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Bengals' Josh Shaw showing flashes in transition to safety

CINCINNATI -- Pay close attention to the Cincinnati Bengals' secondary when the second-team unit starts hitting the field in preseason games later this month.

At that time, second-year defender Josh Shaw will line up at safety in a game for the first time in his professional career. Since April, he's been making the switch to that position after spending his rookie year primarily lining up as a backup slot cornerback.

"It's growing on me, and it's fun," Shaw said. "You get to do a lot."

A lot like happening to be in the right spot when quarterback Andy Dalton threw a pass in the direction of a receiver who slipped out of his break. That occurred late in Monday's practice. As an errant pass traveled far from on-the-ground receiver Tyler Boyd, Shaw dove to his left to intercept it. After the pickoff, Shaw got up and ran several yards before getting forced out of bounds by Dalton and running back Jeremy Hill.

"You get to do so much [at safety]," Shaw said. "One play you may be blitzing, and the next play you may be covering. You may be in the post, you may be in the half. Sometimes it's hard for a quarterback to predict what you're doing. You can disguise a lot more than you can as a corner."

Shaw's interception was one of four turnovers the defense came away with Monday. Shortly after Shaw's interception, fellow second-year safety Derron Smith stripped H-back Ryan Hewitt following a pass and then scooped up the fumble for a return. Earlier in the practice, corner Dre Kirkpatrick and linebacker Marquis Flowers jumped in front of a pair of passes and sprinted away quickly for respective long returns.

Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther believed the defense's success stemmed from its ability to be more physical with the transition to a full-pads practice for the first time this training camp. The hitting and contact was certainly more intense than it had been the first three days of practice.

"You can jam the receivers, you can press them with a little bit of a tighter coverage, since, obviously, you can't press early on," Guenther said. "That had a lot to do with it. It's something we're really emphasizing, too. if we can continue to get interceptions and fumbles, it's going to help our cause."

The Bengals also believe Shaw's switch will help their cause. His ability to learn another position falls right in line with the Bengals' philosophy of cross-training defenders at multiple spots. Linebacker Jayson DiManche, for example, has appeared at rush end this summer, as well.

"It makes it easier because if you know what the next guy is doing, it makes it easier for you to put the puzzle together," Shaw said of learning a new position. "Then you're able to understand not just what you're doing, but why you're doing it, if that makes any sense. Because you know where everybody's supposed to be and how the defense is supposed to work."

Here are other observations from Monday's practice:

  • Bengals veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth was back at work after taking Sunday off. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard returned, too, after missing Sunday because of a funeral. His return was short-lived, though. Dennard left practice early with an ankle injury. Guenther said he'd be OK.

  • Rookie corner William Jackson III also left practice early with an unknown injury. He walked toward the locker room about 10 minutes before practice ended.

  • Jake Kumerow, Karlos Dansby, and Trevor Roach were non-participants all afternoon due to unspecified injuries. With Dansby out, the Bengals gave second-year linebacker P.J. Dawson and rookie Nick Vigil their share of reps.