5 takeaways from Bengals offseason program

CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals finished up their nine-week offseason workout program Thursday, but as quarterback Joe Burrow said, now is not the time to relax.

Players will be expected to come prepared and in shape for the start of training camp July 26 when they are scheduled to hold their first practice.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor felt the team accomplished what it hoped during the offseason program, although the workload was relatively light compared to how some teams run their Organized Team Activities and mini camps. He’s hopeful that keeps them fresh for what the Bengals hope will be a long season.

Here are five takeaways from the offseason program:

1. Injured players are progressing

The Bengals came out of the offseason workout program relatively healthy. Only a few players were in the “rehab” area of the field at Paycor Stadium on the final day of minicamp Thursday, including two starting candidates that appear on track for a full training camp potentially.

Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie has been working back from ACL surgery since his Oct. 31 injury at Cleveland, and offensive tackle Jonah Williams underwent surgery in February to repair his dislocated knee cap. Both looked like they have made good progress in their rehab as they went through some agility work.

Awuzie hasn’t wanted to give a timeline on his return but seemed to be going full speed making cuts, and Williams said he is likely to be fully cleared in a couple of weeks.

Right tackle La’el Collins, meanwhile, appears much further behind as he did more watching than working during minicamp. His surgery to repair ACL and MCL tears took place much later than Awuzie’s, in January, and although he said he was making good progress, Collins likely needs more time than the others.

2. Offense trying to take next step

The Bengals offense should be operating as smoothly as ever in Burrow’s fourth season, but the offseason was a chance for them to experiment with some different things to take things to another level in 2023.

Burrow said he was working on some different arm angles on his throws, and Ja’Marr Chase is trying to get more creative in his route-running to make the stem of each route look different to defenses. The quarterback and wide receivers aren’t worried about their timing at this point, but rather just finding new ways to make the offense more complicated to defend.

“You’re always tweaking and you’re always getting better at different things that you can,” Burrow said. “I know that I can take a three-step drop and take a hitch and throw it on time where I want to, but I think this is the time of year where you can kind of experiment a little bit and find out what you can get away with and what you can’t and what you can do and what you can’t. And so that’s kind of what I’m doing right now working that block.”

3. New pieces on defense fitting in

With the departures of safeties Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell and cornerback Eli Apple, the back end of the defense looks a lot different, but the new pieces seem to be fitting in well.

Cornerback Sidney Jones and safety Nick Scott joined in free agency and will be competing for starting opportunities, and free safety Dax Hill is expected to step in as a starter in Year 2. Cam Taylor-Britt looks to be a Day 1 starter after assuming that role when Awuzie went down, but rookie cornerback DJ Turner and rookie safety Jordan Battle also will be in the mix. Turner and Battle had good offseasons.

Rookie defensive end Myles Murphy also gives the front seven a different look, and he said he felt like he was fitting in well so far. Taylor didn’t think the defense skipped a beat, despite the changes in personnel.

“It’s as tight-knit of a group as you’ll ever be around in all the years I’ve been around football, and so I think that that just speaks to the character in there, the coaching staff we have on that side of the ball,” Taylor said. “These guys really enjoyed being around each other and that translates to communication on the field, playing for each other. Those are all things that we see from that group and it’s really impressive.”

4. Offensive line jelling well

With Orlando Brown Jr. now at left tackle and the three starting interior linemen returning, the Bengals offensive line is looking strong. Only the right tackle spot is in question, but Jackson Carman arrived in good shape and took advantage of opportunities to stand out this offseason while Williams and Collins weren’t practicing.

It could be an interesting competition at right tackle this training camp.

Brown, meanwhile, already is showing leadership at left tackle, as well. He’s been working with Cordell Volson and setting a good tone in the locker room with his teammates, but Taylor said that wasn’t unexpected.

“I think those are the things that we quickly learned about him as we signed him and got to know him more,” Taylor said. “And he’s a guy that feels like he’s been here for a longer than he has. There’s no shyness to him, he’s great. That’s how you blend into a locker room and get to know people, … so I appreciate that about him. He asks really good questions, football questions, he wants to be the best. So it’s really exciting when you are able to find a player like that. He’s got all that tangible stuff and personality stuff. That’s all good.”

5. Depth stood out

Taylor said this is the deepest roster he’s had, entering his fifth season in Cincinnati. That was evident this offseason program with some of the draft picks like wide receiver Charlie Jones and in several spots on defense, as well as on the offensive line where at least three players could compete for the starting right tackle spot and newcomer Cody Ford adds competition in multiple spots.

The Bengals also have more options on special teams in the return game and punter roles, where Brad Robbins is competing with Drue Chrisman.

“I don’t think that there’s an area where there’s not going to be competition, whether it’s at the starter level or the backup level,” Taylor said. “I think this team has really high-end starters and really talented depth and so I’m excited to see how it shakes out. You don’t go into training camp with any foregone conclusion that this is how it’s going to play out. I think you just let it play out, and we’re going to get plenty of reps, plenty of opportunities for guys to have an opportunity to showcase what they can do and take a spot on the team and we’re very open to all that.”

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