The Cincinnati Bengals have known the same basic defensive principals for the better part of a decade under former coordinators Mike Zimmer and protégé Paul Guenther, but Teryl Austin will bring a new flare to that side of the ball this season.
Austin replaced Guenther during the offseason after four years as defensive coordinator for the Lions, and he heads into his first Bengals training camp Thursday anxious to see how well players can build on what they learned during spring workouts.
The 53-year-old is one of a slew of changes made to the staff in an effort to allow 16th-year head coach Marvin Lewis a chance to turn things around after back-to-back losing seasons.
“It’s new,” Austin said of his defense. “They had to get used to me and how I’m coaching and teaching and the different things that we’re doing. So, I think it was imperative that we got it in (this spring) and our guys did a good job in terms of keeping information, retaining information and working with it. Now, the thing we’ll do now once we get into camp is try to fine tune it.”
Austin said he was able to install the majority of what he wants to do during the team’s offseason workout program, but as training camp gets underway, the Bengals will focus more on goal-line and short yardage situations and preparing for various other specific intricacies.
The defense is not “completely new,” Austin clarified, but his way of doing things will be different than what the Bengals grew accustom to in recent years. Guenther kept much of the defense the same when he took over for Zimmer in 2014. Cincinnati ranked 17th in allowing 21.8 points per game last year after ranking eighth (19.7 ppg) in 2016.
“I wouldn’t say we’re reinventing the wheel,” Austin said. “You got Cover-3, you got Cover-2, you got quarters, you got man. There’s only so many ways you can do stuff. But I think more importantly it’s how you teach it, the techniques you teach, what are you looking at, what are some of the things you’re doing and how you do it that’s maybe just a little bit different than maybe what we’ve done it in the past.”
Sometimes it might appear the Bengals are pressuring more, and other times it won’t look any different, Austin said.
He describes his style as aggressive – not necessarily always blitzing – and most notably wants to improve the team’s run defense. Cincinnati gave up 127.9 rushing yards per game last year, and only two teams (the Chargers and Redskins) were worse in that regard.
“We’re out there to play really hard, play really physical and try to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage,” Austin said. “That’s one of the things I want our defense to be known for. I want our defense to be known as a really solid tackling team as well. I think that’s an art that maybe we just don’t see very often. You see a lot of teams that aren’t very good tacklers. Defensively we want to be a good tackling team. I don’t want a guy who comes, ‘Well, I’m just a cover corner.’ No, you’re a football player. Football players get off blocks and we tackle. I’d like to us to be known as an aggressive team, a really good tackling team and a smart team, too, that doesn’t beat itself.”
Sometimes being aggressive means taking risks, and Austin doesn’t mind that. It seemed to work well for the defensive backs in OTAs this spring, as several interceptions came from jumping routes.
“I think that they are calculated risks based on formations and things that you see, but I do want our guys to be aggressive,” Austin said. “I don’t ever want our guys to be afraid to make a play, because if you’re afraid to make a play then you’ll never make a play. You will be so cautious that you’ll never get beat, but you’ll never make a play. I think be taking the OTA time and talking to our guys about, ‘If you think you can make that interception, go for it.’ They get a sense of what they can and can’t do. … We’ll be aggressive, we’ll go after balls, we’ll try to knock the ball out, we’ll try to intercept the ball and then I think what happens is guys get comfortable with it and know what they can and can’t do and then they make really good decisions.”