CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals owner and president Mike Brown said now that coach Zac Taylor has had a couple years to settle in and get established, it’s “critical” the results start to show.
As Brown put it, this is Taylor’s team now, and the hope is for a winning team.
As the Bengals officially begin training camp Wednesday, Taylor heads into his third season with a 6-25-1 record, including a 4-11-1 showing in 2020.
“Zac is a very smart, good young coach,” Brown said Monday at the Bengals’ media luncheon and his first meeting with reporters since 2019. “He’s had a couple years to get his feet on the ground, get established. We’ve got a team that is three-quarters his players, new players that have come since he came. It’s his team now, and my hope is the same as his hope, which is to have a winning team.
“And we all have the same goal, which is to have a Super Bowl winning team. We know how hard that is. We have yet to manage that, and we’ve been trying for a long while. So, for him, he’s aware of all this that we’re talking about now, obviously, and he’s got this opportunity. It’s critical to him and us both. I really feel good about our chances. But I’m fully aware that you have to go out on the field and prove it. You can’t just talk about it.”
Asked how he will measure success this season, Brown didn’t give a specific target number of wins.
“We know how it’s measured publicly, you better win,” Brown said. “That’s how the public will measure us. Are there things beyond that? There are, and you can see progress with the quarterback and the pass offense. You want to see progress with protection. We want to get more pressure on the passer -- all those things. And do we note those? Yes. But when you get down to the end, it comes down to wins and losses, and that’s where we know we have to show better.”
Brown said he feels good about the team, especially if healthy. The Bengals rebuilt the secondary with all new cornerbacks joining safeties Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell, and the defensive line saw some additions to go along with D.J. Reader’s expected return from injury.
The key piece, he said, is quarterback Joe Burrow. If healthy and fit, the expectation is for Burrow to make big steps in Year 2, and he has the receivers and running back to be successful. Brown thinks the offensive line -- which added veteran right tackle Riley Reiff in free agency and Clemson and Fairfield High School product Jackson Carman in the second round of the draft – will be improved.
“Our offensive line is going to surprise people,” Brown said. “I think we have an excellent offensive line coach (Frank Pollack). I think our guys are a mix of youth and experience. We’ve added new people last year, this year. We have people who have been with us who are coming along. Jonah Williams. I think he’ll show that he’s up to it this season. We know it has been something of an Achilles’ heel. It has to be addressed. We’ve tried our best to do that. We think it will show better. And yet I can sit up here and tell you all that. The proof is in the pudding. People have to see. Then they’ll be convinced if we do what we should do.”
Brown isn’t thrilled, though, about the possibility of unforeseen COVID-19 issues impacting the results.
The NFL has implemented strict health and safety protocols, some of which won’t impact the Bengals because 90 percent of the team is vaccinated, but the league informed clubs that COVID-19 outbreaks among unvaccinated players could lead to forfeited games and impact paychecks.
“I like to think we could work through this cooperatively,” Brown said. “We all want the same goal. I don’t know that I appreciate being threatened. Nobody does. The players don’t either. But I will say this. I’m aware of it and probably that’s what they wanted. They wanted us to take notice and that might incentive us to do the things we need to do to give us the best chance to have a complete season.”
Cincinnati has less than 10 players who aren’t vaccinated and another 10 who will be considered fully vaccinated in about two weeks. Brown commended the league for successfully completing what he called a “spooky season” last year and is thankful players were cooperative about getting the vaccine so the team has less restrictions.
The 85-year-old Brown also looks forward to getting back to full capacity this season with fans at Paul Brown Stadium and is excited about some of the fan engagement initiatives implemented this offseason, including the Ring of Honor to recognize past Bengals who had an impact on the organization.
“I have a granddaughter, and unlike my kids she’s not afraid of me,” Brown said of Elizabeth Blackburn, who spearheaded the initiatives like the new jersey reveal and Ring of Honor. “She comes in and just tells me. So now we will have a Ring of Honor. I think it is something that has been very well received by the players and veteran players. I’ve had a chance to talk to some of them and they’re excited about it. It’s a form of recognition. It tells them that they mattered and they were successful during their time as a player. That cuts a lot of ice with them. It’s been fun working through this. I think the fans will find it fun. It’ll be good to see old players that did well for us return, and we look forward to this unfolding this year and then it will go on in the future.”