Fay: Bengals' preseason win gave rookies a chance to shine

CINCINNATI -- It's hard to draw conclusions from the first preseason game. After all, the stars are done for the night before much of the crowd settles into the seats.

The Bengals defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23-12 before a crowd of 44,494 at Paul Brown Stadium Friday night in what was mostly a contest between the second- and third-team players.

Jeff Driskel and Chris Smith were the most impressive Bengals, not exactly household names, right?

That's the preseason.

"I'm pleased overall with the football game," head coach Marvin Lewis said, "and the fact we got into some good situations. That's key. We got a great opportunity for our young guys to experience NFL football."

Here are nine takeaways:

Driskel's drive

The third-string quarterback was impressive on the first two drives of the second half. He took the Bengals 75 yards in seven plays on the first drive. He ran it in from 18 yards out for the score, showing speed and moves.

"He can make something out of a broken play with his athleticism," Lewis said.

Driskel took the Bengals 84 yards in 12 plays on the second drive. He hit rookie Josh Malone for 8 yards and the score.

He completed his first seven passes and 8-for-9 for 97 yards overall. He ran five times for 34 yards.

Driskel was the sixth-round pick for San Francisco in 2016. The Bengals picked him up after the 49ers waived him after the preseason. He was inactive for all but one game last year. It was his first action as a Bengal.

"I want to take advantage of any opportunity I get," he said. "You can't really simulate playing in the game. It was a lot of fun. We had some nice drives we put together. It feels pretty good."

Driskel played four years at Florida before transferring to Louisiana Tech for his fifth-year of eligibility. He was all-Conference USA at Tech.

If the Bengals are comfortable with Driskel, they may be more inclined to trade AJ McCarron -- should interest develop in him as we get closer to real football.

O-line fine

The revamped offensive line acquitted itself well in the first half. Tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher kept the defensive ends away from Dalton and McCarron.

Guard Trey Hopkins helped open holes for the running game. Christian Westerman also got time at guard with the first unit.

"You don't ever want the quarterback touched," Lewis said. "That was a good thing."

Leader of the Pac

Adam "Pacman" Jones didn't start, but he was the star of the first defensive series for the Bengals. The Bucs marched right down the field with James Winston picking the Bengals apart, completing five of his first six passes for 79 yards.

But on second- and third-and-goal, they went to 6-foot-5, 231-pound Mike Evans in a one-on-one matchup against 5-10, 185-pound Jones. Jones broke up both, forcing a field goal.

"They moved the ball on us, but we held them in the red zone when it counted," defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. "That's something to build on, and something to take pride in. We'll live with that, but we'll fix it, clean up the mistakes and not give up as many yards moving forward."

The other red zone

The Bengals marched down the field on their first drive as well. Dalton looked sharp. The line opened holes.

But on third-and-goal at the 5, Dalton tried to hit Brandon LaFell in the left flat. Vernon Hargreaves III stepped in front of LaFell for the interception. Red zone failures were a major problem for the Bengals last year, thus an emphasis in camp, so the failure was slightly concerning.

"I wish I held on to it a little longer and threw it to somebody else," Dalton said. "We moved the ball well. We did a great job. But we've got to top it off with a touchdown. My fault."

That was Dalton's only series of the game. He was 4-for-5 for 38 yards.

In the Mix

Rookie running back Joe Mixon showed the burst, the strength and patience that made the Bengals willing to take a chance on him despite his past.

He caught a short pass from McCarron and turned into an 11-yard gain by breaking a tackle. He made a nifty move for 6 yards on the next play. Mixon finished with 32 yards on six carries and the one catch for 11.

"He did a nice job," Lewis said.

To the core

Second-year wide receiver Cody Core had a rough series. He was called on a face-mask penalty on the first play. Then on third-and-4 at the Tampa Bay 35, he couldn't haul in a catchable ball from McCarron, forcing the Bengals to settle for a field goal.

Kicking duel

Call it a draw.

Randy Bullock drilled a 54-yard field goal for the Bengals' first points and a 49-yarder for their last points.

Rookie Jake Elliot put one right down the middle from 45 yards on his one field goal attempt.

Elliot's opening kickoff was impressive as well. It was high and went five yards deep into the end zone, setting up a return to the 2. His third kickoff went out the end zone.

Bullock's kickoff after his field goal went to the one and was returned to the 37.

"We got an opportunity to take a deep look at the kickers," Lewis said. "That was good."

Who's ahead?

"It's been fairly tight," Lewis said.

Rookies on D

The high-profile draft choices all made an impression in the first half.

Third-round pick Jordan Willis got to backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick twice. He hit Fitzpatrick and  forced an incompletion. He had a sack later in second quarter.

He looked extremely fast off the edge. Willis had three tackles in addition to the sack. He ran the 4.53 40 at the NFL Combine, fastest among defensive linemen.

Fourth-round pick Carl Lawson disrupted a run on third-and-2.

Sixth-round pick Jordan Evans looked quick and active in his time at middle linebacker. He was flagged in the second half for hitting a defenseless receiver.

Mr. Smith

Chris Smith, the defensive end the Bengal acquired in a trade from Jacksonville, was in the Tampa Bay backfield on nearly every play he was in.

"Next time, hopefully, I'll get the quarterback with the ball in his hands and get a sack," Smith said.

Smith came to the Bengals in April, so he went through the offseason.

"They welcomed me in with open arms," Smith said. "I felt like I got drafted again. A lot of what we did in Jacksonville was the same. The terminology is a little different."

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