When the Bengals gathered their rookies for the first time on the Paul Brown Stadium practice fields Friday, the only veteran on the roster who worked was punter Drue Chrisman as he begins his quest to win the punting job owned by Kevin Huber these past 13 years.
"I grew up watching him as a kid," said the affable Chrisman, still commuting the 30 minutes to Cincinnati these days from Lawrenceburg, Ind., like he did when he went to La Salle High School.
"He's been great from day one. He's even given me some extra cleats if I need them. He's been a great asset to me and my career. Everybody wants a job. There's only so many out there."
Chrisman was in last season's undrafted free agent class after his booming career as one of the best Ohio State punters ever. But his rookie season never got off the ground after he broke his hand before training camp.
He bounced on and off the practice squad but he was here long enough to pick up more than shoes from Huber and get into training camp's punting competition chaired by Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons.
"He's a very good directional punter. One of the best," Chrisman said. "I'd go to the games with my dad and I'd watch him at halftime. He'd paint the sidelines. He's still doing it today. That's the thing that Darrin loves and I strive to do that."
Chrisman can't count how many Bengals games he went to with his dad before he signed. Plenty of them. He played quarterback and made sure to watch Carson Palmer and then Andy Dalton throw at halftime. When he had Tommy John surgery in high school on his throwing arm, he turned to punting and began to watch Huber at halftime.
Now he's competing against him in a derby that is a first for both.
"In high school I didn't know what I was doing. I was just kicking the ball hard," Chrisman said. "I tried out for quarterback and when I was the backup they made me the punter as a little token. When I went to Ohio State, I was the only punter on scholarship, so it was pretty tough for a walk-on to make it."
On Friday, Chrisman met the guy he'll be tethered to during camp. Pittsburgh's Cal Adomitis, the consensus top long snapper in the country and one of the Bengals' top undrafted rookies, took his first spins with Chrisman as he begins his own roster battle with a veteran that's been here almost as long as Huber in Clark Harris.
"There's only 32 jobs like it in the word," Chrisman said. "Take it day by day."
The other vet that took part in the minicamp on a tryout basis, cornerback Abu Daramy-Swaray, won a job when the Bengals signed him after the workout and classified him as a rookie because it's his first NFL contract.
The 5-9, 172-pound Daramy-Swaray, 25, played for the Potsdam Royals of the German Football League last season and had 39 tackles (34 solo), two interceptions and nine passes defensed in 12 games. He played at Colgate and finished his college career in 2019.
SKED REACT: Bengals head coach Zac Taylor is all good with the schedule, but what he's really looking for are the dates for the three preseason games that have yet to be announced so he can shore up his training camp regimen. All he knows is they open at PBS with Arizona, go to the Giants and close the preseason at PBS in a Super Bowl rematch with the Rams.
"To be honest with you, once we get those dates nailed down that's what we're focused on," Taylor said.
The maximum five primetime games can be a logistical challenge, but Taylor isn't too concerned. And he likes that AFC North opener with Pittsburgh at home and a bye week pretty much in the middle of the year in week ten.
"We're excited to start the season against a division team. I think that's great," Taylor said. "We've got a lot of primetime games, which is fun for the guys. We feel like we've got a team that's deserving of the opportunity, that's always a lot of fun. You look at the first game, a home game against a division team, that's all we care about at the moment."
The weekend rookie minicamp has evolved from a rough-and-tumble three-day, five-practice marathon full of scrimmages to Friday's brief morning workout of position drills. Now the rookies go right into the veterans voluntary field work that begins Monday for three weeks before the team work in June.
"It doesn't go right into OTAs. It's Phase II. A lot of individual work," Taylor said. "It gets them acclimated to the vets as quickly as possible and lets them slowly build up into the OTAs and not overdo things. We don't want any soft tissue issues. We haven't been around these guys. We'll ease them into it and not overdoing it."
CAN'T WAIT: Simmons couldn't wait to get in the ears of the Bengals prized trio of quicksilver defensive backs they just drafted, starting with first-rounder Dax Hill, the Michigan safety. He'll have to wait on second-rounder Cam Taylor-Britt, the Nebraska cornerback. CTB had flu-like symptoms and stayed in the hotel.
But fifth-rounder Tycen Anderson, the nickel-safety from Toledo, was all ears as he huddled with Simmons at Hill's locker over an iPad after the workout.
"Special teams has been my bread and butter since I was a little kid," Anderson said. "I was blocking kicks in high school. I just wanted to play. In pee wees I played right guard. I just wanted to play."
So now you know why some in the Bengals draft room had a third-round grade on the 6-2, 209-pound Anderson. One of the more beloved players in the history of the Rockets, he used that mindset to rack up 17 career special teams tackles early in his career before becoming a regular. Like Hill and CTB, he's cracked 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
"They would still use me if somebody wasn't doing the right thing. They'd just plug me in and get the job done," said Anderson, who figures he blocked somewhere between 10 to 15 kicks in high school. "I wanted to get the ball. I'd just line up and come as hard as I could off the edge and if you don't want to block me, fine."
On Friday, Simmons promptly put him in the quarterback position on the punt team at personal protector, a spot Anderson had never played.
"We didn't really have one (in college). We had a guard on the inside who was the shield," Anderson said. "We were studying it on the tape and there's a lot (of responsibility). Protection calls. Making sure everyone is lined up. Counting how many people in the box."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: The most impressive looking group had to be the trio of monstrous defensive linemen: Third-rounder Zach Carter, a 6-4, 290-pound defensive tackle out of Florida; seventh-rounder Jeffrey Gunter, a 6-4, 258-pound edge player from Coastal Carolina and undrafted Tariqious Tisdale, a 6-5, 285-pound end /tackle out of Mississippi.
Tisdale, who ran a 4.6 40, has everyone intrigued, including senior defensive assistant Mark Duffner, one of the staff's more relentless recruiters who helps defensive line coach Marion Hobby with the edge players. He knows them well.
"Height, weight, speed, he's an impressive athlete," Duffner said of Tisdale. "The staff really likes the length of these players and the fact they've got some traits we think can help our defense. They all have good motors." ...
In a glimpse at some of the rookies jockeying for what is going to be a very packed punt return derby, Chrisman kicked balls to Daramy-Swaray and a trio of free agent wide receivers: Kwamie Lassiter II of Kansas, Kendric Pryor of Wisconsin and Miami of Ohio's Jack Sorenson. Also figuring to get a shot at some point is free-agent Coastal Carolina wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh.
Heiligh, by the way, knows all about the last Coastal Carolina wide receiver to play for the Bengals. Yes, he has seen the replay of "The Flip," from Christmas Eve, 2011 when Jerome Simpson jackknifed over an Arizona defender and stuck the landing in the end zone.
Simpson came out in 2008 as Coastal's all-time receiver, but no more. Heiligh's 2,825 yards edged Simpson's 2,720 ...