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06-10-2014, 10:12 PM
Rookie center Russell Bodine (http://www.bengals.com/team/roster/russell-bodine/dc234ddd-cb75-4c7c-b788-7b0ce466ac02/) anchored the first group at Tuesday's first practice of mandatory minicamp.
All the practices of a mandatory minicamp leave you with are signs to get you through a long, hot Bengal-ess July. So when quarterback Andy Dalton (http://www.bengals.com/team/roster/andy-dalton/9378c4ed-938c-434c-929d-4d45fe252101/) and the first offense put the ball on the ground less than Billy Hamilton’s center field during a brisk opening hour Tuesday on the Paul Brown Stadium field in the camp’s first practice, that was a good sign for a Cincinnati Fourth.
Among Dalton’s targets were three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green (http://www.bengals.com/team/roster/aj-green/d1e7b054-2722-4a10-9dad-687267489bd5/) and he led him from the left hash to the right sideline with a 15-yard crossing dart that beat veteran safety Danieal Manning (http://www.bengals.com/team/roster/danieal-manning/1cc00203-6b6c-4d51-98ad-ccdc45909415/). Before that, in one-on-one drills, Dalton lofted in-stride 50-yard plus bombs to his starting wide receivers, Green running past cornerback Adam Jones (http://www.bengals.com/team/roster/adam-jones/70893f56-2c88-4a74-93ec-15f2886cca42/) and Marvin Jones (http://www.bengals.com/team/roster/marvin-jones/1e8a8414-cc83-4d5e-a61a-9236316539e4/) beating rookie corner Lavelle Westbrooks (http://www.bengals.com/team/roster/lavelle-westbrooks/605e3ad6-b7dd-424f-b439-f756bfc9654b/).
As the day grew more humid, the play slowed a bit. But practice fittingly ended on a play running backGiovani Bernard (http://www.bengals.com/team/roster/giovani-bernard/69ef7ebd-86c9-4f7f-831a-dda8c8bf1737/) scalded coverage in the middle of the field on a pass over the middle.
The word in the voluntary camps the previous two weeks had been that Dalton’s passes looked quicker and sharper and that was on display Tuesday as the off-season work on his mechanics seems to be paying off.
“I think he’s throwing the ball fantastic. I really do. He’s improved,” said offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. “I think he’s improved all the way around. I think he’s taken charge and the fact he’s really running the huddle it’s his offensive football team. He’s done a great job thus far.
“I think he’s more compact. The ball comes out quicker. There’s more urgency in his body. I just think all the way around he’s improved. But we’ve got to keep improving. Again, we have a lot more practices before we get ready to play a game. So I’m excited about what the upside is, but I know we’ve got to go get there. We’ve got to keep chasing it every day to get there.”
It’s hard to get a smile out of Jackson these days, the ugly moments when points and first downs are made from sausage.
“I’m a man of little words. We just got a lot of work to do. Put our heads down and keep working,” Jackson said as he walked off the field looking to finish off Wednesday’s practice plan.
Jackson has preferred talking about his offensive line in the early days of his transition to an up-tempo, physical style and he opened up some eyes when he put fourth-round pick Russell Bodine at center and left guardTanner Hawkinson (http://www.bengals.com/team/roster/tanner-hawkinson/727ad0aa-670c-4c73-aa82-fd30b01fe755/) with the first group.
“(Bodine) has the characteristics we are looking for in a center. It’s not that Trevor (Robinson) hasn’t, we just put him in there for right now,” Jackson said. “He’s got to get the ball to the quarterback right. He needs to do a better job of snapping the ball. He can’t play center if you don’t snap the ball correctly. He’s working at it and he’s done a good job. But he’s got to become a little more consistent on an everyday basis. “
Bodine is getting a thumbs-up from his right guard, Kevin Zeitler (http://www.bengals.com/team/roster/kevin-zeitler/6872c3b8-cf27-4731-bfae-bcae68fb85a8/), as well as the man that was thought to be the starting center before the draft, six-year veteran Mike Pollak (http://www.bengals.com/team/roster/mike-pollak/5ccfe04c-75cb-424f-a0e2-13e4c451adb3/).
“He’s picking stuff up quickly. For somebody who has only been live in the offense for two weeks, he’s definitely improving every day,” Zeitler said. “He knows the situation. He’s not freaking out about it. He’s taking it in stride and he’s taking it to heart.”
So is Zeitler. Pollak noted left tackle Andrew Whitworth (http://www.bengals.com/team/roster/andrew-whitworth/3a81696e-e6b3-4abd-8dd0-85e8748fa086/)’s observation that Bodine’s inexperience is forcing the reticent Zeitler to open up.
“I had to reiterate stuff with the tackles and that’s good for me just because I should probably talk more when I’m out there,” Zeitler said. “Whatever it takes. Anything to make sure everyone gets the call.”
Pollak isn’t out there because of a knee problem that cropped up in off-season training, but he indicated he’d be back for the start of training camp in late July. And he’ll be ready to go at guard and center. He’s getting pushed by starting left guard Clint Boling (http://www.bengals.com/team/roster/clint-boling/f7ed97f5-f482-4f8d-b799-6e57357a7b43/) to get back because Boling feels like he’ll be ready to start practicing the first day of camp, less than seven months after his ACL surgery.
“He’s progressed so much. He’s mostly getting ready to come back,” Pollak said. “We’re definitely hungry and chomping at the bit to get back out there. We’re pushing each other because we hate standing around in practice. We feel old. We want to be out there young and running around.”
Pollak says Bodine, all of 22 years old in three weeks, has looked good and strong. But he knows it’s going to literally be a tough call for him if he starts as a rookie. A task, he says, just as daunting as what Dalton faced as a rookie three years ago.
“It’s pretty similar,” Pollak said. “Obviously, there is a lot more pressure on a young quarterback. But a young center, it’s just the same. He’s got to know what the responsibilities are for the guys next to him and he’s got to make those calls on the fly.”
Dalton looked far from a rookie Tuesday. As all the chatter buzzes around him about his contract, he has calmly gone about taking charge of Jackson’s execution.
“Just the amount of support and the trust I get, and knowing that I'm his guy, that I'm going to be running everything, is great,” Dalton said. “Everything with Hue is about the quarterback position, that he's the leader of this team.”
Jackson had to admit. He did note the across-the-field throw to Green.
“Looked pretty, didn’t it?” Jackson said, before he caught himself. “It’s still a work in progress. We’ve got a ways to go. But you can see the potential. But we all know what potential means.”
But this has been a two-way street with the receivers. Jackson, quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, and wide receivers coach James Urban have mounted an intense campaign to make sure Dalton and his receivers are on, as they always love to say, the same page.
They are stressing more decisive and more consistent routes and Green, for one, likes it.

“There’s more detail this year, more detailed routes,” Green said. “Before we had more freedom. Now it’s, ‘We have to do this,’ because the ball is going to be there. That’s the biggest thing (being on the same page).”
It may be a reason why Dalton looks a tad more relaxed. He's at his best in a rhythm that allows him to make quick reads and throws.
“Here, we’re trying to make (running routes) consistent,” Dalton said. “That just gets down to timing and guys being on the same page. I feel that one of the strengths of my game is the anticipation part of it. Now I can trust things little more.”
But Jackson was thinking about Wednesday instead of Tuesday.
“I think they are working at it. That’s all you can ask,” he said. “There’s a way to go. I think the quarterback is doing what he’s supposed to do. I know we like to talk about our skill guys I think our linemen are really bought in and they are doing a good job. Are we perfect? No. But I think the guys understand what we are trying to accomplish.”


06-10-2014, 10:22 PM
CINCINNATI -- Hue Jackson has little trouble keeping himself grounded these days. All he has to do is look at the calendar.

It's June 10.

Still, it's been hard for the offensive coordinator to avoid getting even just a little giddy at what he's seen so far from his quarterback through the first three weeks of offseason practices. Sharp throws, well-placed passes and a sound understanding of a stepped-up offensive tempo are just a few examples of the type of play that has Jackson trying to contain his excitement about Andy Dalton (http://espn.go.com/nfl/player/_/id/14012/andy-dalton?ex_cid=null).

Yes, the words "excitement" and "Andy Dalton" were used in the same sentence. That Andy Dalton.

About seven months after he was last spotted, "Good Andy" has returned to Paul Brown Stadium. Jackson hopes he'll stay, too, and do whatever he can to keep "Bad Andy" out.

[+] Enlargehttp://a.espncdn.com/photo/2014/0610/nfl_a_andydalton_cmg_600_300x200.jpg (http://a.espncdn.com/photo/2014/0610/nfl_a_andydalton_cmg_600_300x200.jpg)AP Photo/Al Behrman"There's more urgency in his body," Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said of Andy Dalton. "All the way around, he's improving."

"There's more urgency in his body," Jackson said of Dalton following the Bengals' first minicamp practice Tuesday. "All the way around, he's improving.

"But we've got to keep improving."

While he was wowed by the 40-yard in-air bomb Dalton delivered from the left hashmark to a well-covered A.J. Green (http://espn.go.com/nfl/player/_/id/13983/aj-green) along the right sideline, Jackson still wants to be patient with trumping up his quarterback too much.

Even the 60-yard "Go" route completion in the end zone to Green, followed by the quickly-delivered 20-yard post pass across the middle to Marvin Jones (http://espn.go.com/nfl/player/_/id/15072/marvin-jones?ex_cid=null) in one-on-one drills with defensive backs, kept Jackson reserved in his judgement on Dalton's day.

"Again, we have a lot more practices before we get ready to play a game," Jackson said. "So I'm excited about what the upside is, but I know we've got to go get there. We've got to keep chasing it every day to get there."

All of this comes as Dalton continues to deal with the potential distraction of contract negotiations (http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/11063272/andy-dalton-cincinnati-bengals-mind-colin-kaepernick-deal). He said earlier Tuesday that he believes enough in himself that if forced into signing an extension that was structured similarly to Colin Kaepernick (http://espn.go.com/nfl/player/_/id/14001/colin-kaepernick?ex_cid=null)'s unique and controversial new deal, he could do it.

It mostly has been Dalton's decision-making and arm strength that has caught Jackson's eye during the voluntary organized team activities and Tuesday's mandatory minicamp.

"He's throwing the ball fantastic," Jackson said. "He's more compact. The ball comes out quicker."

A large credit for those passing improvements will go to Southern California-based throwing instructor Tom House, a former major league pitcher who worked with Dalton on his mechanics earlier this offseason. House has trained the likes of Drew Brees (http://espn.go.com/nfl/player/_/id/2580/drew-brees?ex_cid=null) and Tom Brady (http://espn.go.com/nfl/player/_/id/2330/tom-brady?ex_cid=null), trying to get them to focus on the fundamentals that will get the ball exactly where it needs to be at the speed it needs to be there.

Earlier this offseason Dalton explained that House's main point of emphasis was to get Dalton to keep his front arm tucked close to his body when he threw, much like a pitcher does when throwing a baseball. In doing so, House told him he would keep his body under better control. Before, Dalton had a tendency to open up his front shoulder too quickly, causing his throws to sail wildly and lack velocity. A number of his 20 interceptions last season were the result of overthrown passes that wobbled slowly beyond their targets.

Some credit for Dalton's improvements also should go to Jackson, whose quicker tempo offense has seemed to put him in better position to get passes off in a faster, more fluid rhythm. The pace the Bengals have been practicing at this spring will closely mirror the high-speed play they'll showcase when they take the stadium for live games in the fall.

"Hue tries to create that atmosphere in practice," Dalton said. "We want to do everything quick. We want our drops to be quick. We want to get back and be ready to go. And so the emphasis is on tempo this whole offseason. We've really been moving forward in that direction and it's been great."

At the start of Tuesday's practice, Bengals quarterbacks were going through a quick-throw drill that forced them to throw the ball to a receiver on a quick screen. There were no dropbacks to the exercise. It was all about getting the ball, turning, finding the target and throwing toward the target. Drills like that can help reinforce the urgency Jackson wants to see.

From those exercises to Dalton's passes in one-on-one, seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 scenarios, Jackson has seen enough to believe his quarterback is trending in the right direction.

Those exercises and Dalton's passes in one-on-one and 11-on-11 scenarios are just small pieces to the improved play Jackson has witnessed so far.

"There's not a lapse in play," Jackson said. "Again, I can only speak from what I can encounter, but I see a very confident player who goes in and calls the play and makes decisions, who redirected things and gets us in the right place. There's not a lot of negative football plays. That's what you want. He's taken charge and control."