Lewis, Bengals open camp strong

Lewis, Bengals open camp strong

<b>GEORGETOWN, Ky.</b> – It's been four days since Marvin Lewis and the Bengals opened up training camp. The initial hype of camp has died down some, allowing the players and coaches to develop a routine as the first week nears its end.

Some thoughts on how camp is progressing:

*The aggressive style Lewis has implemented in Georgetown has been received well by the players and will be a benefit to them once the season starts. One thing about Lewis' defenses in Baltimore: they knew how to tackle. There will always be the threat of injury in practice, but Darnay Scott broke his leg in 2000 in a non-contact drill. Those things will happen and as long as the hitting is not overblown – see Matt Bowen decking Trung Candidate in Washington's camp – it will help the Bengals lose the label of being a "soft" team they have developed the past few seasons.

*Corey Dillon wasn't trying to send some overt power-play message to Lewis or the coaching staff when he arrived late. It was simply a case of an athlete who's been coddled most of his professional career and screwed up by getting to the airport too late to get on his flight. On the field, Dillon has added some weight – in a healthy way – and looks a little stronger and just as fast as always.

*Carson Palmer has the arm strength he was advertised to have and he's shown good accuracy. Jon Kitna is the starter and should remain so, but Palmer is doing well as a pupil.

*The special teams will be better this season under the guidance of coach Darrin Simmons. The Bengals have already spent more time on special teams drills than they have in any of the past five training camps. Maybe this is a bit of an over-exaggeration, but not by much. Simmons is constantly working with kicker Neil Rackers and punters Travis Dorsch and Nick Harris, a far cry from last year when the trio was often left to themselves to work on techniques.

*It's been nice to not have to comment on Mike Goff at center. It means he's picking up well on the move from right guard. There have been no problems with the exchange snap with any of the quarterbacks. Is he the long-term solution to anchor the middle of the offensive line? That remains to be seen but he'll only get more comfortable as the season goes along.

*Good impressions early never hurt anyone. Tops on the list of little-known players trying to make a name for themselves are running back Ray Jackson and cornerback Terrell Roberts. Jackson has run well, showing good vision while also proving he can return kickoffs as well and is a legitimate candidate to make the team over Rudi Johnson. Roberts, who started opposite of fourth-round draft choice Dennis Weathersby at Oregon State, has been in the middle of the action this first week. He's knocking down passes, picking off a couple and making himself noticeable.

*Defensive lineman Oliver Gibson, linebacker Steve Foley and wide receiver Danny Farmer have responded well to the offseason conditioning program. Gibson and Foley are coming off a season cut short by a trip to the Injured Reserve, while Farmer has had a history of nagging pulls and small muscle tears that have kept him off the field. Gibson has been able to go full-bore without restrictions following his surgery last December to repair a torn Achilles tendon, even prompting Lewis to say that he is a "burr in the offense."

*Wide receiver Kelley Washington's holdout is doing him no good. The Bengals would like to have him opposite of Chad Johnson to provide another deep threat and create mismatches for Peter Warrick, among others, but they're ready to play without him as long as he and his agent are willing to quibble over money that's not available. It was much more important to get second round pick Eric Steinbach into camp, and the team did that.

The Bengals will hold their annual intrasquad scrimmage tonight at 6:30 and then have a mock game on Saturday at 1 p.m., giving the players their first real test to show off what they've learned.

"I think they can earn further opportunities to be watched," said Lewis. "That's the big thing. Anytime you get the opportunity to go play, you earn yourself a chance to play more."

"You can come out here and be in certain situation drills and somewhat fool yourself with those in-the-vicinity plays. When you're responsible for getting a guy down all the way or making a guy miss, then that's a big difference when you're catching the ball and knowing they're going to take you out."

Players won't make the team based on their performance this weekend, but they can be cut if the coaches believe they've seen enough.

"This is one time they can show what they can do without the coaches telling them whatever, without looking to see what plays are going to be called and what the defense is going to be," said running back Brandon Bennett, who's been one of those players trying to prove himself in the past. "They've got to react on their own now and it gives the coaches a better chance to evaluate them, to see really how well they're doing."

The Bengals open the preseason on Sunday, Aug. 10, against the New York Jets at the Meadowlands.

Kevin Goheen

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