GEORGETOWN, Ky. — As far back as February's NFL scouting combine Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer talked about how he planned to take his unit back to basics. He says Friday night's preseason opener in Detroit (7:30, Cincinnati's Channel 12) is going to be a study in simplicity.
"We're going to be very simple and as the game goes on we're going to get simpler and simpler," Zimmer said after Wednesday afternoon's practice here at Georgetown College. "If we play good, we'll get them out of there. If we play bad they'll stay in."
That's the first team, but he'll be watching everyone's pad level and tackling. Tackling is "a big key" because of the long layoff and he's concerned at how crisp it's going to be. Zimmer is pleased with how everyone has picked up the system ("We brought in some smart guys," he says), but he wants them to let it loose instead of being so precise with the playbook.
Zimmer is particularly enthused by the play of the starting linebackers and he complimented middle linebacker Rey Maualuga on his improved pass coverage after he picked off quarterback Andy Dalton on a pass he threw right at him over the middle.
"You weren't supposed to hear that," Zimmer said. "We brought in some smart linebackers. Thomas Howard is very athletic and he's done a really good job. Manny Lawson is a great kid who wants to learn everything. He has size and smarts. Maualuga has done a good job in the middle. With Brandon Johnson back and some of these guys, we're a little stronger at that position than we were."
BOBBIE BOBBING: Even though right guard Bobbie Williams is in his 12th season, there he was Wednesday afternoon, the last guy on the field signing autographs and saying hello to the fans behind the ropes and posing for pictures.
He's also looking forward to saying hello to everyone's Defensive Rookie of the Year last year in Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Suh flops guards at times and fellow tackle Corey Williams plays a cocked nose off the center, so Williams joked, "Let them switch."
Even though he's only been on the field 12 days this year, Bobbie Williams has no qualms about facing the best right away.
"Tough? It's an excellent way to start if you ask me," Williams said. "What better measuring rod is there by going up against one of the premier defensive tackles in the game? That's what a man would want. He plays hard, he has good hands, he plays with good leverage. Yes, I would say it is power vs. power."
NATE BAIT: Here is the kind of experience 11-year cornerback Nate Clements brings to the table: He's still learning the defense, but with Dalton trying to hit wide receiver A.J. Green on a corner route to the sidelines, Clements jumped it for an interception when he cut in front of Green.
"The defensive call at the time and with the formation they were in, I anticipated it was coming out quick," he said. "We had brought more (rushers) than they had in to protect, so I was looking for something quick."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Despite Dalton's two picks, he also had a number of quick, tight throws, and hooked up for anther leap-and-catch with Green.
» Former Bengals running back Stanford Jennings made his annual camp stop, but this one was a little extra special. Jennings and Green grew up in the same town, Summerville, S.C., and Green knows Jennings' family from summer visits.
It was Jennings who phoned his former Bengals teammate, Ira Hilary, after he saw Green play for a half in high school and told him, "I've just seen the second coming of Randy Moss." On Thursday he got a lot of nods.
"See?" he asked.
» Jennings' Super Bowl teammate, rookie high school head coach David Fulcher, brought down his team from Cincinnati Christian and, like Jennings, visited with Bengals president Mike Brown.
» Left end Carlos Dunlap, who was second to Suh among all rookies with 9.5 sacks, looks shelved for Friday. He hasn't worked this week with a knee issue that doesn't appear to be serious.
» Also out figures to be running back Bernard Scott (hamstring), defensive tackle Lolomana Mikaele (bicep), cornerback Jonathan Wade (shoulder), cornerback Brandon Ghee (unknown) and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins (unknown). They look to have muscle pulls or soreness, but head coach Marvin Lewis doesn't confirm injuries during camp.
Wide receiver Andre Caldwell could also be out. He sat out Tuesday with what appeared to be a muscle pull, and he came back Wednesday but stopped practicing when he appeared to tweak it following a run and catch. It looked to be a precautionary move. Wade came back for the first time in about a week, but was on the sidelines at the end of practice. Fullback Fui Vakapuna (hamstring) returned after being out since the first practice.