The Bengals are being really thoughtful about how they’re handling their offseason program. Last year, coming out of the Super Bowl against the Rams, and facing the shortest offseason in NFL history, Zac Taylor made the decision to lop two weeks off the team’s program to give his players extra rest. It worked so well for everyone last year that Taylor decided to do something not identical, but awfully similar this year.
The details …
• Teams are allowed 10 OTA practices, which include the three that are generally allotted for a mandatory full-squad minicamp. The Bengals scheduled only six of those.
• While Cincinnati’s offseason program started at the same time as most other teams with returning head coaches (April 17), the team’s Phase I, at which point most clubs start positional and team meetings, had only strength-and-conditioning work. In scheduling things that way, Phase I would be truly voluntary in that no one would fall behind by missing those days.
• The team took one week that would normally be Phase III and made it an extra week of Phase II, which was easy to do with four practices lopped off the schedule, and a clear sign that the Bengals were focusing on the mental work and team-building in the spring.
• For the six practices the Bengals will have, teaching is emphasized. Any 11-on-11 work is done at a walk-through pace, with only 20 plays of 7-on-7 work at full speed in each practice, giving the big men a better chance to be fresh going into the summer.
• The overall message is clear: If you show up, the Bengals are going to take care of you and be efficient with the work (getting the bulk done over a shorter period), emphasizing building back chemistry, camaraderie and learning.
So how has it worked? Well, the coaches would tell you that last year’s team was healthy and fresh late in the season, and they didn’t have the rash of late soft-tissue injuries other teams did. It’s hard to argue the point, given that the Bengals finished the season on a eight-game winning streak and got back to a second consecutive AFC title game, losing that one at the wire at Arrowhead to the Chiefs.
The players, too, have responded. Jonah Williams has been away rehabbing and on a trade request all offseason. Tyler Boyd made the decision to spend time with his family this spring, but just about everyone else has been on hand since Day 1 of Phase II, with about 60 guys popping in and out through Phase I.
The result is what the Bengals feel like has been an excellent spring with their Super Bowl–caliber roster. Which speaks to Taylor’s approach to treating players like professionals in the spring, rather than feeling like he has to babysit anyone.