No question this is Joe Burrow's team and this is Ja'Marr Chase's theater and this is Joe Mixon's yard and the head coach calls the offense.
But Thursday's first extended live scrimmaging of training camp at Kettering Health Practice Fields sent a reminder that the Bengals reached the Super Bowl allowing just six touchdowns and not even 60 points in the three games on the way to the AFC title.
Defense prevailed by a rout Thursday in these sorts of things where the offense gets the traditional seven points for a touchdown and three for a field goal while the defense gets seven points for a no score and four points if they held for a field goal.
"As I told them," said defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. "Sometimes the bear gets you, sometimes you get the bear. We got the bear today."
They got the Grizzly with a dominating performance by, what else is new, their defensive line. And it just wasn't their starters as rookie tackle Zach Carter and rookie edge Jeffrey Gunter excelled in one-on-one pass rush and in the scrimmage where the first offense could barely get a pass off against relentless pressure. With franchise quarterback Joe Burrow looking on, first team quarterback Brandon Allen was left trying to explain why the defense always seems to be ahead of the offense in camp.
After, of course, the offense had to run gassers because they were beat in the red zone. Burrow joined them, but only driving his cart up and back.
"We try to put our best foot forward every time out," Allen said. "We'll try to watch film, learn from the mistakes we made today and come back tomorrow with a lot better intensity."
What is on display defensively is a scheme in its fourth year under Anarumo and on Thursday it had a unit where nine of its starters are in at least their second year in the system. Throw in the fact Allen has noticed some new looks in Anarumo's coverages and it makes for a tough number.
"There are a few wrinkles in some of their defensive calls," Allen said. "I think they've always had a wide range of different checks and things. But I think them being in the system for a few more years let's them disguise all that."
The defense survived two rookies in the secondary in first-rounder Dax Hill at free safety and undrafted cornerback Allan George playing for the nicked Eli Apple and his injured backup Tre Flowers while opposite Chidobe Awuzie. If the Bengals were trying to send a message to second rounder Cam Taylor-Britt, consider it sent as CTB went in only with the second group.
The defense also played well on a day middle linebacker Logan Wilson (shoulder) played his first team snaps in seven-on-seven as he still shoots for a late August return to team drills. Until then, third-year linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither continues to play the best ball of his career in Wilson's absence.
"It's fixed," Wilson said of his torn labrum. "We just want to wait the full six months before we go full-contact type stuff. I think that's smart. I feel like it's a little more controlled in 7-on-7. There's a lot more space, and I can just be smart with it."
Flowers expects to be back Friday and Apple not much longer if it's not Friday.
"That's just how the practice went," Anarumo said of George and Taylor-Britt. "Don't read into that. Nothing there. They're still competing."
The defense's flexibility can be seen in personnel as well as scheme. For instance, Dax Hill is showing he can cover in some man situations. And then there is nose tackle D.J. Reader having another immense day with his bull rush as defensive line coach Marion Hobby offered a post-practice warning when it comes to calling Reader the NFL's best nose tackle.
"Now that's a problem," Hobby said. "I think he's one of the better defensive tackles. You can't put him into one category. He can play the three technique. He can play some run, he can play some pass. If we gave him more pass rush, (you'd see that)."
Not a bad first look for a defense that doesn't get as many second looks as it should.
"Our whole theme this year is brick by brick," Anarumo said. "Today was a footer, I guess you'd call it. It wasn't just a single brick."
PLAYER OF THE DAY:
DEs Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard
First time this camp the coveted Bengals.com honor is shared and it's the only way it could go after they had about five or six sacks between them in a dominant effort.
Hubbard was counting, too, and Hendrickson probably was as well because after he had back-to-back sacks getting no resistance on the right edge and forcing a field goal, he went flying past the sidelines yelling to himself. Then he returned to seethe, "This year is going to be different."
If it's any better than his Bengals-record 14 sacks, that would be beyond different.
"Trey is a premier rusher in our league. That's apparent now and Sam is one of the more underrated guys in the league at that position," Anarumo said. "Certainly not in the run game he's not underrated. I think some people maybe sleep on his pass rushing because he's better than what people give him credit it for."
Hubbard knows he led all defensive ends last season in tackles in the run game, per Pro Football Focus. So when he made the only third-down stop on about eight short-yardage plays, it didn't surprise him or anyone else.
"The thing about him is he's got big-time stamina," Hobby said. "That guy can play for long periods of time at a high level. That's rare for a 270-pound guy."
Hobby is always hesitant to make snap judgements right after practice because he's so concerned about getting the subs in, so he prefers to watch the practice tape. But there were some obvious things before he even turned on the computer.
"I saw some guys turn the corner and get some pressure on the quarterback," said Hobby, who also wanted to watch the tape 'to make sure we were onside."
Hendrickson got one offsides call, but Hobby noted "his burst is good." it all left quarterback Brandon Allen shaking his head.
"The Bash Brothers," Allen said. "You can't chip both sides. That makes it tough and it helps make our defense tough to play."
PLAY OF THE DAY
S Michael Thomas
The grand old man (he's the Bengals only offensive and defensive player to have played in at least 100 games with 105) is making a serious roster bid after they activated him for the stretch run and the playoffs last season.
With Dax Hill at safety along with Jessie Bates III, Vonn Bell and rookie Tycen Anderson, the Bengals could theoretically keep five safeties because Hill can swing as a cornerback. The Bengals would also like to get kick returner/gunner/safety Brandon Wilson healthy off his ACL, but he has yet to practice. In the meantime, the 32-year-old Thomas is running a popular backup safety with the twos.
Especially after Thursday's interception he grabbed while diving to the ground after linebacker Markus Bailey tipped Jake Browning's pass. He scrambled to his feet only to go down almost as quickly.
"Mike is Mike. They all love him. I feel like I've known him since 10 or 11 years ago," said Anarumo, who has because he coached him at the Dolphins when he was a rookie in 2013 and coached him for the first six years of his career. "He's great. He's great for the room, a great guy, a great father. He's awesome. Love him. Just wish he would stand up and run (after interception) and not fall down."
Thomas knew that was coming.
"I know I'm going to hear about that later on in the meeting," Thomas said. "No YAC. No return yards. I'm ashamed I used to be on offense after that. But I'll take the interception. Both linebackers broke on it. Not only Markus but Keandre Jones. We played it together. You have to get those tips and overthrows."
QUOTE OF THE DAY
New Bengals Ring of Honor Member Willie Anderson on Thursday's talk to the offensive line:
"You can't have one dominant offensive lineman and the rest of the guys playing sub-par. You have to have guys that want to jack guys up. Like our mentality is going to jack guys up. Bobbie (right guard Williams) and I running 24 Power one damn way. Everybody in the league knew were running 24 Power. It's a mentality how we go about it. Teams knew that. Willie McGinest would say, 'We know we have to stop your power.' If the back of his head didn't hit the ground, we didn't count it. That was our goal. Get that double team."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Tight end Drew Sample got carted off in the short-yardage drill with a leg injury …
New right guard Alex Cappa played only in short yardage and was a positive factor as the offense converted all but one in a category that was a weakness last season and an emphasis in the offseason …
Running back Joe Mixon didn't carry the ball for the last 45 minutes of practice, set aside for what was basically a semi-scrimmage.
Short-yardage was live and Hubbard made the lone stop for the defense on an edge run he blew up …
Vonn Bell also made a fine play when he prevented a touchdown by quickly cutting down the angle …
Referee Ronald Torbert led the officiating crew Thursday and it will be recalled that he was the referee in Super Bowl LVI. It didn't seem to resonate with the players like it did with the coaches, particularly Anarumo, who could be seen having a long conversation on the field with Torbert before practice.
Anarumo said he didn't talk about "last year," i.e., the phantom holding call on Logan Wilson with 104 seconds left on third-and-eight from the Bengals 8 and Cincinnati leading, 20-16.
Wilson didn't seem to know or care that he was here.
"It's in the past. There's nothing we can do about it at this point, just move on," Wilson said. "I honestly didn't know that was the guy who made the call. It is what it is."...
Right tackle La'el Collins (back) was seen working with rehab guru Nick Cosgray...
Evan McPherson continues to roll. On Thursday he was six-for-six again, meaning he hasn't missed since hitting the upright from 45yards last Saturday. His longest on Thursday was from 54 yards with the holders and long snappers again rotating …