Cincinnati Bengals: 5 things to watch for in this week’s minicamp

The Cincinnati Bengals are nearing the end of their offseason workout program, but they have one more step to complete before heading into the break.

Mandatory minicamp will take place Tuesday through Thursday at Paul Brown Stadium, and then players will be off until the start of training camp July 27.

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The Bengals have been working out on a voluntary basis since April 9, including holding 10 days of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) over the last four weeks. Minicamp is an extension of OTAs except it is mandatory to attend and provides a closer picture of what to expect in training camp.

Players still will not be wearing pads and there is no live contact, but here are five things to watch for during the three-day minicamp:

1. Evolution of the running game

Joe Mixon has been limited so far this spring but participated in his first OTA practice Tuesday, so coaches got their first chance to see how the running game might look with him and Giovani Bernard sharing the bulk of the workload. Assuming Mixon participates in minicamp, it will be the last opportunity to get some good film to study before training camp.

Coach Zac Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan have placed emphasis on the running game since stepping in this offseason, and Taylor especially has indicated a desire to keep Mixon fresh for a late-season run by spreading out the carries. So far, he is pleased with what he’s seen.

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“I think we’ve got a good backfield going right now,” Taylor said. “With him and Gio to start, it’s good to get them both out here taking the load off each other, so these young guys can come along, but I’m happy with what I’ve seen from both those guys. They are dialed in and focused. It’s good to see Joe back on the field. We are trying not to overwork him now coming off the injury.”

Mixon had knee surgery last season but returned after a short absence and topped 1,000 yards rushing to lead the AFC.

2. Keying in on technique and communication

It’s hard to evaluate the offensive line without pads and hard contact, but Taylor said these sessions are important for improving technique and communication so when players show up for training camp, they are ready to go.

The offensive line features three new players who are expected to be contributors, including right guard John Miller and rookies Jonah Williams and Michael Jordan, so building communication will especially be important. Williams has been lining up at left tackle, initially pushing Cordy Glenn to left guard, and Jordan is playing with the second-team unit at guard. Glenn did not participate in the OTA practice open to media last week, but Taylor declined to disclose the reason for his absence.

3. Hubbard vs. Williams

One intriguing matchup that took place during OTAs was one between second-year defensive end Sam Hubbard and Williams, the team’s first-round draft pick in April.

Hubbard got the best of Williams a few times during Tuesday’s open practice, which should provide some good learning points for the rookie tackle. Hubbard is coming off a strong rookie season and appears ready to build on that in Year 2. He could be a major player for the defense as a full-time starter.

4. Finley looking to improve

Rookie quarterback Ryan Finley has struggled mightily during the practices open to media this offseason, but some of that could be the third-string players he's lined up alongside. Perhaps he will get some opportunities to throw to bigger targets in minicamp, but he's got a long way to go to earn trust as a backup to Dalton.

Finley was nearly intercepted twice by first-year cornerback Jordan Brown on Tuesday. Brown was a seventh-round draft pick.

5. Sidelined starters

Some key players were sidelined for OTAs, despite appearing to be healthy, and it will be interesting to see if Taylor runs them out for minicamp just to get a better look at more of a full squad before the break.

Wide receiver A.J. Green is back from a toe injury and tight end Tyler Eifert says his ankle is healed, but the team has held them out as a precautionary measure. Green and Eifert said earlier in OTAs they weren’t sure if they would participate in minicamp. Mixon’s return last week seems to indicate it is a possibility.

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