Bengals set to face Zimmer’s defense in exhibition opener

Published 12:58 am Thursday, August 11, 2016

CINCINNATI (AP) — For a few days, the Bengals’ defense gets to remind Mike Zimmer of what he built.

Zimmer’s Minnesota Vikings were in town Wednesday for the first of two joint practices leading up to their preseason opener Friday night at Paul Brown Stadium. Zimmer was the Bengals’ defensive coordinator from 2008-13, developing one of the NFL’s top defenses.

The defense hasn’t changed a whole lot — most of the same players, most of the same schemes — while Zimmer has turned the Vikings back into a winner. And the Bengals’ defenders were looking forward to reminding Zimmer of why they’ve been so good.

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“He changed the culture around here, and I have much love and much respect for coach Zimmer,” defensive lineman Domata Peko said before their first combined practice. “I can’t wait to go out and hit some of his players.”

Zimmer has been friends with the Bengals’ Marvin Lewis since their days as college coaches. Lewis likes to work out against opposing teams during training camp; it’s more of a challenge. Last year, the New York Giants practiced in Cincinnati for a couple of days before their preseason game.

The Vikings were a natural preseason matchup for practice, given the links between the teams. Zimmer and Lewis worked out the practice schedule together, allowing both teams to work on what they need the most.

“It’s pretty easy,” Lewis said. “It’s simple when you do it with people you’re friends with and respect that way.”

The Bengals were eager facing Teddy Bridgewater in practice. A year ago, they were excited to go against Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr., and they got the better of the matchup.

“Oh yeah, we were very dominant last year in the practices,” cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones said. “But this is a new year. We’ve got a lot of new guys in the locker room. It’ll be fun, though.”

Bridgewater had an easier time of it on Wednesday, completing passes early in 11-on-11 drills. George Iloka picked off one of his passes in a later drill. Early in the session, one of the Vikings got knocked to the ground and players formed a scrum and did a little pushing, but order was quickly restored.

Paul Guenther, who succeeded Zimmer as the defensive coordinator, made it clear there were boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed during practice. The Bengals gave up the second-fewest points in the league last season, but had their worst moments in an 18-16 playoff loss to the Steelers. Personal fouls on Jones and linebacker Vontaze Burfict moved the Steelers into range for their winning field goal in the closing minute.

Guenther has been emphasizing that the defense must be smart, and that goes for the two days of practices with Minnesota.

“Don’t get near the quarterback,” Guenther said. “We don’t want anybody getting hurt here.”

NOTES: Andy Dalton had a tough time in the first 11-on-11 drill. The first time he dropped back to pass, he wound up having to scramble. The next two times, he would have been sacked — players aren’t allowed to touch the quarterback, so the play gets ruled dead when pass rushers close in. Dalton threw the ball at the ground in frustration after the second one. … Bengals DT Andrew Billings, a fourth-round pick, suffered a leg injury during a line drill and was taken off the field on a cart.