CINCINNATI (AP) — Giovani Bernard took the handoff, avoided a defender with a jump cut and ran 70 yards to the end zone. A.J. Green made a diving catch on the sideline, the golden bottoms of his cleats flashing in the sunlight. Tight end Tyler Eifert got open for a catch over the middle.
The Cincinnati Bengals’ first practice of training camp was a throwback to the days when their diversified offense was formidable.
Three of the Bengals’ best playmakers were back on the field Friday after missing much of last season with injuries. Bernard was the most impressive, showing no residual effect from surgery to replace a torn ACL in his left knee last December. He didn’t even wear a brace.
“I knew that once I felt right, I was going to be back on the field,” he said after practice, smiling nonstop. “It happened to be today. I got cleared two or three days ago.”
And another speedy addition isn’t far away. Rookie receiver John Ross was cleared to participate in non-contact drills on Friday as he continues to strengthen a surgically repaired shoulder. The first-round pick set an NFL combine record in the 40-yard dash, and the Bengals are looking for ways to add his speed to the mix.
Second-round pick Joe Mixon is trying to earn a significant role in the backfield, perhaps challenging Jeremy Hill for the starting job.
“I’m not going to say this is the most talented team we’ve had, but it’s got to be up there,” seventh-year quarterback Andy Dalton said.
The Bengals went 6-9-1 last season in large part because of their depleted offense, ending their streak of five straight playoff appearances and first-round losses. Green missed most of the second half with a severe hamstring injury, and Eifert missed roughly half the season because of ankle and back injuries. He had surgery on his back in December.
His recovery from the surgery was slower than his rehab from the ankle injury, keeping him off the field during offseason workouts.
“It’s completely different,” Eifert said. “You have to give it time. With the ankle you are trying to get it stronger. With a back if there are issues and your muscles aren’t firing, there is only so much you can do.”
Without Eifert, Green and Bernard, the Bengals slipped significantly last season. They scored only 325 points, their fewest during Dalton’s six seasons in Cincinnati. Their 35 touchdowns were their fewest since Dalton and Green’s rookie year in 2011.
Green repeatedly drew applause from the crowd of approximately 1,300 people with his slick catches, including a sideline grab when he hit the ground hard but held on. It was a reminder of how much they missed him.
“A.J.’s the best receiver in the league so when you get a guy like that, it changes the way teams try to play you, it changes the looks you’re going to get,” Dalton said.
Ross will be one of the more intriguing players during camp once he’s cleared to practice fully. The Bengals had him fielding punts on Friday, with mixed results. He participated in drills but no 11-on-11 plays. He expects to be fully cleared soon.
“It’s been so long,” Ross said of his recovery. “When you have to watch, it’s harder to be excited and to be in tune with things, especially with the guys when you’re not doing anything. Now I get to be a part of it.”
Notes: WR Monty Madaris and special teams leader Cedric Peerman haven’t been cleared to practice. Peerman was limited to six games last season because of a broken forearm. ... CB Adam “Pacman” Jones got one of the loudest cheers from the fans. He’s suspended for the first game of the season by the NFL because of an altercation with a hotel security official in the offseason.