The annual Cincinnati Bengals mock game is a chance for players lower on the depth chart to take advantage of getting more reps than they would in a regular practice during training camp.
But Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium, it was a couple of starters and first-round draft picks getting noticed for all the wrong reasons.
Wide receiver John Ross, the team’s top pick in 2016, dropped a pass in the end zone and another at the 5-yard line. Center Billy Price, this year’s first-round pick, had four snaps wind up on the ground.
The Ross drops were more of a blip as he’s had a solid camp, facilitating the release of veteran receiver Brandon LaFell on Thursday. But Price’s issues have been ongoing since camp began.
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Both players declined comment after the mock game — in which the Black Team (backups) beat the White Team (starters) 10-6 before a crowd of 8,950 — but head coach Marvin Lewis, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and offensive line coach Frank Pollack all weighed in Price’s struggles.
“I’m concerned that we have to get better with it,” Lewis said. “There’s no question it’s continued to linger. We had one with each quarterback today. Same center and each quarterback. So Billy’s just got to understand how important that is. That’s Step 1.”
The first snap that hit the ground came on the first series of the game, on a shotgun delivery that went through quarterback Andy Dalton’s hands. Dalton said it was his fault, while Lazor said he an opinion of which player was at fault but declined to discuss it because he said he didn’t have the best view from the sideline.
The other three fumbled snaps involving Price – and one from T.J. Johnson – all came with quarterbacks under center. Both of the fumbled exchanges with Price and backup quarterback Matt Barkley came in a four-play span.
Price and third-string quarterback Jeff Driskel had a fumbled exchange on the next-to-last series of the game.
“I don’t think he’s pressing,” Pollack said of Price while chalking up Saturday’s issues with the center’s unfamiliarity with Barkley and Driskel as both fumbled exchangnes came on his first snap with each quarterback.
“He’s got to work with the different quarterbacks. They all have different fits. They haven’t worked with them as much as they have in this almost live setting. His stance has to fit for the quarterback as well. It’s a two-man problem, it’s a two-man solution. It’s just as much on Billy as it is on each quarterback working with him.”
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Saturday was the ninth on-field session of camp open to the media. Price has had an issue – whether it be a poor shotgun snap, a fumbled exchange or missed count where he either snapped the ball early or not at all – in eight of the nine.
But Lazor said the problem is being dealt with in a calm, calculated manner.
“We don’t panic,” he said. “If it wasn’t that, there would be something else we’d have to work on right now. Panic isn’t part of it. It’s just fixing it. Trust me, that’s the easiest thing for everyone to see today that needed to be fixed, but there’s a long list. That’s about where you are nine days into it. We understand where we have to go, and that’s why we come out and do this.”
The highlight of the day came on the game’s lone touchdown, which was scored by the third-team offense against the first-team defense. Kermit Whitfield got behind cornerback William Jackson, and Driskel hit the wide receiver in stride for a 59-yard touchdown as cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick collided with Jackson and safety George Iloka was late arriving.
“It’s very important to do what you can do,” said Whitfield, who also had a bid day in last year’s game and said beating the first-team defense Saturday was special.
“It means a lot more,” he said. “It’s better competition going against those guys. They’re going bring the A game out of me.”
Dalton had what looked like an 85-yard bomb for a touchdown to A.J. Green, but undrafted safety Trayvon Henderson basically let Green go after catching the ball at the 25-yard line rather than risking getting tangled up and injuring the Pro Bowl receiver.
Dalton was sharp most of the afternoon, completing 10 of 13 passes for 140 yards. Barkley was 11 of 20 with an interception, and Driskel was 7 of 11 for 102 yards with a touchdown and interception.
Barkley’s pick came on a slightly high pass in the end zone that bounced off the hands of Cody Core and went right to safety Brandon Wilson. Driskel’s pick came on the final play of the game when Darqueze Dennard stepped in front of a pass intended for tight end Jordan Franks in a two-minute drill.
Bengals sign three: Prior to the mock game, the Bengals announced the addition of three players, including Lakota West graduate Kayaune Ross, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound wide receiver from the University of Kentucky.
The team also added cornerback C.J. Goodwin and guard/center Cory Helms.
Goodwin (6-3, 190) is a third-year player from California (Pa.) who entered the league as an undrafted college free agent with Pittsburgh. He never played for the Steelers and spent 2015 on the Atlanta practice squad before appearing in 14 games for the Falcons in 2016 and 12 in 2017.
Goodwin also played two games with Arizona last year and had stints with the Cardinals, New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers this offseason.
Helms (6-4, 309) is a rookie from South Carolina who signed with the New Orleans Saints in May.