Six months after their first Super Bowl appearance in 33 years, the Cincinnati Bengals officially get back to work in preparation for what they hope will be another deep run in 2022.
Training camp kicks off Wednesday, and the Bengals play their first of three preseason games Aug. 12 at home against the Arizona Cardinals. The regular-season opener is Sept. 11 against Pittsburgh.
Cincinnati had a productive, though short, voluntary offseason workout program with all but two players in attendance. All of the injured players who could not practice at least watched on the sidelines or participated in rehab work, while free safety Jessie Bates and defensive end Trey Hendrickson elected to stay home and do their own workouts.
Here’s a look at five things to know going into the start of training camp Wednesday:
1. Bates not expected to show up
Bates, who was franchise-tagged in April, did not show up on reporting day Tuesday, according to NFL Network reporter Tom Pelissero, and it’s possible he won’t participate in training camp at all.
The star free safety was not able to come to an agreement on a long-term contract by the deadline to do so earlier this month, and he appears to be holding out because of concerns for the risk of injury while not having financial security for his future.
“At the end of the day, whenever he gets here, we trust and respect he will be in great shape and be ready to go whenever that is,” defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said Monday. “I know the kind of guy he is. I know he’s working his tail off, so whenever he gets here, he’ll be in position to be able to help us, I believe, in the first game. We’ll see how it goes.”
Bates hasn’t signed his $12.9 million franchise tender and thus isn’t subject to fines for his absence, as Pelissero reported.
2. Burrow will miss time
After going through his first full and healthy NFL offseason workout program this spring, quarterback Joe Burrow won’t be opening training camp with his team. As first reported by NFL Network national insider Ian Rapoport, Burrow is undergoing surgery to remove his appendix.
Burrow, the league’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2021, will miss some practice time while recovering. Last season, L.A. Rams backup quarterback John Wolford had his appendix removed on Aug. 6. He was back at their facility, according to reports, on Aug. 9 and back to throwing drills on Aug. 16 before getting fully back Aug. 19.
The Bengals are looking for continued growth in their third-year quarterback this season. Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said there are some things the team plans to emphasis this training camp with Burrow, most notably helping cut down his sack rate – something a new offensive line also can contribute to.
“The sack thing is legitimate, and there’s some things that he can do to help that,” Callahan said. “There’s time and a place to extend a play, there’s a time and a place to throw the ball away or to take a check down or what have you. … Not that we’d ever want to change the way he plays football, but there are definitely things that we’ve looked at that you could take five, six, seven, eight of those off from some decision-making things on early downs.”
3. New offensive line already missing pieces
New right tackle La’el Collins is on the non-football injury list to open camp because of what coach Zac Taylor described as a back issue he has been dealing with, and right guard Alex Cappa is one of five players opening camp on the active/physically unable to perform list. Cappa had been dealing with a core muscle injury in the offseason and underwent surgery, Taylor said Monday.
“Those are two veteran guys that we want to make sure that we ease into training camp slowly so they are ready for the stuff that’s vitally important down the stretch,” Taylor said.
With three new starters, including center Ted Karras, the Bengals expect the offensive line to take some time to jell anyway. Callahan said that’s an ongoing process throughout the year.
Meanwhile, Jackson Carman is “a little bit ahead” in what Callahan said is an open left guard competition, simply because of his experience playing in the system last year. Hakeem Adeniji, who was expected to be in that mix, finished the spring playing right guard with Cappa out, and now it appears to be Carman and rookie Cordell Volson competing at left guard.
4. Competition in the secondary
With Bates expected to be out, Anarumo said the team has a good plan for how to prepare rookie Dax Hill for the free safety job while also making sure he gets opportunities to build versatility as someone who could play multiple roles even with Bates on the field.
The Bengals were pleased with Hill’s offseason but he needs more reps.
“It’s hard for any rookie to come in,” Anarumo said. “There are guys that have great successful seasons right out of the gate. It’s not the norm. The more reps he gets in practice, the more plays he can get in the preseason games will help him. Just experience.”
Anarumo still sees Eli Apple as the other starting cornerback opposite of Chidobe Awuzie “until someone shows that they’re better.” Tre Flowers and rookie Cam Taylor-Britt also will be competing there.
5. Battles on special teams
The Bengals have more decisions to make than usual on special teams this camp. Most notably, they will have a competition at punter and long snapper with veterans Kevin Huber and Clark Harris having to prove themselves over up-and-comers Drue Chrisman and Cal Adomitis.
Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons said he’s “looking for the best guy” for the job and assumes the punting competition will go all the way through camp.
The Bengals also need to sort out their kick and punt returner roles. Simmons said if Brandon Wilson gets back healthy but isn’t where he was in the past, the kick returner spot will be a competition with Chris Evans, Pooka Williams and Kwame Lassiter also in the mix. Trent Taylor leads the punt returner battle with Williams, Lassiter and Trenton Irwin expected to compete.
Simmons said the Bengals will need the returners on the 53-man roster this year, rather than counting on pulling someone up from the practice squad on gamedays.