CINCINNATI — Our latest PFN training camp tour stop is the Queen City, where the Cincinnati Bengals believe they have unfinished business after falling one score short of their first Super Bowl championship just six months ago.
“That’s the standard,” said Bengals defensive tackle D.J. Reader. “We feel like last year was our base and we want to get back there. We feel like we’ve got a really, really good team. A really good group of guys around this locker room who really cares about winning. They’re going to scratch and claw and do whatever they need to win.”
Two important things need to happen for the Bengals to even entertain ideas about repeating as AFC champions. Joe Burrow needs to make a full recovery from last week’s appendectomy (he still isn’t ready to practice). And the team’s massive investment in its offensive line needs to pay off.
Offensive line questions top Cincinnati Bengals training camp observations
The Bengals had their first live, tackling-to-the ground work of training camp Thursday. It didn’t go super well for their talent-infused offensive line.
One of the day’s very few live possessions was doomed by a couple of mistakes.
On first-and-10, the Bengals didn’t pick up Mike Hilton on a corner blitz, allowing Hilton to drop Joe Mixon for a four-yard loss.
Then on third-and-5, the Bengals had multiple breakdowns, allowing Germaine Pratt and Josh Tupou to converge on fill-in quarterback Brandon Allen.
In fairness, this was just a snapshot in time, and the Bengals have five and a half weeks to get it together before those negative plays start counting. But certainly Zac Taylor and Duke Tobin would have liked a better start for a group on which they spent $21 million guaranteed to fix in the offseason.
New right tackle La’El Collins has not been on the field for a single this camp, working through a back issue that landed him on the non-football injury list. Plus new right guard Alex Cappa is working his way back from a core injury that has limited his availability. Meanwhile, Ted Karras, the third of three big additions to the offensive line, is healthy and participating fully at center.
All three will need to play well to keep Burrow consistently upright. Burrow went into the offseason with knee injuries after each of his first two NFL seasons due to a steady barage of hits he has taken. He was sacked a staggering 70 times in the Bengals’ 21 games (including the postseason) in 2021.
Beyond those new players, the Bengals need Jackson Carman to take a step forward after a disappointing rookie season. He’s technically in a training camp competition with rookie Cordell Volson, but the presumption is Carman will be the Week 1 left guard. Jonah Williams is back at left tackle, while D’Ante Smith got work with the starts at right tackle in Collins’ absence.
Willie Anderson on why the Bengals’ culture is better
While Taylor has plenty of critics in these parts for his play calling, no one should doubt that he’s helped fix a culture that historically hasn’t been great.
Just ask retired left tackle Willie Anderson, who endured some lean years during his 12 years in Cincinnati.
Anderson was back in the building Thursday for a visit, and took the opportunity to address the team that is light years ahead in terms of chemistry.
“The organization has put together a great group of guys that don’t go through that. When you’re assembling a team, you’re assembling a team of personalities, and this team’s personality seems to be a great group of guys that gel together,” Anderson said. “They shouldn’t worry about the things we went through as players, because they’re not going through it. .. Good things are going to happen now. They shouldn’t let our past dictate their future.”
Anderson, who is going into the Bengals team’s Ring of Honor this year, was a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2022, but fell short in the final round of voting.
“I try to put that out of mind,” Anderson said of his chances to make the next class. “That’s not something I can worry about. … I definitely am not going to go through that anxiety this year because it’s out of my control. It’s all about those guys in the room, if they choose to believe the information they’re getting, I think if they look at it unbiased, and look at my stuff, the guys that have been put in before me, I think it matches up. You just never know. I’m more excited about the Ring of Honor.”
More Bengals camp observations
- With safety Jessie Bates III continuing his training camp boycott — he’s yet to sign his franchise tag tender, so he’s not subject to the $40,000 a day fine — rookie Dax Hill is proving the Bengals wise in making him the 31st pick in the draft. Hill has more than held his own with the first-team defense this camp.
- Beyond Burrow, Bates and Collins, linebacker Joe Bachie and defensive end Khalid Kareem did not practice Thursday. Cornerback Eli Apple was held out of team drills with a minor injury. Allan George worked as the Bengals’ boundary corner with Apple limited Thursday.
- Allen seems to be locked in as the Bengals’ QB2, but he hasn’t exactly been stellar with the starters this camp. His uneven play continued Thursday when he threw a near-pick in team drills on a pass with no clear intended target.
- The eminently likeable beat writers in Cincinnati raved about how great wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase has looked in camp after dropping a bunch of balls this time last year. Meanwhile, a couple under-the-radar receiver names to watch: rookies Kwamie Lassiter II and Kendric Pryor, who have both performed well this camp.