Rookies Joe Mixon, Josh Malone catching eyes in Bengals' first scrimmage

CINCINNATI -- The Bengals are less than a week out from their preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it's clear they're still very much a work in progress.

The Bengals held a scrimmage Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium in front of 11,000 fans, with the intention of giving some of the younger players their first taste of a game-like setting. The Bengals split up into two teams, with quarterback Andy Dalton and the first-team offense playing against the second-team defense.

Rookies Joe Mixon and Josh Malone were the highlight of the day, with Malone using his 6-foot-3, 208-pound frame to make several contested catches. Malone said his basketball background in high school helps him.

"I feel like it comes natural. I have a big frame," Malone said. "I think it was natural because of the basketball background and over the years learning how to use my frame."

While it's difficult to judge a running back without the benefit of live tackling, Mixon looked elusive and caught a short pass from Dalton for a touchdown.

Dalton also looked sharp, leading the team down the field for a 96-yard touchdown drive, capped by a touchdown pass to H-back Ryan Hewitt. Unofficially, Dalton completed 13-of-19 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns.

"I thought we moved the ball well," Dalton said. "Guys made plays. It’s one of those mock things. There’s no game-planning involved."

The offensive line looked better Saturday after completing one of its worst practices Friday. It still wasn't a perfect day for the unit. Dalton's touchdown pass was close to being called a sack after Chris Smith beat Cedric Ogbuehi to get in Dalton's face.

Because the quarterbacks aren't allowed to be touched, it was essentially a judgment call by the officials, but Dalton said he thought he got the ball off in time.

"Their coach wasn't real happy with them this morning," offensive line coach Paul Alexander said. "We've got a lot of work to do, but it was a heck of a lot better than it was the last couple days."

It was a learning day on special teams as well, as Jake Elliott and John Ross didn't have their best days. Ross never returned punts in college, so his fielding has been hit or miss.

Special-teams coordinator Darrin Simmons said Ross struggled to field punts when the sun was in his eyes. He's also learning to make the right judgments on when to field a punt and when to let it go.

"Those are all good things, so you get the cobwebs and some of that stuff worked out before you're actually playing live stuff," Simmons said. "And there are going to be things like that. Some of those things are going to happen. When you have a guy who is inexperienced and hasn't done it before, you're going to have some of that."

Rookie kicker Jake Elliott also missed a 52-yard field goal and a PAT.

"It was just a bad hit. No excuses. It faded right on me," Elliott said.

The Bengals will get the day off Sunday and return to practice Monday at 3 p.m.

Kicking updates: Elliott made a 32-yarder and was wide left from 52 yards but recovered to make a 51-yarder later in the practice. Randy Bullock was good from 40, 35 and 52 yards and made his PAT.

Injury report: George Iloka, Cedric Peerman, Brandon Wilson, Jake Kumerow, Tony McRae, PJ Dawson, TJ Johnson, David Dean and Chris Brown did not participate in the scrimmage.

Ups and downs: The Bengals were called for 10 penalties, with eight accepted, including a pass-interference penalty on KeiVarae Russell that set up a touchdown on the next play. Russell was attempting to cover Brandon LaFell. Hewitt scored on the next play. ... William Jackson was called for pass interference while attempting to cover Cody Core.

Plays of the day: Dalton found tight end Tyler Eifert over the middle for a gain of more than 20 yards after Eifert made a nice reach to stretch out for the ball. ... Carlos Dunlap and Carl Lawson each sacked AJ McCarron. ... Wille Clarke batted down a pass from Dalton intended for Malone. ... Clint Boling sprung Jeremy Hill for a nice gain for the second straight day. ... Dalton faked to Hill and found A.J. Green for a nice gain. ... Brandon Bell almost had an interception but couldn't hang on to the ball.