Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Friday the team is not looking to bring in a veteran quarterback to mentor rookie Joe Burrow following Andy Dalton’s release late last month.
That means the upcoming virtual offseason meetings will be especially important transition time as the rookies integrate with the veterans for the first time starting Monday. Rookies had a “virtual minicamp” over three days last weekend to get caught up on what they need to know, and it’s still unclear when players will gather for the first time at team facilities amid COVID-19 concerns.
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So, for the meantime, Burrow will have to figure out a way to establish himself as a leader for the offense he will have to command this fall without actually being able to prove himself on the field right now.
“As any rookie, you gotta earn that through the way that you work, and so, when guys see how you approach your business … they’ve certainly heard about him, seen what he did at LSU,” Taylor said. “You still have to show up and earn that through work. Sometimes it’s not necessarily opening your mouth and trying to lead that way, it’s just leading through doing what you’re supposed to do and accomplishing that. And then some guys, quicker than others can start to be more of a vocal leader and get guys going. So again, we drafted a bunch of players that we expect to work the right way and then be respected when they do start to talk.”
The rookies got off to a slow start in terms of communication in a virtual atmosphere.
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The Bengals open their team Zoom sessions 10 minutes early for the players to join and experience somewhat of a virtual locker room. The first meeting for the rookies everyone just sat in silence on the call, so a few of the assistants – who normally stay silent and off video until meeting time — finally jumped in and started joking about how former Clemson wide receiver Tee Higgins allowed Burrow and the LSU Tigers to beat him in the national championship.
“Some of our coaches with some bigger personalities may have jumped in there and tried to stir the pot a little bit and get those guys riled up and see kinda what they’re made of,” Taylor said. “That was pretty entertaining to watch.”
Overall, Taylor has been pleased with how the virtual meetings are going, though. The staff got well acquainted with Zoom during their draft preparations, and Taylor credited Bengals Video Director Travis Brammer and Senior Director of Technology Jake Kiser for helping coaches maximize the performance of the video to make sure it’s clear for the players.
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The Bengals try to keep full team sessions short and then hold more small-group meetings to help with engagement. Like last year during in-person meetings, the coaches also have made a strong effort to mix up meetings to keep them interesting, which is especially important in a non-traditional virtual setting. Taylor said the staff tests the players’ understanding of the playbook in different ways to try to make it more fun, such as a Jeopardy parody that the defensive backs were incorporated into recently.
The coordinators and Taylor also do some presenting on film so players can use those as a point of reference on the iPad, but no matter how creative the Bengals get, nothing can replace actual reps together on the field.
“The feedback that those guys have given the coaches has been outstanding,” Taylor said. We’re really getting a lot accomplished. … They’ve been really engaged and I know they’ve gotten a lot out of it.”
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Taylor wouldn’t comment on whether A.J. Green or Joe Mixon are participating in the virtual meetings, which at this point are voluntary. Green was franchise-tagged in March and trying to secure a long-term deal, which he said would prevent him from participating in the offseason workouts before COVID-19 shutdowns occurred. Mixon is entering the final year of his rookie contract and seeking a contract extension that some believe could cause him to hold out.
Despite any qualms Green might have about contract negotiations, he hasn’t let that impact his relationships with teammates. He already reached out to Burrow on social media, telling him he would go wherever Burrow wants to meet to do some passing drills.
Taylor said that’s representative of the character on the Bengals’ roster and how guys are willing to work.
“That’s great,” he said. “Again, A.J. is a great representative of what we’re trying to build here in terms of leaders taking these young guys under their wings to an extent — reaching out to them, making them a part of this organization, making them feel comfortable.”
Now all the veterans participating in virtual meetings have a chance to try to help bring along the rookies as they get together for the first time as a group online this week. Taylor is just hoping the first time they meet in person isn’t during training camp.