No question this is Joe Burrow’s team and this is Ja’Marr Chase’s theater and this is Joe Mixon’s yard and the head coach calls the offender.
But Thursday’s first extended live scrimmaging of training camp at Kettering Health Practice Fields sent a reminder that the Bengals reached the Super Bowl allowing just six touchdowns and not even 60 points in the three games on the way to the AFC title.
Defense prevailed by a rout Thursday in these sorts of things where the offense gets the traditional seven points for a touchdown and three for a field goal while the defense gets seven points for a no score and four points if they held for a field goal.
“As I told them,” said defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. “Sometimes the bear gets you, sometimes you get the bear. We got the bear today.”
They got the Grizzly with a dominating performance by, what else is new, their defensive line. And it just wasn’t their starters as rookie tackle Zach Carter and rookie edge Jeffrey Gunter excelled in one-on-one pass rush and in the scrimmage where the first offense could barely get a pass off against relentless pressure. With franchise quarterback Joe Burrow looking on, first team quarterback Brandon Allen was left trying to explain why the defense always seems to be ahead of the offense in camp.
After, of course, the offense had to run gassers because they were beat in the red zone. Burrow joined them, but only driving his cart up and back.
“We try to put our best foot forward every time out,” Allen said. “We’ll try to watch film, learn from the mistakes we made today and come back tomorrow with a lot better intensity.”
What is on display defensively is a scheme in its fourth year under Anarumo and on Thursday it had a unit where nine of its starters are in at least their second year in the system. Throw in the fact Allen has noticed some new looks in Anarumo’s coverages and it makes for a tough number.
“There are a few wrinkles in some of their defensive calls,” Allen said. “I think they’ve always had a wide range of different checks and things. But I think them being in the system for a few more years let’s them disguise all that.”
The defense survived two rookies in the secondary in first-rounder Dax Hill at free safety and undrafted cornerback Allan George playing for the nicked Eli Apple and his injured backup Tre Flowers while opposite Chidobe Awuzie. If the Bengals were trying to send a message to second rounder Cam Taylor-Britt, consider it sent as CTB went in only with the second group.
The defense also played well on a day middle linebacker Logan Wilson (shoulder) played his first team snaps in seven-on-seven as he still shots for a late August return to team drills. Until then, third-year linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither continues to play the best ball of his career in Wilson’s absence.
“It’s fixed,” Wilson said of his torn labrum. “We just want to wait the full six months before we go full-contact type stuff. I think that’s smart. I feel like it’s a little more controlled in 7-on-7. There’s a lot more space, and I can just be smart with it.”
Flowers expects to be back Friday and Apple not much longer if it’s not Friday.
“That’s just how the practice went,” Anarumo said of George and Taylor-Britt. “Don’t read into that. Nothing there. They’re still competing.”
The defense’s flexibility can be seen in personnel as well as scheme. For instance, Dax Hill is showing he can cover in some man situations. And then there is nose tackle DJ Reader having another massive day with his bull rush as defensive line coach Marion Hobby offered a post-practice warning when it comes to calling Reader the NFL’s best tackle nose.
“Now that’s a problem,” Hobby said. “I think he’s one of the better defensive tackles. You can’t put him into one category. He can play the three technique. He can play some run, he can play some pass. If we gave him more pass rush, (you ‘d see that).”
Not a bad first look for a defense that doesn’t get as many second looks as it should.
“Our whole theme this year is brick by brick,” Anarumo said. “Today was a footer, I guess you’d call it. It wasn’t just a single brick.”