Wide receivers coach James Urban said the Bengals just wanted to test out James Wright’s progress before the team broke minicamp and players head their separate ways for the next six weeks.
Wright missed all of last season after undergoing microfracture surgery to repair a knee injury suffered in November 2014, but he returned to practice for the first time Wednesday. Urban said it was important to give him a little action before the break, which leads into training camp at the end of July.
“It’s important for him because all that hard work, he’s worked his tail off,” Urban said. “He’s toed the line in every single way, made sacrifices to be here and work with (director of rehab) Nick (Cosgray). Nick Cosgray is unbelievable. The fact that James is out here doing what he’s doing at this point. It’s important for him. It gives him encouragement, and we’ll see where he is.”
Urban said it is uncertain still whether Wright will be back to full speed for training camp, but mini-camp gave him a chance to “put the toe in the water, ask how it feels” and then go from there.
Wright had emerged as the team’s No. 3 receiver in 2014 before the injury, which occurred at Tampa when he registered three catches for 59 yards — both career highs in his 11-game rookie season. The seventh-round draft pick teased Urban just enough this week in minicamp.
“The important point there is I said, ‘Look at the competition in this room. A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush,’” Urban said. “The old NFL saying is you can’t make the club in the tub. Injuries happen, but aches and pains, you better find a way to be out there because every day you miss is an opportunity you miss to show what you can do.”
Right on track: Cornerback Darqueze Dennard (shoulder) has been limited mainly to individual side work during mini-camp this week but has made his way back to the special teams portion of practices this spring and expects to be “full-go” by training camp.
The first-round 2014 draft pick showed tremendous progress last season before separating his shoulder in Game 10 at Arizona in his first NFL start. The season-ending injury required surgery, but he says he is progressing well in his rehab.
“It feels good,” Dennard said. “The doctor says I’m on track, doing well. The healing went well. Now I’m just trying to get my strength and confidence back and getting all the motion back by training camp.”
“I just need to continue the stuff I’ve been doing, it’s just being smart about it, and by training camp, I know definitely I will be ready to go, no setbacks, full go. They say I’m progressing faster than expected, but I’m still being smart about it. There’s nothing being earned right now, so there is no reason to risk anything. The whole goal since surgery has been just to get back by training camp.”
Dennard, who played mostly special teams as a rookie, closed the 2015 season with 16 tackles, one interception, three passes defensed and four special teams tackles. He worked his way into the starting lineup when a slew of injuries hit the secondary, then went down with his own.
“I’ve been good mentally since it happened, basically looking at the timetable and I know the rehab process how it went, and I kind of dealt with a similar injury before so I knew kind of what to expect during that process,” Dennard said. “I’m happy with the process, the doctor is happy with it, so I’m looking forward to training camp.”
Humanitarian Award finalist: Defensive end Carlos Dunlap is one of four finalists for ESPN’s Sports Humanitarian of the Year Award, which recognizes individuals who use sports to make a positive impact on society.
Other finalists include Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul, New York Liberty center Tina Charles and San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns. The winner, who will receive a $100,000 grant to his or her qualified charity, will be announced July 12 during a ceremony in Los Angeles.
Dunlap has been involved with the local community through his foundation, most notably providing ACT and SAT prep courses, college readiness courses, mentoring and job interview training to underprivileged student-athletes.
“To get that recognition for what I’ve been able to do this year off the field is just an honor,” Dunlap said. “I hope it sparks us getting some more sponsors to help partner with me and the programs I’m doing here in Cincinnati.”
Roll call: Practice was a short one Thursday, and several veterans once again sat out, including Andrew Whitworth and Adam Jones. Rey Maualuga, who hasn’t participated in open practices this spring, and Vontaze Burfict, who also has missed some time, remained out of practice. Brandon Thompson, Ryan Hewitt and Tyler Eifert are all hurt.
Roster move: The Bengals made a roster move at the conclusion of minicamp Thursday, releasing Gionni Paul, an undrafted linebacker from Utah.
That leaves the Bengals with 88 players on the roster, two below the maximum.
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