Bengals want to put 4-win season in past

Some are boycotting OTAs, but Cincinnati has 100 percent participation

CINCINNATI -- After a four-win season, the Cincinnati Bengals have work to do. The players acknowledge such in their willingness and desire to participate in voluntary Organized Team Activities this offseason.

The team had full attendance for the first OTA session open to media Tuesday and even those not cleared to participate with the full group were either working to the side or watching.

“We were (4-11-1) last year,” Bengals nose tackle D.J. Reader said. “We don’t want that to happen again. We had a new team with a bunch of young guys that are coming around. ...We wanted to respect the rest of the league, and we stand in solidarity with those guys, but we knew we had to work as a team getting around the guys together.”

While the Bengals have opted to participate in three weeks of voluntary practices in helmets and shorts, players from at least 21 teams elected to boycott offseason workouts out of belief that they are not necessary and could be more harmful than helpful because of injuries.

Only the mid-June minicamps are mandatory.

According to the team’s new player representative, safety Jessie Bates, a consensus emerged via phone calls and Zooms that a young team with so many new faces (10 new starters including the kicker) needed to start being on the field together.

“The biggest thing of a winning football team is the communication part,” Bates said. “And I felt like we had 100% of the guys on the Zoom when we were having conversations with the negotiations, so there’s no surprise on that start right there. I think a lot of people are excited to make that first impression, not only on the coaches but on the other teammates as well.”

Bates joked that when the defensive backs went to dinner Monday night at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, the waitresses didn’t recognize a bunch of them and were asking, “Who are all these new guys?”

If nothing else is accomplished on the field, a chance to get to know their new teammates and match up a name with a face in person is worthwhile, but Bates said the Bengals want to “reset the standard” and that is why players showed up.

“That’s what you’ll build,” Bates said when asked what the new standard is. “We don’t know exactly what that will be. But as you get to know people, I think roles will be placed in just naturally. I think that’s best and not really forced. We’re not sure what the standard is. It has to be very different, though. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

Teams were limited to virtual meetings last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and training camp was their first chance to get together. The NFL also didn’t have a preseason last year, which returns in 2021 with the elimination of one exhibition game.

After not having an in-person offseason last year, Bengals coach Zac Taylor of course was excited to see full attendance Tuesday, but he also wasn’t surprised by it.

“We have had great communication with our players, I knew they were excited to get back,” Taylor said. “They all feel like we’ve got a lot of work to do. We can’t afford to miss some opportunities that are provided to us, so I was happy to see everybody back in the fold and it’s really exciting to be back on the grass.”

Taylor said players looked good physically, despite the heat, and there was nothing concerning that first day, which is usually the most difficult. The team continued workouts Wednesday and Thursday and will be back on the practice fields Tuesday.

The biggest thing Taylor hopes to get from OTAs is chemistry-building. That was something the Bengals tried their best to do over Zooms last year and found there’s no substitute for in-person contact.

“We have a lot of new guys,” Taylor said. “Free agents, draft picks, guys coming off injury: CJ (Uzomah), Joe Mixon, all those guys coming back, Trae Waynes. Just getting them back out there with their coaches, their teammates, developing the chemistry and getting to do things full speed. A lot of times your mind will tell you you can do something, you’re in a meeting room, yeah, I can do that. But getting out there and actually doing it, reacting to it, I think even if we’re only getting 10 of these opportunities, plus the mandatory minicamp, we’ll take advantage of all of them.

“There’s some really quality stuff that we can get done. And it’s a lot more enjoyable for the players and even the coaches to an extent. When we were watching tape from practice and we were all virtual last year, it was just watching the 2019 season over and over again and finding cutups from around the league. Now, you get a chance to go out there. Even if it’s on air, make some of those corrections, splits, landmarks and timing, it makes it a lot more enjoyable and fun.”

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