Cincinnati Bengals: Full team together for first time since last season

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor speaks to reporters after a NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Baltimore. The Ravens won 23-17. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Training camp looks a lot different during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor said it’s starting to feel like actual football again.

The Bengals had the full team at Paul Brown Stadium on Tuesday for the first time since last season, as they gradually work their way onto the field for regular practices starting Aug. 17. Rookies reported two weeks ago for COVID-19 testing, veterans arrived last week, and physicals were completed Sunday and Monday.

Tuesday’s session included walk-throughs, conditioning, weight lifting and team meetings.

“We had a chance to do our meetings and walkthroughs together,” Taylor said during an online news conference Tuesday afternoon. “It was the first time. They can’t move very fast right now as we are out there on the field instructing them, but it does start to feel like things are getting back to ordinary.”

Cincinnati made five player moves Monday to get the roster down to 79 players, which is allowed to be up to 80 players for training camp. Currently two players are on the reserve/opt-out list, and Taylor indicated he wasn’t aware of any other players planning to join defensive tackle Josh Tupou and offensive tackle Isaiah Prince on that list.

Despite not having an in-person offseason program, Taylor said players looked sharp going through plays in the walkthrough and as far as he can tell from reports he’s gotten, they are physically in good shape. Coaches are not allowed to watch conditioning and weight training.

Most of the meetings are still conducted through Zoom, as players are grouped together by position in offices together and hearing from the coaches via the online video news conference. The quarterbacks are the only players not together for meetings. All four are kept in individual rooms separate from one another in an effort to quarantine them as much as possible.

“(Zoom) will be the same way we communicate as a team and often times as a unit on one side of the ball just because we can’t get all the players in the same room on one side of the ball at the same time,” Taylor said. “The players and coaches are used to it at this point, Zooming and getting our messages across. … Nothing will really replace that face-to-face interaction that you have with a player or group of players. So, we’ll just find the best fits to keep communicating our messages as training camp gets going.”

Taylor does go room-to-room more than he has in the past just so he can get a more personal message out to the players, especially with several free agent newcomers and rookies he is still getting to know.

Otherwise, the Bengals are socialdistancing as much as they can when they can control it. The players and coaches and staff all wear a wrist band for contact tracing, which they put on upon entering the building and turn in upon exiting. The bands flash a red light when people get too close to one another – which makes the walkthroughs interesting with a bit of distraction – as a warning to disperse. In case of COVID-19 positive tests, the Bengals can then go back through and see who came into contact with that person and for how long.

Social distancing won’t carry over into practices or change the way they play, though there might be more sense of urgency in the huddle.

“That part’s not gonna change,” Taylor said. “You know, it’s just our players, coaches being mindful that when we can control it, to try to create their distance from one another. But football’s football, and when you’re in a huddle and you’re at the line of scrimmage, we’re not gonna be able to control that any more than we could have before so our guys just proceed as normal.”

Taylor said the next two weeks, as players go through the acclimatization period, they will be on the same schedule every day, lifting, running, meeting and doing walkthroughs. Although the coaches can’t observe anything at full speed yet, Taylor said it’s “a good eight days of work.”

The Bengals likely won’t get 14 padded practices, as is the maximum they are allowed, but should be close to that number. Taylor also intends to do three or four intra-squad scrimmages to make up for the shortened training camp and lack of preseason games.

“We have to do our best to replicate the preseason games we are missing, so we are going to have some scrimmage opportunities,” he said. “There are more situations in practice where we will create some live situations. We have to evaluate our roster and see who can tackle, all the important things you are going to do on game days. It does create a different training camp schedule than we’ve had in years past but … we will be on a good pace to be ready for the first game.”

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