Zac Taylor: OTA reps important to get players ready for training camp

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor said the biggest objective for Organized Team Activities is to put players in the best position to compete come training camp. He’s not worried about how it looks now because this is the time to make mistakes and learn from them.

The Bengals began the third phase of the offseason Tuesday with the start of Organized Team Activities. Workouts remain voluntary until minicamp June 11-13, but most everyone was in attendance with the exception of Ja’Marr Chase, Sheldon Rankins and Trent Brown, as well as Tee Higgins, who is not eligible because he has not yet signed his franchise tag.

OTAs mark the start of 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 type of work, allowing teams to apply what they’ve been learning about in meetings and individual position drills on the field.

“This is about being able to start training camp the right way, so putting ourselves in a position from a mental and physical standpoint, let’s get in great shape, let’s understand the expectations, mental prepare ourselves with the scheme,” Taylor said. “We get some reps in it, we get the install done a couple times so when we show up in late July for training camp, these guys have the best the shot to compete and earn a roster spot.”

This could be the last year of spring OTAs, though.

According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the NFL Players Association is working to finalize a proposal to overhaul the offseason, starting as soon as 2025, to eliminate voluntary on-field work in the spring in favor of a longer training camp ramp-up. According to Pelissero the players would report mid-June to early July instead.

Training camp typically begins at the end of July.

Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton said he likes the offseason the way it is and noted OTAs bring value that would be hard to replicate in an extension of training camp.

“I feel like OTAs is that time to get the chemistry going,” Hilton said. “Obviously on the offensive side, making sure they are getting their timing down and everything, and on the defensive end, making sure our communication is top-notch and if there are any new guys, making sure they have the system down and they are able to communicate so I feel this really sets us up for the season. Because, once training camp starts, that’s just National Football, but this is the time where the mental (side) and that chemistry really needs to grow in so we can be ready for the ride.”

The Bengals feel they’ve had a productive offseason, through six complete weeks and the first day of OTAs, but without Chase and Higgins around, it’s difficult to get a clear picture of what the offense will look like with the new pieces on the team. The receivers and defensive backs had a chance to compete in 7-on-7 work, and Andrei Iosivas and Trenton Irwin got a lot of reps. Second-year cornerback DJ Turner made the play of the day with a one-handed pass breakup to prevent Irwin from a catch.

On defense, where more of the position battles will take place, Dax Hill got some early reps with the first team at cornerback, rotating a bit with Turner, and Vonn Bell and Jordan Battle swapped reps at strong safety.

Hilton noted that quarterback Joe Burrow’s participation is helpful not only for the offense but for the defense as well, so they are tested trying to make plays in the tight windows he is throwing passes. Burrow, coming off his November wrist surgery, has looked accurate, on time with this throws and showing great velocity and power, Taylor said, and he’s not worried about the offense being set back by the absence of Higgins and Chase.

“I think that they’ll get to work in at the necessary time, and please, we have a high turnout for voluntary workouts,” Taylor said. “I told the guys I understand it’s voluntary. I appreciate them showing up. The guys that don’t are still working hard elsewhere and they’ll be back at the right times. And the beauty is we know those guys, we know what they’re about and that they’ll be ready and focused when it’s time to come back.”

Asked if he’s had communication with Chase, Taylor said he doesn’t “call those guys every day,” but he’s in touch. He’s also not any more concerned about the absence of Rankins and Brown, even though both are newcomers to the team and don’t have the knowledge of the system and chemistry that Chase and Higgins already have.

“There will be plenty of time where they’re here when they get the chance to make sure that they’re familiar with it,” Taylor said. “They have the information, so I know that they’re staying on top of it. And when they get here and are able to get those reps, I know that those two guys are vets and they’ll be in a real good spot.”

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