Taylor sees ‘urgency’ as Bengals wrap up minicamp

CINCINNATI — After seeing how sharp his team looked at the back end of the past two seasons, Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor was confident in the routine the staff had established for a lighter workload during the offseason program.

When the team finished its final day of minicamp Thursday, ending a nine-week offseason program, Taylor once again felt satisfied in the work done and progress accomplished.

The Bengals now break for five-plus weeks away from the facility before training camp begins July 26.

“I think that we got really good work in,” Taylor said after practice Thursday. “I think guys have an understanding of what we’re all about here. Guys that are new to our program, the vets really hit the ground running this offseason and I really enjoyed the urgency. It wasn’t the most physical, taxing practices probably in the league right now, but that’s because of the urgency these guys attack walkthroughs with and the individual drills and so there’s an appreciation from the coaching level in that aspect of how the guys approached it and proved that they can handle this type of workload.

“... We come out of this thing relatively healthy and these guys can continue to build on the foundation that they’ve presented for themselves over these next five weeks so that when training camp hits, they’re ready to hit the ground running and we’re ready to go.”

Taylor said he sees the “urgency” in the desire to iron out details in plays and in everything from how players run from drill to drill, how they finish drills at full speed and how they approach meetings ready to learn.

Quarterback Joe Burrow used that same language in describing the team’s desire to win a championship this season, and Taylor said “urgency” is “a very applicable word” for how the Bengals want to operate because of the high expectations they have for themselves.

It also helps that Cincinnati returns most of its offense and the front seven of its defense, plus some talented young players who played last year but will have bigger roles in 2023. The rookies mixed in nicely and picked things up quickly with the help of strong leadership from the vets, according to Taylor, and that made the Organized Team Activity and minicamp practices feel smooth.

“You feel like this thing is way ahead of where we’ve been years past just from especially the first day I got here, so you can see the details,” Taylor said. “Guys are moving so quickly because it’s such a great understanding. The players here are empowered, they’ve taken ownership of our schemes and so that allows them to take the next step.”

The Bengals did maximize their time on the field in the back end of the offseason workout program. In the past, they’ve ended a day early to reward players for their hard work, but Taylor said because they sacrificed days on the front end, including starting OTAs a week later than most, it “felt important to get those three days in” with minicamp.

Minicamp was the only time Cincinnati had everyone on hand, though participation was almost at 100 percent through voluntary workouts as well. Jonah Williams’ arrival Monday completed the attendance sheet, and Taylor said he’s had positive conversations with him despite his previous trade request.

Williams was only doing rehab and individual work during minicamp but expects to be cleared in full soon and ready to go at the start of camp. Taylor said he has good reason to believe Williams will assert himself well into the right tackle competition.

“He’s a proven player,” Taylor said. “He’s played a lot of big games for us, a lot of big matchups, understands what we want in our offensive lineman and he’s always done everything he could to meet those expectations.”

Meanwhile, incumbent right tackle La’el Collins, also rehabbing a surgically repaired knee, did very minimal work during minicamp. He strapped on some resistance bands for what looked like a warmup drill and then watched the rest of practice Thursday.

Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie appears to be on a good pace for a return in camp or at least early in the season, as he was speeding through individual drills and even making full-speed cuts. His main goal is to be ready for Week 1 and wouldn’t set a timeline for himself. Neither would Taylor.

“Chido is built different. He’s done a great job attacking the rehab and doing the things you need to do coming off injury he had on Halloween,” Taylor said. “... (I’m) excited to see the continued progress he’s making. Won’t make any rush of judgment on when he’ll be back.”

Taylor isn’t concerned about how players in contract negotiations will handle things going into training camp if deals aren’t done. That’s because he calls them “high-character guys that know how to handle their business.”

The Bengals ended their on-field work Thursday in a huddle with Taylor addressing them with one last message.

“Just that they’ve laid the foundation for the season, knowing we’ve got the type of team that understands, you’ve got to continue to build off of that and come back ready to go and not take four or five weeks off,” Taylor said. “But it’s more just redundancy on my end, just to make sure I said it. But I think our team has an understanding and in a lot of ways it’s a player-led team and so they have that same messaging on their own and that that’s a positive thing for us.”

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