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Camp report: Defense dominates; McCarron paints red zone; Iloka works
August 15, 2017 10:52 PM | Geoff Hobson
Darqueze Dennard (21) had an interception Tuesday.

PLAYER OF THE DAY: With defensive coordinator Paul Guenther getting the wraps taken off the last two days of practice in full pads, it has not been exactly been flowing with offense. The exotic pressures have showcased the rush (Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins has been Genoish and WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict has found some seams) and the secondary has excelled in the back of it all despite safeties Clayton Fejedelem (muscle tightness) and Cedric Thompson (hamstring) going down Tuesday to join George Iloka on the sidelines. In the last two days Burfict, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, and cornerback Darqueze Dennard have had interceptions in team.

But back-up quarterback AJ McCarron supplied what little offense Tuesday offered to take home the trophy in the last workout before the Bengals broke training camp.

McCarron hit rookie wide receiver John Ross and first-year wide receiver Alonzo Russell on successive plays in the red zone for touchdowns against the first defense. Then in what appeared to be a live snap from the 2, he hit one of his favorite targets, tight end Tyler Kroft, on a rollout.

"We're seeing a lot of stuff right now. They were putting in a lot of stuff for multiple teams at one time," McCarron said. "It's definitely not going to look pretty all the time. But my group did a pretty good job today and we communicated really well. That's what we needed coming off yesterday when the offense struggled. The communication was great."

McCarron thought Ross had "a really good day," and praised how he attacked the zone by setting up his route and finding the space in the zone. Then his eyes lit up when he saw the 6-4 Russell in the back of the end zone. Even if Kirkpatrick was on him. Kirkpatrick has made a bucket of plays this camp despite working his way back from a broken hand.

"I was just trying to play with the safety with my eyes and Zo did a great job of running the route," McCarron said of a safety stable that is running on fumes. He's such a big target. He gives me a good target."

Then on the goal line he went to old friend Kroft. It will be recalled that Kroft has his only touchdown catch from McCarron in the heat of that December of 2015 when Kroft was a rookie and McCarron was steering the Bengals. It was a 20-yard pass down the middle to secure McCarron's first start in San Francisco late in the first half. Then when the Bengals lost the No. 1 seed and overtime in Denver, McCarron hit Kroft for 15 yards on third-and-eight in the tying drive.

Now that Kroft is healthy after hurting his knee in last year's camp, he has returned to his rookie form, except maybe better and he's 260 pounds instead of 240.

"TK is awesome," McCarron said. "He's gotten really strong this offseason. He's a high IQ football guy when it gets down here, especially. We kind of have done that a couple of times during camp. He did a great job of seeing what I was seeing."

What they saw was Kroft's route across the middle and his leverage against man coverage.

"I think TK is an unbelievable player. He's been having an unbelievable camp," McCarron said.

PLAY OF THE DAY: Another guy McCarron likes is Dennard and confirms he's also having a nice camp. But he was on the other end of this play when Dennard outfoxed rookie wide receiver Karel Hamilton. Dennard was running with Hamilton step for step to the sideline when Hamilton stopped the route. Dennard kept running the route and made a diving interception.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Cornerback KeiVarae Russell on playing the team that cut him Saturday night when they play the Chiefs: "It's mostly just to show the Bengals what they got. What they picked up on. It's not really showing the Chiefs what they missed out on ... "I don't have anything malicious against the Chiefs."

SLANTS AND SCREENS: Iloka made his first appearance Tuesday after he appeared to hyperextend his knee three weeks ago in one of the first practices. He wore pads but stayed out of team while doing individuals. So he probably won't play Saturday night against the Chiefs at Paul Brown Stadium (7-Cincinnati's Channel 12, but look for him to get some reps in the preseason as he called out rehab trainer Nick Cosgray after Tuesday's practice.

"I know how fast he brought back Gio (Bernard), I'm in good hands," Iloka said, "We're progressing in the protocol. I'm not rushing anything. Even though it's my sixth year, I would still like to get some (pre-season) reps. That's just me personally. I'll be mentally sharp, but there's a rhythm, especially with DBs, being in rhythm, being in sync, things like that. I'd love to get in there as soon as I could." ...

How exactly tough is Bernard? He's taken a pounding in this camp of his ACL comeback. He's been drilled by Burfict on two of the bigger hits of summer and on Tuesday he got smoked by two inanimate objects and keeps getting up. At the end of running a one-on-one passing route with linebackers, his momentum smashed him into a cooler and exercise bike on the sidelines. The ultra-competitive and gritty Bernard briefly collected himself sitting on the sidelines, his knees pulled up to his chest for a few seconds before he jogged back to the huddle ...

Wide receiver Cody Core (ankle), cornerback KeiVarae Russell (unknown), and safety Brandon Wilson (knee) sat out while running back Tra Carson (foot) returned ...



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