself, but they think he can be part of an effective rotation in there, as well as play other spots.

The 2020s started with the Bengals giving Reader their biggest free-agent deal ever and they haven't stopped investing in the front. The next year Saints edger Trey Hendrickson topped Reader's deal, they traded a former first-round pick for three technique B.J. Hill, and when Reader left in March they responded by taking Jenkins in the second round and Mckinnley Jackson in the third, their highest drafted tackle tandem in a dozen years since they took Devon Still in the second and Brandon Thompson in the third. Plus, they gave estimable vet Sheldon Rankins $25 million for the next two years.

"Very cerebral kid and worked his tail off to get to be where he is right now. Same kid you see right now. Great notetaker. Regimented routine. A pro's pro. 'Coach's dream,' are the exact words." _ Illinois assistant head coach and running back coach Thad Ward on Bengals running back Chase Brown.

"Very similar qualities to what Zack brings to the table. They're professionals. They know what's required of them. They know how to conduct themselves day in and day out. They're reliable, trustworthy people and players. And so those guys are the kind of guys that help you get to where you want to go." _ Pitcher agreeing with the assessment Moss could be a young Samaje Perine, the former Bengal and playoff hero.

Plan on seeing a lot of Brown and Moss. Coaches love them, as you can see from one of Brown's college coaches in for a visit this spring, and Pitcher's scouting report. They could end up being Zac Taylor's concept of a pocket thunder-and-lighting as the Bengals transition from the bell-cow bruising days of a century that has run from Corey Dillon to Joe Mixon. The only time in the 2000s they've had two runners with at least 700 yards are Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard in 2015. The last time they had two runners with multiple 100-yard games in the same season was in 1988 with James Brooks and Ickey Woods.

Brown and Moss may very well change all that.