Coming off an offseason program in which his team did little more than position drills and calisthenics, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said he could sense his players were eager to get back to competing.
“These guys are at the starting blocks, ready to fire out,” Taylor said about 15 minutes before the first practice of training camp.
Boy, was he right.
Three plays into the first session of 11-on-11, a fight broke out between left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., the prize of the team’s free agency class, and defensive end Trey Hendrickson.
What Happened in the Skirmish?
Brown Jr. said he wasn’t really sure how it happened, that he just “blacked out,” which is ironic, given that Hendrickson has been given the nickname “Blackout Trey” for the intensity he brings to the field both in games and, at times, in practice.
In the locker room after practice, Brown Jr. took the full blame.
“I was really fired up in the moment, and things got a little intense,” Brown said. “I kind of blacked out. It just happens. That’s football. I can’t even describe it to you guys any other way.”
Brown said he had a fierce rivalry with Hendrickson from his time with the Chiefs, but he has similar battles with all the defensive ends he faces. Instead, the dust-up was the result of the blue-collar, take-no-prisoners mindset he got from his father, a 10-year pro.
“It was something he really instilled for me early,” Brown said. “Take no (stuff). Handle your business. A lot of times, man, when I put that helmet on, that’s just my natural feeling, no matter who is in front of me. Today, my emotions got the best of me, and I hate that.”
Training camp skirmishes are commonplace around the league, but it’s rare to see one on Day 1 and Play 3.
But Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said the timing makes perfect sense.
“That’s when guys aren’t very tired. Day 1 of camp. Third rep. Guys aren’t tired yet. Everybody’s excited to be here. The adrenaline’s pumpin’.”
Healthy Joe Burrow Lights It Up
On the play after the skirmish, Burrow hit Tee Higgins for a long touchdown up the sideline. Higgins got behind cornerback Sidney Jones IV, and Burrow got the ball there before safety Nick Scott could get there. It was one of several sharp throws Burrow made.
Asked for an assessment of how he felt he practiced, Burrow said, “Pretty damn good. I put all the balls where I wanted to. I made good reads. I made good checks. Good first day.”
Burrow might have contract negotiations on his mind, but physically, this is the first time he has been fully healthy for the start of a normal training camp after COVID threw a wrench into things in 2020, the ACL recovery slowed his start to 2021, and the appendectomy delayed his arrival in 2022.
“This time last year, I was sitting in a hospital bed,” he said. “It’s gonna be great for me. I know I’m gonna be able to get a lot more out of this training camp than I have the last couple, as long as stay healthy, which, like I said, ‘knock on wood.’ Nothing’s happened yet.
“The more reps you get at the position, the more game speed reps, the better you’re gonna be when it comes Week 1. I’ve grinded all offseason, and I’m in a great spot physically and mentally. So I’m ready to attack this training camp with intensity and shoot for perfection. That’s what I’m excited about.”
The only player not accounted for a practice was punter Drue Chrisman, who was in a nearby hospital with an undisclosed medical situation. Taylor said he found out about Chrisman just as he was heading out to practice and didn’t have any further details.
Chrisman was supposed to start his battle for the job with Brad Robbins, a rookie sixth-round pick who showed off a big leg and pinned a couple of punts against the sideline.
“I genuinely care for Drue. He was a big reason I had to go Michigan because he was on scholarship at Ohio State,” Robbins said.
“I went to those camps, and he was there, and he was punting away. I really looked up to him for a long time. Hearing that, I was taken back. I texted him before practice, but I haven’t checked to see if he replied back. I definitely care for him, and he’s been nothing but nice to me and helping me out, so this just sucks.”
Taylor said after practice he was still trying to find out details and didn’t have any sort of timeline for Chrisman’s return.
Ain’t No Such Thing as a Bad Tackle
Those were the words safety Nick Scott yelled to Joe Mixon as he chased him down after a 40-yard gain to get the two-handed tap in before it became a touchdown.
I asked him what he meant by that at practice and why he felt the need to make that extra effort on a 92-degree day in which the county was under a heat advisory.
“He’s got some gas, but I took a bad angle when he broke through the line,” Scott said. “Ideally, you’d like to get him down at like 15 yards, but I’ve been doing this for so long, a guy like Mixon, as long as he don’t end up in the end zone, you did your job.”
“I was letting him know, and I let my coaches know as soon as I got back,” Scott added. “They pay you to make that tackle, and everybody wants the sexy tackle right when he breaks through the line, you chop him down. That’s not always how it happens. If a guy breaks through, and you get him down before he breaks the end zone, you did your job, point blank, period.”
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