Austin aims to shape, not overhaul, Bengals defense

New Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Teryl Austin made two things clear during his introductory press conference Wednesday at Paul Brown Stadium.

The first was that there will be some changes to the defense, but not a complete overhaul.

And the second was that he chose to come to Cincinnati to win games, not a head coaching job.

“The biggest selling point is you have a chance to come work with a quality person, a chance to work with a quality team,” Austin said. “All of that other stuff will take care of itself. I can’t control that. So when you have an opportunity to work with good people, good players, good teams, you have to take that chance.

“That’s really what I was looking for more than ‘Hey, I can go with Marvin and possibly become a head coach,’” Austin added.

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The defensive coordinator in Detroit the last four seasons, Austin has had 10 interviews to become a head coach, including one last week with the Lions to succeed Jim Caldwell.

Austin has been critical in the past of the Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operations jobs, but he was more diplomatic Wednesday.

“I think when I made the statement about the Rooney Rule was how I felt about after that particular year,” Austin said. “I thought at the time there were some interviews that weren’t … I didn’t put my best foot forward. I didn’t do very well. But other times you could tell it was just, ‘Hey, we’re going to check this box and we’re going to move on.’

“More importantly than worrying about the Rooney Rule is trying to make sure that I get my defense to play well,” he added.

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Austin said his goal is to make the transition from the system run by former defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, who took the same job in Oakland earlier this week, to his as smooth as possible for the players.

“It’s more about them than it is for us,” he said. “If you’ve got guys that have been in it, we try to keep things as similar as possible terminology wise, because that makes people comfortable, coaches and players. But there’s going to be changes. There has to be. There’s going to be changes in terms of how you maybe call a few things, but it won’t be an overhaul.”

Austin said he wants his defense to be aggressive, physical and focused on turnovers, an area where the Bengals have been deficient the last two seasons, especially in 2017 when they recorded a franchise-low 14 takeaways.

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Under Austin, the Lions forced 32 turnovers last year, third most in the league.

“It’s like anything else in coaching, you get what you emphasize,” he said. “This past offseason I really, really dove into making sure we emphasized it more. We ran more drills, more takeaway drills. We kept that going throughout the entire year, and I think it paid off because what our guys saw were tangible results early. And they kept building off that.”

In their first comments after Monday’s signing, both Lewis and Austin used the word “aggressive.”

Austin expanded on that Wednesday.

“I think being aggressive is on defense we’re going to try to play on their side of the line of scrimmage,” he said. “We’re going to play without fear. We’re going to play really, really physical and strong. We’re not going to try to sit back and let somebody try and dictate what we do.

“To me, aggressive is not fighting and talking and all of that other stuff. It’s how you play the game,” he added. “That’s what I want our people to see.”

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Lewis said he first met Austin when was coaching in Baltimore and Austin was a summer intern. He followed his career after that and took note of the job he did as defensive coordinator at the University of Florida in 2010. But the Baltimore Ravens hired Austin as their secondary coach after his one season with the Gators.

When the Bengals played the Lions on Dec. 24, Lewis had a message for Austin.

“I told him to stay in touch,” he said. “I’m glad it’s worked out. The big thing was his opportunity to possibly become a head coach in the NFL. I was waiting for that one way or another to break, and I know that will occur in his future. That’s the exciting thing. Hopefully we have great success immediately, and he gets that opportunity.”

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