Bengals mixed on Sunday's Oklahoma drill

CINCINNATI -- For some, it's the most anticipated moment of training camp.

For others, it's a pain they would rather not endure.

Ahead of Sunday afternoon's Oklahoma drill, the first fully padded, live contact exercise of their training camp, the Cincinnati Bengals offered mixed reviews on the necessity of the task.

"[It's] overblown for me," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. "The faster that gets over with, the better for me. I'd just like to get to football."

The Oklahoma drill. Old-school football. The sport's roots. The most fundamental drill there is to determining how physical and overpowering a player actually can be. Regarded as a battle of will and determination, it has been viewed in some circles as a drill that shows how hard a player will fight to either finish off a tackle, break a tackle or to block in hopes of preventing a tackle.

The drill involves four players. Each is lined up within the narrow confines of a rectangle that's roughly 5 yards wide. One player is a defender. Another is a blocker. The third is a quarterback and the fourth is a running back. Quarterbacks, of course, do not get hit. They simply take a football, turn around and hand it off to the back who will try to follow a hole created by his blocker and slip away from the defender trying to tackle him in the small space.

It's a test to see how powerful the blocker and running back are, and how physical and savvy a defender can be.

"It's football," linebacker Vincent Rey said. "You come down, try to get on the block, get off the block and make the tackle.

"I like it."

In Cincinnati, the drill may take on a slightly different meaning than in other places, primarily because of the notoriety that has come to the Bengals' version of the drill, thanks to two showings of it on HBO's "Hard Knocks." Last summer, the drill was among the most entertaining parts of the first episode. Defensive linemen and offensive linemen were paired together. H-backs and fullbacks squared off with defensive ends and linebackers. Receivers and cornerbacks made contact, causing loud crunching noises to echo throughout the practice fields with the pop of their pads.

Last year's Oklahoma drill was so popular that dozens of fans walked up the walkway of a bridge that overlooks the practice fields and watched as the hitting commenced.

Rey is one of the few who like the drill. Fellow linebacker Rey Maualuga shares Guenther's sentiments on the exercise. He'd rather coaches used other things to test toughness, competition and team unity.

"If you don't make the tackle, does that make you less of a player?" Maualuga asked rhetorically. "Everyone is just worried about the initial contact. Everyone thinks of the Oklahoma drill as a smashmouth, downhill, who's going to get the upper hand kind of drill. You can dominate the blocker but not make the tackle. Does that mean you lost? I don't think so."

Maualuga, 27, also hit on the most concerning aspect of the drill for him: age.

"The older you get, you're just trying to get through it," he said.

Rookies have every reason to embrace the drill and enjoy it, he added. It's one of the first real tests they have to see where they stand. Otherwise, all others could do without it.

"[As a rookie] you want to impress your teammates," Maualuga said. "Since it will be Sunday, I'm assuming fans go to church and then come to practice, so there's going to be a bigger crowd. Everyone knows the Oklahoma drill's coming. People are going to talk: 'Oh, this guy lost. We thought he was going to win but he didn't.' It's a drill. It doesn't mean you're good or not good. It's just a chance for everyone to hit somebody."

As much as the competition and energy release can be good for certain players, the bottom line is the Bengals want to make sure they come out of the exercise healthy.

"We're trying to get out of that drill feeling good," Maualuga said. "That will probably be the first thing we do after stretching and individual drills. But we've still got four other periods we have to get through. What it will do is just set the tone for practice."

Bengals fans around Cincinnati eager to see the Oklahoma drill can show up at Paul Brown Stadium starting at 2:30 p.m. ET. Gates open at that time and practice begins 30 minutes later.