Bengals coach on getting to know prospects at NFL Combine: ‘It’s a little bit like speed dating’

Teams are allowed to talk to 45 players for 18-minute interviews

This time last year, the Cincinnati Bengals’ new coaching staff was scrambling to piece together ideas as information came flooding in about prospects they might target in the draft.

Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo was hired just days before the 2019 NFL Combine, the rest of the staff was pieced together not much earlier and the scouting event in Indianapolis served as the first big step in draft preparations under head coach Zac Taylor.

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Taylor went into this week’s Combine much more confident and with a much better thought-out plan.

“That’s the beauty of getting through Year 1 as a new coaching staff is we finally got a chance to get our hands on the players, see how they best fit our schemes, what additions do we need to make to really help ourselves next year,” Taylor said. “That’s where free agency and the draft come into play.”

The Bengals tried to downplay how rushed they were last year getting ready for the Combine. At that point, they had not even met most of the players on their own roster because Taylor wasn’t hired until after the Super Bowl.

Director of player personnel Duke Tobin and carryovers from Marvin Lewis’ staff played a key role in the transition, but now Taylor can provide more input on what he needs to implement his systems.

“It’s always easier going into the second year,” Tobin said. “We feel like we’re further along in the evaluation process together as a group and kind of knowing what we want and what we’re looking for. So, I think the second year is the big jump year for our systems and how we work together, for sure.”

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The combine this year also is different just because of some changes the league made to the schedule and how much time coaches get with players. So, while the Bengals had more time to come up with the list of prospects they wanted to meet with, they didn’t have the benefit of talking to as many of them.

Instead of being able to talk to 60 prospects as in the past, teams only are able to talk to 45. The interviews now last 18 minutes instead of 15, and position coaches get another 15 minutes to meet informally with players.

Taylor said he and Tobin do a lot of the talking in the interviews but the staff has a “good routine” of who speaks and what kind of questions are asked.

“It’s a little bit like speed dating, yeah,” Taylor said. “You have to be really well-prepared. That’s what we’ve spent really the last two weeks to make sure we’re on the same page, who do you want to talk to and what do you want to talk to each guy about specifically. … There’s kind of a process you go through to try to get as much information as you can and if you don’t get enough you go to the Pro Days and get a chance to work them out. Everyone wants you to make those picks today, but we’ve still got two more months in this process to interview guys, go watch them work out and make sure we’re making the right decisions.”

The Bengals also benefited this year from coaching the Senior Bowl and getting a chance to work directly with some of the prospects they might be interested in drafting. Some of those players they planned to revisit in interviews this week, but the Senior Bowl experience also helped eliminate some players they know they don’t need more time evaluating or interviewing.

“It does give you a leg up in the process,” Taylor said. “You get a chance to meet face to face, see how they interact with the coaching in meetings and on the field, how quickly they can take that information and try to make themselves a better player. That process really helped us.”

Not all the players work out while at the combine, but for those that do, the on-field workouts now are being televised in prime time. The NFL Network was scheduled to air the workouts from Lucas Oil Stadium from 4 to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2-7 p.m. Sunday. In the past, workouts took place earlier in the day.

There also are a total of 16 new drills included this year, spread out across all the position groups.

“I think it will be interesting,” Taylor said. “They changed some of the drills on the field, which it’s kind of been the same way a long time, so it will be exciting to see. I know they added the red-zone fade drill down there with the quarterbacks and receivers, so I’m interested to see how that one plays out. It will give you something new to watch.”

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