Bengals begin prep for Steelers remotely amid COVID-19 protocols

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor, right, watches during the second half of the team's NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor, right, watches during the second half of the team's NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor anticipates players being back in the building Wednesday after an unexpected change to the schedule leading to an extra day off Monday because of COVID-19 protocols.

The team announced Friday that two players tested positive for COVID-19. Cornerback Trae Waynes and right tackle Fred Johnson were added to the COVID/reserve list later that day. Cincinnati was on a bye last week and held their last in-person meetings Nov. 4 before what was supposed to be a four-day break ahead of Week 10 preparations for Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh.

NFL protocols require players and staff members to continue daily COVID testing even while on bye, so players were still reporting for those each day. The team moved meetings scheduled for Monday to Zoom, according to Taylor.

“I think it’s just an unusual season all the way around,” Taylor said in a virtual news conference Monday. “Our guys have done a great job of handling all the twists and turns that can come with it along with all the other teams across the league. This week’s no different. Our focus is on preparing to win a game on Sunday, and we won’t let anything detract from that.”

Waynes has been out with a pectoral injury since training camp and there was no timeline for his return yet, as he was expected to miss most of the season. Johnson started at right tackle in place of Bobby Hart in a 31-20 win over Tennessee in Week 8 and has played three different positions this season to fill holes because of injuries.

Taylor said he wasn’t going to comment specifically on Johnson’s timeline, noting he will “just let the transactions speak for themselves” moving forward with COVID-related moves. However, he did confirm that a player who is asymptomatic has to wait 10 days from the time he tested positive, so the earliest Johnson could return would be Monday.

“We feel good about how we’ve handled the entire process, and our communication with the league has been great,” Taylor said. “We just move forward every day. We know that these next eight weeks are going to be a challenge for the entire league. We just have to be willing to be flexible.”

Being flexible means shifting the schedule around to get the necessary work in when the team can’t meet in person. Taylor wasn’t concerned about the Bengals' preparations being impacted. They began initial studying of Pittsburgh last week before breaking for the bye, so they already were ahead in some ways.

The team hadn’t sent out an adjusted practice schedule for the week at time of publication Monday.

“Just a couple tweaks virtual meeting wise, but you can still be on the field for the same allotted time, so we’ll still get all that work done the right way,” Taylor said. “Again, we did a whole offseason similar to the virtual stuff and feel comfortable with all the things we can accomplish that way. There’s no concern over losing anything.”

In retrospect, there could have been a bigger issue had NFL protocols not required daily testing even while on the bye.

“I think those protocols are in place for a reason,” Taylor said. “Guys gotta test every single day, so they can’t get on a plane, can’t go anywhere. That part has been good. Our guys have done a really nice job so far. I think most teams have had some sort of issue in some shape or form, and again, we’ve just got to continue to be on top of this for our guys. We’ve got to continue to be unselfish. Again, we will just keep preaching that each and every day.”

The Bengals built some momentum going into the bye by beating a five-win Tennessee team leading the AFC South. Pittsburgh (8-0) won’t be easy either, but Taylor said the excitement felt outside the organization is similar to the feeling inside the building at Paul Brown Stadium.

“It’s confidence, is the word I would use to describe our football team with right now,” Taylor said. “We’ve prepared, we’ve felt confident going into these games. We played well in spurts in a lot of games we played. We just hadn’t put it together until the Tennessee game. We have to stay level-headed. We can’t ride that wave of excitement and discouragement and we’ve just got to keep putting in the work and know it will pay off if we do things the right way.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Steelers, 4:25 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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