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AFC North camp preview: Bengals aim to sign Green

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CINCINNATI — With the Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas contracts setting the wide receiver market for an A.J. Green extension, it is not a question of if the Cincinnati Bengals will get a deal done but when.

And for the Bengals, it can’t come soon enough. In a training camp that doesn’t have many personnel issues, wrapping up a contract with Green is one of the major issues when drills begin Friday at the team’s practice fields adjacent to Paul Brown Stadium.

Contract extensions generated headlines three of the past four Bengals training camps and preseasons. In 2011, cornerback Leon Hall and tackle Andrew Whitworth agreed to extensions the day before the final preseason game. In 2013, it was defensive tackle Geno Atkins’ turn, as he signed on Labor Day. Last year, quarterback Andy Dalton got his deal done midway through training camp.

As with Dalton and Atkins’ deals, getting Green’s done will help set the salary structure for free agency next offseason. Considering the Bengals have $16.85 million in cap room and carried over nearly $8.7 million from last season, they have the room to do it.

Another reason to get it done now is because the Bengals have a large group of key players in the final year of their contracts. Besides Green, other starters going into the final year are Hall, Whitworth, cornerback Adam Jones, tackle Andre Smith, safeties George Iloka and Reggie Nelson along with wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. All of them will not be back, meaning that this is the last shot for a current group that head coach Marvin Lewis built since 2011.

Besides Green’s contract, the other focus on the offense remains the same as it was for the past three years: Can Dalton prove he is a big-game quarterback? The Bengals are the first team in NFL history to go one-and-out in the postseason four straight years, and Lewis tied Jim Mora Sr. for the most playoff games coached without a victory (six).

A big key to the offense will be balance. Jeremy Hill led the league in rushing the last nine weeks of the season, but most of that was due to injuries to Jones, tight end Tyler Eifert and Green. By the time the Bengals got to the playoffs, they were one-dimensional because of a lack of receivers.

Said Lewis during minicamp about his expectations for the offense: “Be an aggressive, attacking type of offense. Be physical at the line of scrimmage and so forth. And then we’ve got to go out and do it play after play after play. That’s what is important. We get to do those things once the fall rolls around.”

CAMP CALENDAR

July 30: Team reports

July 31: First practice

Aug. 11-12: Joint practices with Giants in Cincinnati

Aug. 19: Camp ends

–Team strength: Running back.

Jeremy Hill is a three-down back who can wear teams down and also possesses an extra bit of speed when he gets to the second level. Giovani Bernard dealt with injuries last year but is a good change-of-pace option who can also catch the ball out of the backfield. Coach Marvin Lewis said he expects both backs to get an equal amount of carries, but Hill will be the starter.

–Breakout player: Cornerback Darqueze Dennard.

Last year’s first-round pick saw only 62 defensive snaps in 2014, but that was mostly by design. Cornerback is one of the hardest positions to come in and immediately contribute as a rookie because of a lack of technique, but Lewis said he was pleased with how Dennard approached things during OTAs and minicamp.

–Work in progress: Tight end.

Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson wants to run the ball, and he loves two-tight end sets. However, after third-year pro Tyler Eifert, the Bengals are looking for that second tight end from a field of five rookies or first-year players who have never taken an NFL snap. Tyler Kroft, a third-round pick from Rutgers, is the leader in the clubhouse.

Also in the mix could be second-rounder Jake Fisher, a tackle from Oregon. Not as a long-range option, but Fisher is a nimble athlete and a high school tight end who may be able to work at the spot in a pinch. He did catch some balls during the spring.


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