Update: Safety search on; Zimmer likes LBs; Rookie CBs return

Mike Zimmer

Updated: 2:30 p.m.

It is a testament to how his players feel about him that as they trooped off the practice field Monday, the Bengals defenders let coordinator Mike Zimmer know they saw him holding court with the media.

That's because they know he'll give it as straight to the public as he does to them. And they won't be disappointed as he noted:

» He says Reggie Nelson is doing well at one safety, but those vying for the spot next to him have been up-and-down and he indicated no one has an edge. Zimmer wouldn't shoot down a scenario that had him playing three cornerbacks and Nelson.

But "it's too early for stuff like that," Zimmer has been saying the three weeks the on-field practices have taken place. He did say Monday, "I'll play the best 11 and that may be linemen."

As for safety he said, "We've got to find out who is going to be the most consistent. Who can make the decisions on the run. ... The guy that gives me the most confidence for the other 10 guys on the field (is going to play)."

» He likes the looks of the linebackers, particularly some of the young ones like rookie middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict and first-year Micah Johnson, a Kentucky free agent playing both the middle and SAM.

"He looks dependable so far," Zimmer said of Burfict.

But Zimmer wishes he could get fewer mistakes out of backup SAM Dontay Moch. Moch, a 2011 third-round pick, has impressed this camp with his pass-rush skills but Zimmer can see how his lack of practice time as a rookie has hurt his transition from a defensive end at Nevada to a SAM backer here.

A foot injury and a space of migraine headaches kept Moch from appearing in a game last season and media reports last month said he's facing a league suspension. But even if it doesn't get overturned, Moch can still practice and play in games until the regular season starts and they feel like the more reps he'll get the better he'll be.

» Cornerback Leon Hall (Achilles) isn't back yet and Zimmer isn't aware of any timetable. But he says every time he watches him do a drill, "he looks good," and Hall has never wavered from his belief he'll take the first snap of camp. As for one of the new vets that has filled in for Hall, Newman, the guy Zimmer coached in Dallas for the first four years of his career from '03-'06, Zimmer continues to sound amazed he got cut.

"Newman looks good. I can't figure out what's wrong with him," Zimmer said. "I've been watching seven days now."

Asked if Newman looks circa 2005 and 2006, Zimmer said, "He does some good things. I like him. I like him. So we'll see."

» Zimmer says starting middle linebacker Rey Maualuga has looked good and has responded to the coaches emphasizing to him that he has to be more patient so he doesn't overrun plays. The other Rey, backup WILL backer Vincent Rey, is coming off a solid special teams season and is trying to stick with the departure of Brandon Johnson.

"Vinny is Vinny. A smart guy from Duke. He's doing the right things. Good kid," Zimmer said.

Another guy impressed with the kid backers is Thomas Howard, the starting WILL.

"These guys don't make any mental mistakes. They get it," Howard said.

BOBBIE CLOSE TO PLAYING: It doesn't look like incumbent right guard Bobbie Williams is going to re-sign, but there he was on the Paul Brown Stadium field going through drills at the direction of rehab director Nick Cosgray after Monday's practice. Williams, who turns 36 in September, is coming off ankle surgery and says he plans on playing this year somewhere and that he's 85 percent back.

Asked if there have been any talks with him and the Bengals, he said he's been concentrating on getting healthy.

UPDATE: The Bengals opened their third week of organized team activities Monday with the first of four sessions that featured the return of rookie cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and Shaun Prater to the field. Kirkpatrick, a first-rounder, has been battling a groin issue and Prater, a fifth-rounder, hadn't worked since the first day of rookie minincamp.

Kirkpatrick got hurt after the rookie minicamp and even though Zimmer said Monday he was "lost mentally," he thought he looked better than he did a month ago.

Prater said he's been dealing with a bout of knee tendinitis that cropped up in the weeks before Iowa's bowl game and as he prepped for the NFL scouting combine and other workouts, he didn't have time to strengthen it until he got here.

"I don't think I'm behind (in the playbook) because I've been in the meetings," he said.

Two more rookies, second-rounder Devon Still and sixth-rounder Daniel Herron, weren't on the field with unknown problems. Herron no longer had his foot in a boot and it's believed the injury won't prevent him from taking the field next month in training camp.

Veteran cornerbacks Leon Hall (Achilles), Nate Clements (abdomen) and Adam Jones (muscle soreness) weren't on the field and the defense lined up with Terence Newman and Jason Allen as the starters and Kirkpatrick and Brandon Ghee next in line. And not that it matters very much because they are basically running people through in these workouts, Brandon Tate took the first snap of the day opposite wide receiver A.J. Green.

Andre Smith, off last week for his wedding last Saturday in Birmingham, Ala., was back at right tackle Monday. Smith said they've yet to decide on the honeymoon after hosting about 250 guests. Among them were Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander, fellow Bengals tackle Anthony Collins, and former Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph, now a Texan.

TWO PLAYS: Whatever happens in an OTA should be like what happens in Vegas. It ought to stay there because it's not real.

But sometimes it can tell you something.

Like arm strength. Andy Dalton shattered the myth again Monday when he threw another 55-yard-plus strike. And into PBS's notorious swirling wind.

And mindset. Nelson picked off a ball that backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski had to hurry behind the receiver and as Nelson was getting chased out of bounds, he tried an ill-advised lateral back onto the field. Head coach Marvin Lews noticed.

"I ticked off Marvin by lateralling the ball back," Nelson said. "He's kind of mad at me, I'll hear about it tomorrow."

Then Nelson admitted he already has.

"He gets like that a lot of times," he said.

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