Cincinnati Bengals: 5 things we learned from offseason workouts

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals elected not to hold a mandatory minicamp, and a purposeful late start to their offseason program meant they spent only seven weeks together before breaking again until training camp.

Despite the voluntary aspect to their workouts, the Bengals had almost full participation from their 88-player roster and coach Zac Taylor went into the final days of Organized Team Activities this week feeling good about what they accomplished. Cincinnati looks to “stay hungry” following its Super Bowl run in 2021.

Here are five things learned from the Bengals’ offseason workouts:

1. Bates, Bengals still far apart in negotiations

Free safety Jessie Bates has until July 15 to reach a long-term agreement with the Bengals, otherwise he will be expected to play on a franchise tag worth $12.9 million. Bates did not attend offseason workouts and it seems unlikely a deal will get done, especially as the market continues to remain high for safeties. The Steelers gave Minkah Fitzpatrick a four-year extension this week, which will earn him $18.4 million per year. The Bengals don’t usually pay safeties like that, and they have future contracts for guys like Joe Burrow to think about, too.

That didn’t stop Bates’ teammates from showing their continued support, including Burrow, and those that spoke about Bates understood him not attending workouts.

“Jessie is a big part of this team,” Burrow said. “You can put a price tag on what he does on the field, but I don’t think you can on what he does in the locker room. He’s been a guy who’s kind of built what we’re doing here. He was one of the first. Jessie is exactly the kind of player I think you want to reward for the work that he’s done for the last four years through the ups and the downs. We weren’t very good for three years while he was here and then he’s been through it all. We’re hoping everything works in his favor. I know he’s working really hard right now in the weight room. He’s looking great. He’s going to be ready to go whenever he gets here. Business is business. He’s got to take care of what he’s got to take care of but I know when it’s time to show up, he’ll be ready to go.”

2. Left guard job still open

Taylor said there is still competition at left guard, and really the offseason workout program was a “warmup” to the real competition that will come in training camp. Still, it’s possible the team saw enough these last seven weeks to get an idea of whether the solution is already in house or if the organization needs to go out and find another veteran.

Jackson Carman spent the offseason working with the first-team offense at that spot, but essentially it’s the same guys who were part of the carousel at right guard last year now in the mix on the other side. Alex Cappa will be the starting right guard, though he missed the last few weeks of the offseason workout program because of a core muscle issue. Hakeem Adeniji, who played right guard in the Super Bowl, stepped in to fill his spot, but otherwise was usually working with the second string.

The offensive line as a whole should be improved with three new additions through free agency, but without live action until training camp and preseason, it’s hard to know what the chemistry will look like up front. Burrow was pleased with the communication and relationship-building he was able to do with new center Ted Karras, and that was probably the biggest takeaway from the offensive line group this offseason.

3. Injuries to keep an eye on

Taylor said Cappa’s injury isn’t something that would carry over into training camp, and neither is Tyler Shelvin’s wrist injury, though he had a minor procedure done that kept him out of OTAs. Joseph Ossai also underwent a procedure that was supposed to help his recovery from August knee surgery to repair a torn ACL, but Taylor expects him – and others coming back from surgery – to be ready by or during training camp.

Tee Higgins and Logan Wilson both underwent shoulder surgery after the Super Bowl and were in attendance throughout the offseason workout program, continuing their rehab and doing some conditioning and other exercises off to the side. Taylor said both are progressing well.

The only player who might need more time is linebacker Joe Bachie, who tore his ACL in December.

Combined ShapeCaption
Cincinnati Bengals' Ja'Marr Chase makes a catch during NFL football practice in Cincinnati, Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: Aaron Doster

Cincinnati Bengals' Ja'Marr Chase makes a catch during NFL football practice in Cincinnati, Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: Aaron Doster

Combined ShapeCaption
Cincinnati Bengals' Ja'Marr Chase makes a catch during NFL football practice in Cincinnati, Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

4. Burrow, receivers have big goals

Perhaps the biggest positive this offseason is that Burrow is fully healthy after taking a beating in his Comeback Player of the Year campaign. Now being able to focus on every aspect of his game, rather than getting his knee stronger, he is ready to try to take the offense to a new level in 2022.

His wide receivers, especially Ja’Marr Chase, appear on board with that. Chase was the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2021 and already is thinking of what he needs to do to improve on his record-breaking season. Higgins hasn’t set his personal goals as he is still focused on getting his shoulder ready, but Tyler Boyd, a seventh-year veteran, has spoken about how “in-sync” the offense is and believes they will be able to play even faster this season.

With Higgins out this offseason, the Bengals had a chance to see who else might be able to step up as the fourth wide receiver but Taylor wouldn’t single any players out as ahead of the rest. Michael Thomas and Stanley Morgan saw increased snaps, and even guys like undrafted free agent Kwamie Lassiter were making some nice grabs in 7-on-7s.

5. Playbook, installs and communication

Taylor said his biggest takeaway from OTAs was the ability to see the players getting back up to speed on terminology and communication. That was a major theme throughout the offseason workout program and something the Bengals felt would be important to set themselves up for success and for a competitive training camp.

“Having to be on top of the communication that happens right before the snap, right after the snap,” Taylor said. “You take that for granted when you haven’t played for a couple of months, and you haven’t been in the thick of things as a team in a while. That’s the kind of stuff I think as we wrap up the summer this week guys will feel like we got back to that really as close as we can in as many practices as we had. So that when we come back here in a couple (five) weeks, it feels a little bit fresh in our minds and we can hit the ground running in training camp.”

Training camp begins in late July, and as Burrow said, “it’s go time” now.

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