The Cincinnati Bengals showed progress in some respects during their first offseason workout program under Zac Taylor, but they still have plenty of things to improve when they reconvene for training camp.
The team’s nine-week offseason workout program concluded Thursday at the end of a three-day minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium, and Taylor said he was overall pleased with what he saw.
“Our mission was to improve with every single practice and not waste any opportunities,” he said. “I feel we did that. It was a positive spring for us. We came out relatively healthy. Guys will come back focused, ready for training camp. I’m excited about the work we got done in the offseason and now we’ll take a little bit of a break and get focused.”
As the Bengals break for five weeks, here are five takeaways from the offseason workouts:
1. Offense a work in progress
The players are all excited about the potential of the offense as Taylor has brought in a lot of what he learned as wide receivers and quarterbacks coach for the high-flying L.A. Rams, but with several key players held out for significant portions, if not all, of the offseason workouts, it’s hard to tell what the offense actually will look like this fall.
Running back Joe Mixon didn’t participate until the end of OTAs, A.J. Green was limited to side work until minicamp — and even then he only did individual drills — and Tyler Eifert never got off the rehab field.
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With those guys in full swing, the offense could look much better than it did, but from what the Bengals showed this offseason, the defense is much further along.
2. Ball-hawking defense
The practices that were open to media showed glimpses of a defense that caused some trouble for the offense. Especially during minicamp and the last couple weeks of OTAs, players were getting their hands on the ball and interceptions were more common in minicamp.
Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo confirmed that wasn’t just happening on days media were around.
“We chart it and it’s really spiked up the last two weeks,” Anarumo said of interceptions. “That’s what we want, we want to create turnovers. Everybody in this league knows if you create turnovers you’re going to win games so keep trying to get our hands on footballs. (Monday) and today we had four, so I think we’re doing well. I’ve been really impressed with everyboyd. We don’t have to prod them to run to the ball, they’re attentive in meetings and I think they’re willing to learn and they want to do well.”
New cornerback B.W. Webb drew rave reviews from Taylor and was one of the few players singled out above others.
3. Disappointing draft pick
For all the drama drafting a quarterback in the fourth round caused with speculation Andy Dalton’s job is on the line, it doesn’t appear now to be such a big deal. Rookie Ryan Finley struggled throughout the offseason workout program, under- and over-throwing receivers and just flat-out making bad passes. Some of them were wobbly.
When asked to assess Finley earlier in the offseason, Taylor only praised his command of the huddle and said how good the competition is among the quarterbacks. Taylor has expressed how difficult it is for quarterbacks who spent all winter preparing for the draft when everyone is resting their arms, so perhaps the five-week break will benefit Finley, but at this point undrafted college free agent Jake Dolegala looks like the best backup.
Dolegala, from Central Connecticut State, got extra reps Thursday when most, if not all, of the first-string players sat out to allow for younger players to get more opportunities on the final day of minicamp.
“He’s stayed focused,” Taylor said. “It’s not easy when you don’t get any reps, and you have to come out and compete with the guys. I thought Jake did a great job. That’s why he’s here. It’s always good to see those guys, who don’t get a ton reps, get out there and show why they’re in the NFL. It was a good day for Jake. He had some good completions out there — confident in what he’s doing. That’s what you like to see.”
4. Offensive line concerns
The Bengals shifted players around on the offensive line with the biggest headlining change being that Jonah Williams was practicing at left tackle with Cordy Glenn at left guard. That’s what you want to see a team do with their first pick, but Williams ended up getting “dinged up” during the last week of OTAs and it’s unknown how serious it is.
Williams watched minicamp from the sideline and had no visible ailments (no crutches, slings, cast or limps), but Taylor said he was still being evaluated and the coach didn’t want to speculate on anything. A team spokesperson prevented reporters from asking Williams about it, which only caused concerns to build.
Glenn missed some time late in the offseason as well, and Clint Boling was on the sidelines or rehab field for much of the time. The Bengals ended up signing veteran guard John Jerry on Monday and waiving 2018 seventh-round pick Rod Taylor, as they appear to be trying to give themselves better options. Boling will be one to watch in training camp, as his status appears in the balance in the last year of his contract.
5. A fun environment
The Bengals seem to be enjoying the new system and the new staff’s way of doing things.
Taylor implemented a “redzone lockdown” point system competition for the redzone team period of practices (offense versus defense, first one to 18 wins), and he had players competing in groups during meetings to see who could draw up the most plays correctly on the wipe board.
On the last day of minicamp, the offensive and defensive meetings were spent playing a “Price is Right” meets “Jeopardy” type of game, where players were asked questions like, “How many rushing yards did coach Taylor have his senior year at Nebraska?” The team that got the closest took the points.
At least one portion of every practice was unscripted so players were able to make decisions and adjust on the fly, like they will have to in games when they don’t know what play will be called next.
“It’s night and day,” running back Joe Mixon said. “Everyone is having fun. There’s a new energy. I think it’s going to be good for us.”
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