CINCINNATI — Cornerback Leon Hall jogged toward the right side of the defense and took his customary place, matched against receiver Mohamed Sanu. The play was a handoff, so Hall didn't have to do much.
That's not what mattered.
Hall lined up for the first 11-on-11 play in the Bengals' first practice of training camp on Thursday, an encouraging sign for one of the NFL's top defenses.
"It means a lot," Hall said.
The 29-year-old cornerback tore his right Achilles tendon midway through last season, the second time he's sustained such an injury. He tore his left Achilles in 2011, but was back as the starter the following year and played very well.
He's made another quick and full recovery.
"There was never really a doubt in my mind," Hall said. "It was just trying to be patient enough to go through that long process again."
Even though he's fine physically, Hall hasn't been able to be on the field during offseason workouts, so he's still got a lot of work to do on his form. At one point during the afternoon practice, he went to the sideline and worked on his side-to-side movement.
"I felt good," he said after practice. "No pain. I felt strong. My footwork wasn't very good, but that's going to come in a few days."
Defensive tackle Geno Atkins is coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and wanted to participate in the first practice, but was held out on Thursday as a precaution. Coach Marvin Lewis wants to give him a few days to ease in before he's cleared to fully practice.
Hall is a mainstay on a defense that has ranked among the league's top 10 for each of the past three years, finishing third overall in yards allowed last season. The Bengals never doubted that he'd be ready despite his second significant injury in three seasons.
"Leon, he works hard at everything he does," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. "If you can have a poster child for a coach's guy, that's him. He'll do whatever he has to do. He spent the whole offseason getting that thing back to go. I'm excited to see him back on the field."
After Hall's Achilles surgery in 2011, there were doubts about whether he would still be quick enough to cover the other team's top receiver. When he got back on the field, he was just as good, if not better.
"His speed became better last time, which is really something," Lewis said. "I thought he played faster in 2012 than he did before. I think that's what excites him about this: 'Maybe anatomically I've got something that made me better.'"
Hall doesn't know if he was that much faster after the first Achilles surgery, but all of the rehabilitation work has him in good shape for the start of camp.
"I feel like I felt years ago, before I did the first one," Hall said. "I've heard numerous times that your Achilles is technically stronger after you have the surgery. I wouldn't suggest going and tearing your Achilles, but that's just what I heard from the doctors and people in general. That's good news.
"I feel better. Let's just hope it translates to the field."
Notes: The Bengals claimed first-year WR Conner Vernon off waivers from Cleveland and signed free agent WR Jeremy Johnson, a rookie from Southern Methodist. They waived punter T.J. Conley. ... OL Andrew Whitworth was held out of practice with a sore calf. ... At the start of practice, a couple of fans hung two banners from a public bridge that overlooks the practice fields. The first banner urged the Bengals not to sign quarterback Andy Dalton to a contract extension. The other said: "AJ to AJ, the future is now." The Bengals signed quarterback AJ McCarron in the fifth round. McCarron didn't throw to A.J. Green on Thursday — he's resting a sore passing shoulder.