Cincinnati got back to the field in a big way this week as they prepare to right the ship ahead of the 2020 season, and we were able to come away with some takeaways from the first week of Bengals’ training camp.
There are battles across several positions, which are still very much open competitions. However, probable winners are already beginning to emerge early on, specifically at some key positions within the offensive line. On the defensive side of the ball, the linebacker position continues to be one of the most intriguing and with one of the most unpredictable outcomes.
At other positions, such as quarterback, the stars we expected to shine are doing just that as they prepare to make their presence known in what could be a season that has the Bengals on a significant upswing. Here’s a look at some early takeaways from the first week of training camp.
There is optimism surrounding Mike Thomas
Thomas spent the first four years of his career with the Los Angeles Rams and totaled just 10 career receptions on 21 targets. However, already he has shown some flashes in camp that are opening some eyes beyond just focusing on his production at the professional level. He’s starting to develop some chemistry with his quarterback and has earned a place within the first-team offense alongside the like of A.J. Green.
“I really don’t even look at it as 1s, 2s and 3s right now,” head coach Zac Taylor said. “Mike Thomas is an explosive guy. I’ve been around him a couple years. He’s got that explosiveness to him, and he really gets on those DBs quickly.”
Joe Burrow is (unsurprisingly) impressing with his confidence
If there’s anything that hasn’t changed about Burrow since he left LSU, it’s his unshakable level of confidence. Reporters asked the signal-caller how he was feeling about Week 1 action, considering that it is only his rookie year.
“Very confident,” Burrow said. “I feel very comfortable with the offense right now. I feel comfortable with my guys. I think we’re gonna be pretty good on offense. I’m excited more so than nervous.”
So, does he have any nerves at all? If he does, he’s not dishing.
“Absolutely not. You ever heard anything else about me about being nervous?”
Throughout camp so far, Burrow has been accurate and poised with very few misses. On Monday, he completed each pass during 7-on-7 drills. He’s received high praise from coaches and fellow players, including former-Ohio State teammate and current Bengals defensive end, Sam Hubbard.
“He’s really impressed a lot of guys with how he’s walking around the building, his demeanor, how he’s carrying himself, how he feels the sense of urgency to be a leader of the offense,” he said. “I think everyone’s been impressed with how he communicates, how he understands the offense. Because when the [first-team] offense goes out there, it’s a challenge. They’re running on all cylinders. That’s not something you’d expect to see with a rookie quarterback.”
All options are on the table at linebacker
The Bengals have a fair share of new players at the linebacker position, including the recent addition of veteran Josh Bynes. Taylor noted that he’s trying to get the rookies some time alongside more seasoned names like Bynes, Jordan Evans, and Austin Calitro as they begin the development process.
Cincinnati is truly weighing all of its options here, and not focusing necessarily on who is taking first and second-team reps. Expect players like Akeem Davis-Gaither and Logan Wilson to be immediate contributors at the position this season while the younger guys try to make some noise and gain recognition of their own.
With how wide-open things appear to be, it will be interesting to see which players emerge as the most dominant at linebacker by the end of camp.
The right tackle battle could be won sooner rather than later
It’s still too early to declare who exactly should take the place at the top of the depth chart here, but Bobby Hart seems to be winning the contest over Fred Johnson at the beginning of camp. Hart entered as the incumbent starter, but Johnson was considered to be nipping at his heels originally, despite Hart’s veteran status.
Johnson earned a Week 17 start against the Cleveland Browns and will look to be on the field more consistently moving forward, which may only become a reality this year if he can snag the momentum during camp. Johnson is still a developmental player, so to see Hart surging ahead early isn’t exactly surprising.
If Hart, who has started every contest with the Bengals since he joined them in February of 2018, does win the battle, he’ll need to play cleaner football. He was the team’s most heavily penalized offensive lineman in 2019, which is not a good look.
… and so could the competition at right guard
Right guard is another position that had a lot of question marks surrounding it throughout the offseason. However, it’s safe to assume that Xavier Su’a-Filo has the edge, considering he took all the first-team snaps at the position the first two days of the week.
Clay Cordasco, Isaiah Prince, O’Shea Dugas, and Josh Knipfel are among the other players trying to secure a spot at right guard. However, it doesn’t appear Su’a-Filo will have an issue holding them all off if he continues on the way he’s started camp ahead of the 2020 season.