Standing outside the meeting room before his first time addressing the team, new Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor could hear the volume of chatter dying down as the time neared 8 a.m.
The players said they were just curious what Taylor would be like standing in front of them and conducting his first team meeting as a head coach.
Cincinnati began voluntary offseason workouts Tuesday at Paul Brown Stadium, beginning with meetings and followed by some strength and conditioning work, which is as much as teams are allowed to do for the first two weeks. Taylor said his first day felt as exciting as a game day, and the players felt his energy.
“He’s definitely a leader,” wide receiver A.J. Green said. “It doesn’t look like his first head coaching job the way he presents himself in the meeting room in front of the team. It’s like he’s been there before.”
Taylor’s first game will be the weekend of Aug. 8-12 when the Bengals travel for a preseason matchup at Kansas City. The preseason schedule was announced Tuesday as well with the second game also on the road against the Washington Redskins, followed by home games against the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts.
Green had already been around Taylor some this offseason while doing some of his rehab from toe surgery in Cincinnati, so he knew what to expect from the new coach in terms of his personality, but there was still some curiosity as to how his first meeting would go.
Taylor centered his message around the new slogan: “It’s about us.”
“All that matters is what’s inside these walls, the people in these walls,” Taylor said in a press conference. “There are so many distractions, so many different things going on outside these walls, they can distract you and divert you from what’s really important. I just want the players and coaches understand as we take care of business inside these walls, we’ll be able to achieve what we want to achieve.”
Taylor wants his players to connect as a team and understand the culture he is trying to build before they worry about Xs and Os – though Taylor is excited about implementing the new schemes and introducing the new playbook, which finally was distributed Tuesday.
The players all had T-shirts with the new slogan hanging in their lockers, and the message was well-received.
“It makes everything all about the team,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “It’s not about the older guys that played here. I used to see all the legend guys. Now it’s about us. ‘It’s about us’ is kind of his message. It made me feel good. I am just excited to be back.”
Green said the message he got was that everyone is held to the same high standard, and everyone’s role – whatever it might be — is important to the team’s success.
“Football is not an ‘I’ game,” said Green, who has no limitations but expects to ease into workouts with the team. “It’s a lot of guys doing the job the right way. That’s the biggest thing for us. We all have to do our jobs for us to be successful, and that’s what we are preaching.”
Some outside the building are projecting a rough year for Cincinnati with a new young coach, inexperienced offensive and defensive coordinators and not much change so far with the roster, but veterans on the team have heard that before.
That might be part of what Taylor is describing as potential distractions, but the players aren’t concerned.
“What is today, April what? April 9th,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “Everybody wants to form an opinion on what it’s going to be like. There’s a lot of time left. We haven’t even put pads on, we haven’t even started playing games. So for us, our focus right now is learning what we’re trying to do, get used to the newness of how things are going to be and go from there.”
Players say the fresh start under a new coach brings a different kind of energy, but especially under 35-year-old Taylor. After three straight years missing the playoffs, change was welcome, and the Bengals look forward to seeing how Taylor’s ideas and way of doing things jump starts the team.
“I feel like this year, there’s a lot of energy around here,” Kirkpatrick said. “Guys get a fresh start. There are some guys that needed a fresh start. I needed a fresh start. No overhead. Let that go. Just go out and play ball, be positive and come to work every day.”