Lakota West graduate performing well at Bengals’ training camp
Joe Reedy reports:
One of the major storylines from Tuesday’s second episode of “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cincinnati Bengals” was at H-back or fullback, where John Conner and Orson Charles are in a tight battle for the spot.
Charles, who is listed as the starter, has had bouts of inconsistency and struggled in last Thursday’s win at Atlanta, while Conner has improved as camp has progressed.
The day after the Atlanta game, the NFL Films cameras caught running backs coach Hue Jackson’s blunt assessment of Charles, saying he has to play better if he wants to remain the starter.“It’s definitely hard to hear, coming as a competitor. But we understand it. I know I have things I need to correct and I have things I need to work on,” Charles said after practice Wednesday. “It’s just the beginning of the process. I’m not going to take it hard. I’m going to pay attention to him and stay here afterward and work hard.”
Said Jackson of the conversation: “He knows he needs to play better and he will. One thing about our staff is that we’re very honest with players. When you’re playing good, I’m going to tell you and when you’re playing bad I’m going to tell you. He needs to play better and he’s working at it and that’s all you can ask.”
The past couple of days at practice, Charles has been one of the last ones off the field as he has run extra laps and worked on some of his technique.
With the selection of Tyler Eifert in the first round and Alex Smith being signed during free agency, Charles was moved from tight end to H-back in order to increase his prospects for a roster spot. Charles has had few mental errors, but the main thing he has to do is execute at full speed.
“I know what I need to do, it’s just sometimes I kind of doubt myself and second guess. I know who I have to block, it’s just going out and doing it,” Charles said.
Jackson said there is a little bit of a learning curve with a new position, but he isn’t allowing much leeway – at the end of the day the same principles of blocking and catching still apply.
Conner has steadily put himself into the mix for a roster spot.
The former Lakota West standout, who played at the University of Kentucky, had a key block on Giovani Bernard’s 1-yard touchdown at the end of the second quarter in Atlanta.
“I feel like I’m a very versatile player and I can do everything that they ask me to do at the fullback position,” Conner said. “I feel like I have caught their attention. Looking at myself on film, I’m pretty confident.”
The resurgence of Conner comes at an opportune time. When the Jets were the featured team on “Hard Knocks” in 2010, Conner was a fan favorite. He was drafted in the fifth round that season and made a firm impression on coach Rex Ryan, who started calling Conner “The Terminator.” Conner was released by the Jets last season due to injuries.
Conner joined the Bengals last December after Chris Pressley was injured in a Week 15 win at Philadelphia. He played in the last two games, including the postseason contest at Houston. Pressley remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list and is likely to remain there when the regular season starts.
In the end it might come down to versatility in deciding who earns the spot. Both players do well on special teams and can catch the ball out of the backfield.
Said Jackson: “John has the hands to play the position but Orson gives you a little more versatility because he has played tight end. Orson has a different skill set than John because he has played on the line of scrimmage and been split out wide. He brings a little more to the table, but it’s a heck of a race and both guys are working hard.”