Bengals players refute reported locker-room issues

Cincinnati Bengals' Giovani Bernard (25) goes in for a touchdown while being tackled by Cleveland Browns' Andrew Sendejo (23) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Credit: AP

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Cincinnati Bengals' Giovani Bernard (25) goes in for a touchdown while being tackled by Cleveland Browns' Andrew Sendejo (23) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Credit: AP

Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard said if COVID-19 protocols weren’t preventing reporters from having their usual access to the locker room, they would see there is no “toxic culture” surrounding the struggling team.

An article on SI.com citing anonymous sources Tuesday painted a picture of trust issues between players and coaches, abusive language and lack of accountability – basically the opposite of what coach Zac Taylor has been preaching since he arrived in February 2019.

Players interviewed on Zoom news conferences Wednesday refuted that report, consistent with what multiple key contributors, such as Bernard, Tyler Boyd and Joe Burrow, have been saying since disgruntled defensive end Carlos Dunlap stirred up similar controversy in his efforts to be traded.

Bernard said the Bengals (2-7-1) have talked about the SI.com article but are trying to remain focused on preparations for Sunday’s home game against the New York Giants (3-7).

“It’s one of those things that’s sad, because one of the things is we don’t have reporters, we don’t have individuals here in the locker room to hear and see the ‘dysfunction,’ because there is none,” Bernard said when asked about the SI.com report. “For myself, I’ve never seen that. It’s one of those things where people are going to try to do that and it is what it is. I pay no attention to it, because I know the type of players that we do have in this locker room.”

“Yeah, people are frustrated, we understand that. Guys are pissed off, and if they’re not pissed off, then there’s an issue there. … Guys are still going to go out there and fight. It’s not one of those things where when we’re on that field guys are slacking off, doing this and doing that. Guys are playing really tough. Guys are doing their job. It’s just that we haven’t really had the good fortune of things turning our way. If you just keep building the blocks, brick by brick, and keep putting the things together it’s going to turn eventually.”

Bernard could have stopped there, but went on to once again defend the coaching staff, specifically Taylor and how he’s handled the team amid a 4-21-1 start to his tenure in Cincinnati.

“I have 100 percent faith in Coach Taylor,” Bernard said. “He’s done an unbelievable job. I’ve had my conversations with him. To have what’s happened here throughout the two years that’s he been here and to still come here each and every single day with a smile and being a leader shows a lot to me and to a lot of other players as well. It’s just one of those things that people don’t really speak about, but it should be known the type of coach that he is. He cares for his players no matter what circumstances and no matter how many wins or losses we have he’s just a guy who comes in here each and every single day ready to work.”

Safety Vonn Bell said he feels like the locker room “is in pretty good shape.”

“We’ve got a good group of guys really trying to gather around the team and the coaching staff too,” Bell said. “We really are just pushing forward. Like I said, what an opportunity, next man up mentality and really just try to come together as one and be unified and just keep on pushing guys because guys got to step up. Just be around them. We’re all here supporting each other, and we’re all here with one cause to win games. That’s what we’ve got to do for the last six weeks, seven weeks. Really putting our best football on film.”

The SI.com article didn’t specify how many players were interviewed, but this isn’t the first time Bengals have complained publicly about the team or the way they’ve handled playing time decisions. Around the time of Dunlap’s trade demands, John Ross, after being benched following a slow start, made it known he wanted traded, and cornerback Darius Philips posted on social media about how his talent shouldn’t be wasted, leading Shawn Williams – pushed to a backup role with Vonn Bell’s arrival – to comment that his shouldn’t be wasted either.

Bernard said speaking to media as an anonymous source is “soft.”

“If you have an issue, Coach Taylor has always been the type of guy, ‘Hey if you have an issue don’t go to the (media),” Bernard said. “Let’s talk about it, let’s hash it out. Let’s not bring all the outside noise, let’s just handle this stuff inside this building. He’s preached that since day one. That’s been Coach Taylor’s thing - protect the team. It’s sad to see that guys just don’t take that approach.”

Asked if these complaints are just something that comes with not being able to please everyone on a team, Taylor said he’s always had a “very strong open-door policy” for players to come talk to coaches, so he wasn’t going to discuss through the media an issue brought up by someone not putting a name to it.

Overall, Taylor still believes there is unity among the Bengals and his message is resonating based on the commitment level he sees in practice and in games.

“I feel really good about the leadership and our connection with the players,” Taylor said. “I really do feel a strong connection amongst the players and the coaches. So again, I know we haven’t won enough games but I do feel really good about our vision, the direction that we are headed and the commitment that we have from our players to help us get to where we are gonna be at. I’m very proud of what these guys have done behind the scenes.”

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