Practice is going to look — and sound — a little different today when the Cincinnati Bengals hit the fields adjacent to Paycor Stadium wearing pads for the first time this training camp. It’s an annual ritual celebrated by the defensive players, and it usually comes with questions about whether the added physicality and intensity will lead to any fights.
But not with the Bengals. They aren’t wondering; they’re predicting.
Cincinnati Bengals Ready for First Training Camp Practice With Pads
“I’m sure there will be a scuffle or two,” center Ted Karras said.
“I love putting the pads on,” defensive tackle D.J. Reader added. “You really get to see what dog’s got any fight in him. My dogs are always gonna ride, though. This group is special. A lot of them have a bark to them and a bite, too. I’m excited to see them bite a little bit.”
“Early on, it’s real physical. Guys are juiced up,” Reader continued. “It will feel about like a game early. The only difference is (games are) a little more controlled chaos. (Today) will be chaos. I don’t know how controlled it will be as far as guys hitting each other and things like that.”
The Bengals had their first fight of camp just three plays into the first 11-on-11 period of the first practice last week when defensive end Trey Hendrickson and Orlando Brown Jr. tussled. Both are known for “blacking out” and pulling the throttle wide open in practice as well as games, but both were apologetic afterward.
The trenches are the most likely place for a fight to start, given the physically repetitive nature of the position. Younger players eager to make an impression can draw the ire of vets by being a little too exuberant. Or sometimes it’s not about a motor that won’t quit, but a mouth.
Mostly it’s the defensive players expressing how eager they are to move into the padded portion of camp, and that was the case in the locker room Monday.
“I’m excited for that, especially with the new guys,” safety Dax Hill said. “There’s always a different type of tempo whenever the shoulder pads go on.”
“Obviously, we want to keep them safe and make sure they’re not on the ground, but you need that good thud to really get back in that football mode,” safety Nick Scott added.
“They’ve been saying that for years,” Karras said dismissively. “That’s the defense’s mantra whenever you beat them without pads early on in camp. We’re gonna see (today).”
The tradition of the first days in pads always used to be the Oklahoma drill, but that’s been fazed out with the increased focus on player safety and body maintenance at the league and team level. But memories linger.
Reader, who is 29 and in his eighth season, said he misses it a little bit, which is surprising given his first experience with the Oklahoma drill in his youth league days when Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen was a teammate.
“I’m gonna tell you, my first one wasn’t pleasant,” Reader said. “Keenan Allen was in front of me, and he was going against another kid on our team, and I saw him knock the kid’s teeth out of his mouth. I remember just backing up from the drill, trying to get further and further to the back until I finally had to go. It got better as I got older. I was definitely shocked the first time.”
While fights are to be expected when you mix pride, physicality, and summer temperatures, there are lines that can’t be crossed.
“If somebody’s helmet’s off, you stop,” Reader said.
“My only thing with fights is just make sure it’s organic, not predetermined,” Karras said. “You have to have a valid grievance, and it has to be in the moment. I never go out there like, ‘I’m starting a fight today.’”
Reader and Karras, the elder statesman of the offensive line at age 30, are the two biggest trash talkers in the trenches, but it’s all good-natured and soaked in respect. And while both players expect there to be fights, they don’t plan to be among the combatants.
“Me and Ted are old — ain’t got time to be bumping with nobody,” Reader said. “But these are grown men. Pushing, shoving, whatever it is. Fighting. You let that s–t go and leave it on the field. It’s an emotional game played with a lot of pride. That’s a mix for certain things to happen. But you leave that s–t where it’s at.”
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