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Bengals Training Camp Report: Burrow is Back, Defense in Good Hands

John Sheeran

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Joe Burrow walks onto the field for his first padded practice of 2021@Bengals

There's only so much you can gauge from football practice without pads or tackling. Luckily for Bengals fans, the team has provided no shortage of storylines.

15,000 of those fans got to see the current 88-man roster inside Paul Brown Stadium Saturday afternoon for the team's Back Together Saturday event. It was the largest crowd at PBS since the 2019 season.

Only 11 days separates us from the Bengals' first preseason game. Let's overview what we've learned from the first handful of training camp practices thus far.
Joe Burrow's comeback nearing completion
The Bengals have a national spotlight on them now because of their quarterback, and everything that's not related to his knee is secondary news.
By all accounts, Joe Burrow is doing great. The increased velocity we saw from May and June practices is still very much prevalent, and his movement ability looks to be back to full strength. The coaching staff has all but elimiated the chances of him running into potential contact, but that specific saftey harness is set to come off soon.
The knee brace and everything it signifies has almost become an afterthought during the early days of camp. Burrow looks fine enough to the point where his performance in practice has become the central talking point. Unfortunately, the Bengals' defense has gotten the better of Burrow and his weapons thus far, but considering he's out there getting the reps in the first place, the team has to be satisfied with where he is.
Camp highlights figure to be the only content we'll get of Burrow before September rolls around. Team president Mike Brown all but shut down the idea of his quarterback risking re-injury in the preseason.
Reserve receivers turning heads
So much has been talked about Cincinnati's starting receivers this offseason. Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd are indeed talented, but the overall depth of the position group is showing its true colors.
Auden Tate and Trent Taylor, the fourth and fifth receivers on the projected depth chart, have been making the most out of their targets against a defense that has looked very stout. Every practice there have been examples of Tate's ridiculous catch radius and Taylor's surprisingly sure hands.
Tate is no stranger to showing out on the Bengals' practice fields. He's been doing it every Summer since he arrived in 2018 as a seventh-round pick. Taylor, on the other hand, just joined the team back in May after nailing a tryout. He fit the bill as a potential Alex Erickson replacement, but he appears to be doing much more than just filling that role.
We'll see if Tate and Taylor keep up their momentum now that practice takes a more physical turn.
Nothing given at guard
During OTAs and minicamp, second-round pick Jackson Carman was getting reps with the starters at right guard. It was expected going into camp that Carman would be given chances to keep that role going into the season, so it was surprising to see Xavier Su'a-Filo taking reps with the 1s instead of Carman as camp opened.
The optics of this aren't ideal from a draft perspective. The Bengals targeted Carman in the second round as their primary addition at guard, a position where they sorely needed an upgrade. They could've addressed it during free agency, but they chose to spend their dollars elsewhere. Carman is the long-term fix at one of the guard spots, and it would be helpful if he played as soon as possible.
Head coach Zac Taylor and offensive line coach Frank Pollack have both stated that Carman isn't going to be handed a starting role until he's earned it. And if Carman simply isn't ready to start, then he shouldn't be. Su'a-Filo is an experienced veteran who has found himself in an ideal spot to revitalize his career. He can hold down the right guard spot until Carman is ready to seize it for himself, and with the pads coming on Tuesday, now's the time for Carman to kickstart that process.
Secondary efforts paying off
The Bengals' defensive backfield looks unrecognizable from when Lou Anarumo took over as defensive coordinator in 2019. Jessie Bates III, who's on the verge of inking a massive extension, remains at free safety, but every other position has seen turnover.
Camp's most pleasant surprise has to be how dominant the secondary is playing. Bates and Vonn Bell are doing their usual thing at safety, and free agent additions Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton have already found their footing. Even Trae Waynes has looked the part of a No. 1 cornerback.
Hilton's presence has especially been notable. The former Pittsburgh Steeler has brought over the tracking system he helped conduct in Pittsburgh's defense to hold his new teammates more accountable in a productive way. They call it the "loaf chart," and its goal is to make everyone better by giving more effort.
If camp were only a week long, then these would be the narratives we'd have going into the season. Camp is a grind, and there's plenty of time for other players to step up and make some noise before the real fun begins.
Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson has been on the scene for training camp and was kind enough to join Dadio Makdook and myself on our latest show! Check out the video below to hear Hobson's first-hand impressions from camp thus far.

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Bengals writer, editor at CincyJungle.com - Cincinnati native

Cincinnati, OH
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