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Bengals looking for fast start tonight against Titans

The Cincinnati Bengals are coming off a preseason opener in Atlanta in which nearly every facet of the team excelled at every level for a 34-10 victory.

The lone exception was the first-team offense, which ran 10 plays that produced 51 yards, three first downs and zero points. The unit also got flagged for a pair of key, drive-killing penalties.

Asked if there was anything specific he would be looking for Saturday when the Bengals face the Tennessee Titans at 7 p.m. at Paul Brown Stadium, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said, “Yeah, less penalties.”

“I just want them to come out there and play with good fundamentals and pad level and good tempo,” Gruden continued. “That’s the big thing we want to preach, get in and out of the huddle quickly, get set, come out with a purpose and make plays. I’m not looking for three drives and three touchdowns. Well, I am, but I just mainly want to see good pad level, good tempo, good energy.”

In addition to not scoring last week, the first-team offense only managed one touchdown drive during the entire 2012 preseason.

“We don’t want any penalties, any stupid mistakes, and we want to move the ball and score,” Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said. “That’s what it comes down to. We want to be fluid out there. We want to move the ball, and turn it into points.”

Tennessee ranked 27th in the league last year in total defense (24th in rushing, 26th in passing), and even though Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green is not expected to play after just returning to full action in practice Thursday, Dalton will have the rest of his targets available.

One of those targets, rookie tight end Tyler Eifert, was singled out by Gruden for his struggles last week. Gruden admitted he was surprised by how well Eifert played in the run game and how poorly he fared in the passing game. He said he expects to see more than incremental improvement from the team’s first-round pick in the game tonight.

“I think he can make a big leap,” Gruden said. “I think he was just a little excited to make plays and was speeding everything up. In practice he’s bent on working the guy and working the route and being patient. Then in the game he just sped everything up because he was so excited to make a play that he just got a little out of control. But he’ll be fine. He’ll make a major improvement.”

The main position battle to watch on offense is at fullback, where four-year veteran John Conner and second-year converted tight end Orson Charles are in a tight battle. Charles struggled in Atlanta, but he is still listed as the starter.

“Looking at the (Tennessee) defensive front, it’s a strong group, explosive and athletic,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “It’ll be a great challenge for us, so we’re looking forward to going out and having our guys play fundamentally sound and really go through and execute the things that are important to us.”

Defensively, the Bengals will get a challenge from running back Chris Johnson, who struggled somewhat in 2012 but looked to be back in Pro Bowl form last week with a 58-yard touchdown run on one of his two carries. As a team, the Titans averaged 5.0 yards per carry in a 22-21 loss to Washington.

“The thing that will be great is that they are a very effective team running the football,” Lewis said. “They seem athletic, and they execute well in the offensive front group. They obviously have a great back in Chris Johnson. Their quarterback (Jake Locker) will move and extend plays, so that will be great work for us.”

In the key position battle on defense, starting safety George Iloka sat out Thursday’s practice with a wrist injury. If he is unable to play, it could provide a great opportunity for rookie Shawn Williams, who has had a strong week of practice with a couple of interceptions. The Bengals already know what Taylor Mays can do, so Williams could be in for an extended look tonight.

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