Bengals ready to fight back after being floored in 2008

After being knocked down, bloodied and bruised last season, the Bengals appear ready to get up off the canvas and fight back in 2009.

Before QB Carson Palmer was lost for the season with a torn right elbow, he already had suffered a broken and bloody nose during a preseason game against the Saints.

Last year’s first-round draft pick, LB Keith Rivers, had his jaw shattered on a wicked block from Steelers WR Hines Ward.

The Bengals’ secondary lost three of its four starters to season-ending injuries, adding to the team’s staggering total of 17 players who were placed on injured reserve.

On Day 6 of training camp in Georgetown, Ky., the Bengals practiced with a fast and physical tempo, which suggests they’re not willing to take being pushed around anymore. The offensive line consistently won the battles up front in team drills. Palmer’s passes never touched the ground, and RB Cedric Benson seems to be reborn.

After speaking with OL Andrew Whitworth and 10-year veteran Bobbie Williams, I discovered that Palmer’s protection in the pocket is the most important item on the agenda in this year’s training camp.

After each practice, their coach, Paul Alexander, asks the offensive lineman how many looks they had. According to Williams, “a look is what the defenders give you when you continue to physically block him for beat after the play is over.”

The most noticeable presence on the field was that of second-year defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Constantly demanding that his defenders contest every ball on every play, Zimmer is a vocal coach who will not settle for mediocrity. Players he has coached at other stops have brought a toughness that has seldom been seen on a Bengals defense. DT Tank Johnson, LB Darryl Blackstock and safeties Chris Crocker and Roy Williams have helped spread the word on how Zimmer wants his defense to play.

Gone are the days when Bengals wide receivers were allowed to catch every ball in practice without consequences. Now there is a physical price to pay.

Everywhere on the Bengals’ practice field, there is a competitive battle to execute a block, a pass, a catch or a run. It’s that kind of fight-back competitive spirit the Bengals will need to stand up to AFC North bullies in the Steelers and Ravens.

— Solomon Wilcots

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