The Bengals completed their weekend of intra-squad work Saturday, Aug. 6, with their annual mock game, with quarterback Carson Palmer's team winning, 36-27. The crowd at Georgetown College's Rawlings Stadium was estimated at 9,200, a record for a Bengals training camp event, a club spokesman said.
And while the brand of football on the field was not crisp, fans had the like to attitude displayed by coaches and players after the two doses of somewhat live action.
No player or coach is satisfied. They're not buying into the hype, especially on offense, where the Bengals are expected to score a lot of points. The defense, under coordinator Chuck Bresnahan, has a chip on its collective shoulder to improve, particularly against the run.
In the mock game, Palmer was 13-for-20 passing for 147 yards and one touchdown, an 18-yard pass to the back of the end zone of Kelley Washington. The mock game was played in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets with no tackling. The majority of plays were passes.
"We were still sloppy in a lot of areas," Palmer said. "It's part of being in the middle of the first week. We've got a lot of good work in our base system."
The Bengals completed their opening nine-day stretch of training camp. The team did not practice on Sunday, Aug. 7.
"I'm satisfied with how we work," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "I want to make sure we continue to focus. We want to eliminate repetitive mistakes and continue with the right frame of mind."
Palmer's offense had two more pre-snap illegal motion penalties Saturday. The defenses missed opportunities on four interceptions.
"We can't do that," defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said. "We talked about the number of fumbles; we were No. 1 in the NFL with 40 caused fumbles. But you only recover 16 of them. We have to do a better job of taking advantage of the opportunities when we create them."
Defensive tackle Bryan Robinson had two sacks in the touch game.
Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski was not happy with a couple of dropped passes by tight ends during the mock game.
"You can't drop the ball," he said. "We'll go four wides (receivers). We can't continually let plays get away from us."
The Bengals' defense, despite heavily tempered comments by coaches, dominated the offense Friday night in the team's annual intra-squad scrimmage. The offense scored only one touchdown on a 43-yard touchdown pass by Palmer to Chad Johnson, who had beaten rookie free agent cornerback Patrick Body on a fly pattern.
Johnson, a two-time Pro Bowl receiver, had nine receptions for 134 yards.
Otherwise, the defense had its way, winning 40-22 in an adapted scoring system. The first-team offense twice stalled in red-zone possessions inside the 20-yard line, and the second-team offense came away with no points, as well.
On its second drive, the first-team offense moved to the defense's 9-yard line but moved backwards on a pair of pre-snap illegal motion penalties.
CAMP CALENDAR: The Bengals will practice six times in four days, Aug. 8-11, in preparation for their preseason opener, Friday, Aug. 12, against New England at Paul Brown Stadium.
-- The Bengals have 24 of their 27 draft picks from 2003-2005 in training camp this year. The only three gone are cornerback Dennis Weathersby (fourth round, 2003), linebacker Khalid Abdullah (fifth round, 2003) and wide receiver Maurice Mann (sixth round, 2004).
-- Backup linebacker Larry Stevens had a strong showing in Saturday's scrimmage with three tackles and a fumble recovery on the only turnover of the night.
-- Former Bengals defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, whose two-year contract was not renewed in January, is working with the Indianapolis Colts as a defensive assistant. Frazier, a former NFL cornerback, is working with the defensive backs.
-- The league has released the tally of free-agent movement in the offseason. The free agency period, which officially closed July 22, saw 106 unrestricted free agents re-sign with their teams and 104 UFAs change teams.
The Bengals re-signed four UFAs: center Rich Braham, safety Anthony Mitchell, defensive lineman Carl Powell and Houshmandzadeh. Running back Rudi Johnson, a UFA, counted as a franchise-tag designated player. The Bengals signed one UFA from another team, defensive lineman Bryan Robinson (Dolphins).
-- Paul Alexander, offensive line coach and assistant head coach, returned to camp and coached Friday night after being hospitalized this week for removal of a kidney stone.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I can't be ordinary this year. Everything I do has to be extraordinary for us to get where we're trying to get. That's my quote for the year." -- Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson on his expectations for 2005
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Odell Thurman vs. Landon Johnson at middle linebacker. "Odell's going to have to do everything he can to win it," linebackers coach Ricky Hunley said, "and Landon's going to have to do everything he can to keep it."
And while the Johnson-Thurman position battle takes center stage at camp, the two teammates are just that - teammates.
"We cool," Thurman said. "I came in today and asked him a couple things about what I missed. He enlightened me on it. It's not like we're mad at each other about fighting for positions. We're one big team around here."
Johnson seemed taken aback when asked about helping Thurman. "If anybody asks me to help them, I do," Johnson said. "We (he and Thurman) get along just fine."
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Third quarterback, where Casey Bramlet is trying to hold off Craig Krenzel. The last couple spots at wide receiver, where Kevin Walter, Tab Perry, Cliff Russell and Jamall Broussard are competing.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: WR Chad Johnson -- He had 17 receptions for 266 yards in the intra-squad scrimmage and mock game and continues to drive himself to exceed his previous year's production.
ROOKIE REPORT: Fifth-round offensive tackle Adam Kieft suffered what might be a serious knee ligament injury during the mock game. ... Third-round wide receiver Chris Henry is showing the benefits from having signed and reported on time to camp. ... Fourth-round center Eric Ghiaciuc has appeared to solve his snap fumbling problem with backup quarterback Jon Kitna.
-- The only substantial injury of the scrimmage was suffered by backup cornerback Terrell Roberts. He went down on a run play, and Lewis said afterward that Roberts has knee ligament damage and would undergo scans Friday night.
-- There were no further reports Sunday about rookie offensive tackle Adam Kieft, who injured a knee Saturday in the mock game.
The Browns are resigned to possibly playing into the preseason without top draft choice Braylon Edwards, the third overall pick in the first round.
The two sides were not close at the end of last week. Proposals have been exchanged with hardly any progress.
"We're running out of ideas," Browns president John Collins said.
The Browns have sent agent Lamont Smith proposals for five-year and six-year contracts for the wide receiver from Michigan. Smith is looking for five years so his client could get his second contract sooner.
"It would be nice to find some common ground," Collins said. "We're still far apart on some key deal terms. It's a process. I wouldn't say it's messy."
Meanwhile, Antonio Bryant is taking advantage of Edwards' absence. Bryant has emerged as the top receiver. He and quarterback Trent Dilfer have developed an excellent chemistry.
"What you're seeing is a result of what A.B. and I did in the offseason," Dilfer said. "It was more than going out to the fieldhouse and throwing balls. It's something we've worked hard on as a group - getting to know each other, how to react to one another, the freedom to chew each other's butts when things aren't going well and to encourage each other when things are going well."
Bryant won the Biletnkoff Award as college football's top receiver when he was a sophomore at Pitt. He left school after his junior season and was drafted by Dallas in the second round in 2002.
Bryant did not live up to expectations. He caught 44 passes as a rookie when Dave Campo was the Cowboys head coach and 39 passes in 2003 in Bill Parcells' first season in Dallas. He had a run-in with Parcells in the Cowboys' 2004 minicamp. Things didn't get much better, and on Oct. 19 of last season the Browns swapped receiver Quincy Morgan for him. This camp, though, he is playing like scouts always thought he could.
"I have to keep this up and show improvement every day," Bryant said. "It can't be a one-day thing. I have to carry it over to the regular season."
Bryant played 10 games with the Browns last season with 42 catches and four touchdowns. He dropped some passes he admits he should have caught.
Bryant, 6-2, 188 pounds, has a leg up on his fellow receivers because the offensive coordinator is Maurice Carthon, who was his offensive coordinator in Dallas. He said Carthon is running the same offense with the Browns.
From the outside, at least, it appears Bryant has one starting job wrapped up while Andre Davis and Dennis Northcutt fight it out for the other. Eventually, though, Edwards will sign, so as Bryant sees it he has nothing secured. He says even if he did, he wouldn't relax.
"I'm a very competitive person," he said. "If I were a boxer, my belt would always be on the line. I would never shy away from any contender, because that's what makes you better."
CAMP CALENDAR: Training camp closes Aug. 24.
-- Jim Brown, the Hall of Fame running back and now an executive advisor in the Browns players' relations department, is encouraging rookie holdout Braylon Edwards to sign his contract, though he has not gotten involved in the negotiations. He said he would not be holding out if he were 22 years old and an unsigned rookie.
"I had a great year and I was supposed to get a raise," he said. "I knew (Art) Modell was going to give me a lot of problems, so I was going to go to the West Coast and hold out but I decided it was going to mess up my career. I've always taken less money in order to play better.
"Your legacy is based on how you play. I would not miss part of training camp for a certain amount of money."
-- Lee Suggs has been working as the first-team running back, but coach Romeo Crennel says the job is wide open. Suggs, Reuben Droughns and William Green are the contenders.
"We're going to try and find out who the frontrunner is," Crennel said. "All of the guys can make good cuts and they all have had good plays. They're all willing blockers. It's close in my mind."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have a lot of veteran leadership. Guys that have experience know where they need to take it. We are trying to work together as one. I want to get to a point and know what needs to be done without having to say anything." -- Guard Joe Andruzzi on the chemistry on the offensive line.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: It might not be a good thing, but none of the three backup quarterbacks has established himself as No. 2 behind Dilfer. Veteran Doug Johnson should have that role, but his passes have been errant. Rookie Charlie Frye is improving steadily. Josh Harris would probably be No. 2 if he were four inches taller, but his passes keep getting batted down.
Other battles: Enoch DeMar and Marcus Spears are fighting for backup roles at guard...Sherrod Coates, a solid special teamer, and Jamal Brooks are fighting for a linebacker spot...Josh Cribbs and Brandon Rideau, two rookie free agent receivers, could be battling for one roster spot.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: WR Antonio Bryant had to leave training camp Aug. 5 to tend to a family matter. Until that point, he put on a pass catching clinic. On one play he leaped and, parallel to the ground, caught a pass from Trent Dilfer. The next time he didn't have to adjust, because Dilfer hit him in stride in the end zone.
ROOKIE WATCH: Top-draft choice WR Braylon Edwards is holding out...Second-round S Brodney Pool is moving up. On one day he batted a pass forward, ran about five yards to catch the ball and ran it into the end zone...Third-round QB Charlie Frye engineered two touchdowns and a field goal during a night practice at Cleveland Browns Stadium...Fourth-round CB Antonio Perkins intercepted a pass by Frye in the same practice. He is improving...Fifth-round linebacker David McMillan is playing second team outside linebacker behind Chaun Thompson. His rush instincts are good. He did not look sharp in a fumble recovery drill...Right behind McMillan is OLB Nick Speegle, taken with the Browns first sixth-round pick. Speegle has played well against the run...Sixth-round nose tackle Andrew Hoffman is in a crowd playing behind Jason Fisk and now Nick Eason...Seventh round OT Jonathan Dunn is coming along slowly.
INJURY REPORT: Persistent migraine headaches are keeping CB Daylon McCutcheon sidelined. He has seen a specialist twice...RB Reuben Droughns is sidelined with a minor hamstring injury...LS Ryan Pontbriand (back), OL Craig Osika and LB Brant Boyer (toe) have returned to practice.
Duce Staley was having knee problems early in training camp, which is not good for someone who has a history of injuries in the state of Pennsylvania. Those injuries include the famous Liz Franc foot injury in 2000 and a hamstring injury that ruined the second half of last season after he led Pittsburgh with 707 yards in the first seven games.
Staley missed most of the first week with a swollen knee that was drained once.
But, at least the Steelers have some depth behind him with Jerome Bettis, Verron Haynes and two young backs, Willie Parker and rookie Noah Herron. That is not the case at offensive tackle, where Max Starks was given the starting job with no competition on the right side. It's only his second season after Starks was drafted in the third round from Florida State.
The Steelers put all their eggs in Starks' 6-8, 344-pound basket because the alternatives behind him are not good ones. If he doesn't do the job, next in line is Barrett Brooks, 33, a former starter in Philadelphia who has played little the past four seasons and last started a game in 2000. Unless rookie Trai Essex, their third-round pick, picks things up in a hurry, their depth will be woeful.
If Starks can't cut it or if something happens to either him or Pro Bowl left tackle Marvel Smith, the Steelers might have to turn to All-Pro guard Alan Faneca, who moved to left tackle in an emergency for nearly half of the 2003 season. That's the last thing they -- and Faneca -- want to do.
"The coaches definitely have faith in me or else they wouldn't have us in this position," Starks said. "They would have actively recruited a free agent hard and get somebody in here."
The Steelers tried, somewhat. They made halfhearted attempts to sign free agents Stockar McDougle (Lions) and Adrian Klemm (Patriots), but they signed with Miami and Green Bay. They gave a physical to unemployed Scott Gragg, but have done nothing with him.
It looks like Max Starks or bust.
"I take it personal for us to definitely not fall off from (the line play of 2004) and try to build on the standard they set, and try to be above that," Starks said.
CAMP CALENDAR: Unlike many other teams, the Steelers still have a number of two-a-day practices. They had three in their first week, have three more scheduled for their second week and then one after that. They do not scrimmage or practice with another team, but they do have live goalline drills scheduled for Wednesday and Saturday. Their one night practice comes on Wednesday (Aug. 10) off campus, at Latrobe Stadium. They break camp the morning of Aug. 25.
-- Coach Bill Cowher gave 33-year-old Jerome Bettis the day off on Saturday, but assistant head coach Russ Grimm put Bettis right back into the lineup. Grimm dragged an almost life-sized cardboard cutout of the Bus to practice and erected it in the middle of the players as they did their pre-practice stretch. Everyone had a good laugh. Bettis then autographed the cutout and a Steelers marketing assistant hauled the prize away.
-- Actor Bill Nunn spent the weekend with a film crew working on a documentary of his life and the world in general from 1967 through 1973, when Nunn was a Steelers bellboy in training camp. He is the son of longtime Steelers scout Bill Nunn and has more than 50 credits as an actor in movies, including Sister Act, Runaway Jury, Do the Right Thing and Regarding Henry.
This is his first crack at producing.
"It's kind of a lighthearted humorous look back, and also about the period historically, which was a pretty happening time, right?" Nunn said.
Nunn was a bellboy with two current NFL team presidents: Art Rooney of the Steelers and Tom Donahoe of the Bills.
-- Coach Bill Cowher was amused by comments from Bengals WR Chad Johnson boasting that no one on the Steelers could cover him.
"I guess it's the dog days of Cincinnati right now," Cowher said, smiling. "It's nice to know we're in the thoughts of many people's minds. I'm flattered by that."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's coming. Just give me a little chance, it's coming." -- Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt on the much-anticipated passes to rookie tight end Heath Miller.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Backup CBs Ike Taylor and Ricardo Colclough have been getting some reps with the first defense as the coaches give them every opportunity to bump off incumbent starters Willie Williams and Deshea Townsend. Rookie Bryant McFadden, who seems to be the best prospect of the young corners, has not yet run with the first unit.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: QB Tommy Maddox vs. Charlie Batch. Maddox continues to run with the second team but Charlie Batch was given a chance to run the second team in the two minute drill one day in practice. Brian St. Pierre is trying to lock down the No. 3 job and if he does, the veteran loser in Maddox vs. Batch will be out ...WR Cedrick Wilson vs. Antwaan Randle El. They were supposed to duel for the starting split end job but with Ward out, both are starting and both have been exceptional through the first week.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: LB James Harrison -- He came off the unemployment line a week before '04 training camp to win a roster spot, then won the top backup job at outside linebacker. Today, he backs up both outside spots and one on the inside and he's been jacking everyone up through the first week of camp. He said he's not satisfied to be No. 3 but Joey Porter and Clark Haggans are in front of him on the outside.
ROOKIE REPORT: TE Heath Miller has held his own in blocking drills but they haven't thrown to him much ...CB Bryant McFadden has been as aggressive in camp as he was in the spring, only now he's allowed to hit people ...G Chris Kemoeatu is making his bid to be the top sub at that spot ...LB Rian Wallace was kicked in the heat on the first Saturday of camp and, although woozy, returned to practice ...WR Fred Gibson has been inconsistent, just as he was at Georgia.
INJURY REPORT: RB Duce Staley was sent for an MRI on a knee Sunday and there has been no report on the results. Staley had the knee drained on Wednesday and practiced only briefly since then once, on Saturday, when he reported to the trainers that the knee still bothered him ...Backup DE Travis Kirschke missed the second half of the first week of practices with a lower back strain. He was supposed to return to practice on Monday.