Bengals testing depth of secondary early in camp

Cincinnati Bengals' Ja'Marr Chase, left, makes a catch against Eli Apple during the NFL football team's training camp in Cincinnati, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

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Cincinnati Bengals' Ja'Marr Chase, left, makes a catch against Eli Apple during the NFL football team's training camp in Cincinnati, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo was adamant about Eli Apple’s role as a starting cornerback going into training camp last week, but the team has been pleased with the competition in the secondary so far.

The Bengals focused on building depth in the defensive backs room through the draft this year with versatile safeties Dax Hill and Tycen Anderson and cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt. They already are being put to the test, as padded practices got underway Tuesday.

Cincinnati has seen some intriguing battles with the wide receivers and defensive backs in team drills, but the competition especially came out Tuesday as the team was able to practice one-on-one battles for the first time in camp.

“I think there’s really good competition,” Taylor said when asked about the depth at cornerback specifically. “I think some guys are making the most of the reps. We’ve put in a lot of different coverages so guys have got to process, that’s part of it too. But I think overall, you know, (secondary coaches) Chuck (Burks) and Rob (Livingston) have done a really good job with those guys through the early portion of camp. Those guys are competing, there’s a lot of competitive battles. So far, I think we’re making good strides in the right direction with all that in that entire group.”

That depth will be important, as highlighted with Hill stepping in for Jessie Bates and on Tuesday when Apple left the field with an apparent leg injury in 7-on-7s. Apple spent some time on the stationary bike, but then was seen limping while heading back to the group to watch the rest of the practice.

Taylor said Apple was held out for the remainder of practice as a precaution because of some tightness he was feeling, noting the team will be quick to pull guys out when something like that happens.

Stepping into the first-team defense in Apple’s place was Taylor-Britt, who many expected to be pushing Apple for the starting job this summer. Taylor-Britt had a rough day in one-on-ones Tuesday, where the wide receivers generally stood out as the winners of those competitions, but coach Taylor has been complimentary of his performance overall to start camp.

“I think he’s tracking in the right direction,” Taylor said Saturday.

Injury aside, nothing seems to be changing at the top of the depth chart at cornerback, though.

Apple has been with the first-team defense throughout practices, and some of the most entertaining battles in camp had been between him and Ja’Marr Chase. One day last week Apple made a play on an underthrown pass and made a show of it, and Chase seemed to be asking for another shot. He then caught a deep ball over Apple for a touchdown and joking taunted Apple.

Their matchups have been fairly spirited throughout.

“It’s fun,” Chase said. “Eli is Eli. He brings his own energy every day. That’s the type of person he is. I ain’t gonna lie, he pisses me off a little bit. But that’s a fun part of football. We’re competitors and just getting each other better as teammates.”

Apple said Chase “definitely presents a challenge” but it’s helping him to go up against a fast and physical receiver like that, as he tries to read Chase’s routes and stay with him as best as he can.

As for any competition with Taylor-Britt pushing him, Apple said he’s not worried about that.

“We just want to make sure the new guys are playing their best, and we want to help them out as best as we can with the calls and what they can expect from different formations and routes they can get,” Apple said. “So we’re doing our best to just give them every knowledge that we’ve gotten from last year, from just playing in the league, and we just want to make sure when you’re out there they are ready.”

NOTES: Taylor said after practice Tuesday there was no reason to be concerned that Joe Burrow was not around after watching camp the day prior and showing signs of some soreness when he got up from the golf cart he was riding. Burrow is now more than a week removed from his appendectomy and hasn’t experienced any setbacks, Taylor said, noting he was still in the facility and will come and go as he feels. Chase said he’s sure Burrow is frustrated by the delay to his training camp, but that would be expected from anybody. … Tee Higgins continues to be held from team drills and joked to media watching practice Tuesday that he’s “tired of f---ing around over there (on the rehab field).” Taylor said the coaches and training staff are just being cautious with Higgins because so much of the early part of camp is blocking and they don’t need him doing that right now. He is a couple weeks behind Trenton Irwin, who had the same kind of shoulder surgery in the offseason and just got into 7-on-7s.

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