Taylor not worried about Bengals offense’s struggles early in camp

Burrow gets day off as defense continues to shine

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor gave credit to the defense for standing out the first day in pads and really for outshining the offense to this point in training camp, but he also said not to read into the offensive woes too much.

It’s still early and the offense hasn’t been given much of a chance to open up the playbook in mostly scripted periods to this point.

Quarterback Joe Burrow, coming off major knee surgery in December, has struggled early in camp and wasn’t any better when the pads came on Tuesday and competition heated up a bit. Burrow only completed half of his passes in team drills and would have been sacked several times had contact been allowed.

“I mean, let’s give credit to the defense right now,” Taylor said Wednesday. “They’re playing better than they have in the last three training camps I’ve been to. That’s just the confidence that they’re playing with, the chemistry that they’ve developed over a short time, the understanding of the principles that we’re employing. So you’ve gotta give credit to those guys. Those guys are making it hard on any offense right now. Again, that’s good for us. You’re watching how sticky our DBs are. It’s hard to win right now against them because they’re competitive on short plays and down-the-field plays, and that’s what I love to see as a head coach. Again, it’s exciting to watch our defense be able to play like that.”

Burrow was under constant pressure Tuesday, especially as veteran defensive end Sam Hubbard blew by rookie D’Ante Smith, who was stepping in with the first-team offense for injured right tackle Riley Reiff. Reiff was injured late Monday when he and linebacker Germaine Pratt got tangled up on Pratt’s interception return after a Burrow pick, but Taylor said Reiff participated in the team’s walkthrough Wednesday morning and wasn’t expected to be out long.

The problems aren’t just on the offensive line, though. Last year, Burrow was able to shine in spite of issues up front.

“Just by watching him move around in the pocket, his pocket presence I’ve seen seems great,” receiver Tyler Boyd said of Burrow. “He’s kind of a little iffy on his knee, but it is kind of hard to tell. In my opinion, I feel like he’s ready to go. I also feel he don’t want to do too much. We are not going out there trying to destroy a defense. We aren’t going out there worried about killing them and trying to score every single play. It’s a whole unit thing so we have to make sure all 11 guys are tied into that play knowing their exact job. Just figuring out the progression. I think he’s on the right track.”

Burrow was given the day off Wednesday, meaning he will have two straight days of rest with the whole team off Thursday, but Taylor said he remains on schedule as he progresses to be ready for Week 1. Taylor will continue to try to work in extra off days for players like Burrow and Trey Hopkins, who was off Tuesday from team drills, as they work back from surgeries.

The offense as a whole has room to improve, and Cincinnati’s defense is providing a good test, making several pass breakups, interceptions and would-be sacks. Backup quarterback Brandon Allen was the more consistent quarterback Tuesday but still had two picks, and Trey Hendrickson picked off Burrow while dropping into coverage.

“They’re making us work defensively to the offense, because they’re getting balls out,” Taylor said. “We learned some lessons those first couple of days of practice on offense. Guys have to be strong at the point of the catch, because guys are going to play right through their wrists to get the ball out. They’ve done a great job of that.”

Taylor said Wednesday was a good day for Burrow to take off because of an emphasis on short-yardage work and goal-line drills where the running backs would be featured more.

When he returns Friday, the team will be closer to finishing the installation of the offense and defense, and Burrow will have more freedom to do different things that will help the offense in more unscripted periods.

“I think they are going to benefit from some moving the ball and changing up the personnels and doing some different things instead of just focusing on the periods we’ve done,” Taylor said. “The install is coming to a completion here. You’re putting in X amount of plays on offense and defense these first 10 days, and then after that, you set the reset button, let’s go play some football, get ready for this first (preseason) game, so now as we get to about a week out from that first game, you’re going to see way more moving the ball up and down the field to get guys in the flow, have to sustain eight-play, 10-play drives. Right now it’s all four- to five-play stuff, so that part is exciting, and that’s when you’ll be able to have a measuring stick on where this team is at is next week when we start doing more of that before that first game.”

Taylor said the defense has known the emphasis of the scripted periods but still has done well executing, being detailed in assignments and making things hard on the offense. He’s been pleasantly surprised to see that from a defense with so many new faces.

“You think that (they could be good), but it’s a little bit of an unknown,” Taylor said. “They played in different systems. They come in and you have high expectations for them but it’s going to take some time. I just think those guys have really played fast from the get-go. I’ve been really pleased with not only the guys that are returning, but the newcomers we have, who have been really pleasant. That’s what you are hoping you are going to get out of them, and they’ve done well so far.”

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