The transition to a new defensive coordinator last year didn’t go so smoothly for the Cincinnati Bengals.
After the switch from Paul Guenther to Teryl Austin, Cincinnati gave up a league-worst 413.6 yards per game and the third most points at 28.4 per game in 2018. The Bengals fired Austin midway through the season after three straight games of the opponent wracking up more than 500 yards of offense against them.
They are hoping the adjustment under Lou Anarumo is much easier to handle, and so far, the players seem to believe it will for one big reason: Anarumo is making his concepts, ideas and expectations clear.
“I like the style, I like the energy of all the coaches,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “They see things from a different perspective. They are going to call things differently. Coach Louie has been straight forward, straight to the point. He’s been pretty clear about what he wants and the coaches individually are echoing his same plan.”
One big test to that will come Oct. 27 when the Bengals play the 2018 NFC champion Rams in London. The NFL released international games Wednesday morning and were expected to put out the full schedule late Wednesday.
The phrase “clear-cut” was used by at least four different defensive players when asked to describe what’s different about Anaruno’s way of teaching. Several players indicated that wasn’t as much the case under Austin last year. His schemes and calls weren’t necessarily the problem, just the way he delivered them. Linebacker Nick Vigil said it was also a factor that players failed to communicate they if didn’t understand something.
Second-year defensive end Sam Hubbard, who is coming off an impressive rookie season, said the clarity under Anarumo should help the defense this season. Learning the new lingo will be the most important thing because of how important communication is on defense.
“One thing I really like we’re doing this year is there isn’t going to be any gray area,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “Everything is going to be black and white and done the way coach Anarumo wants it. I like that because there’s no hesitation. You can play as fast as humanly possible when you know what to do and when to do it. I think there is some good stuff going in and I like where the scheme is headed.”
If the defense still struggles, it won’t be because of a disconnect between the players and coaches.
Under Anarumo, the Bengals will remain based out of a 4-3 defense and keep the same goal of playing fast, aggressive and smart, but players said it appears they will be more multiple and versatile depending on the opponent. That could mean some 3-4 scenarios or simply using players in different roles.
This is just the second week of voluntary offseason workouts, so the focus has been on learning the playbook and new terminology while the NFL limits teams to strength and conditioning work the first two weeks. Next week, players can get out on the field and start implementing what they’ve been working to install.
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“This was just install (No.) 6 (on Tuesday), but we’re putting in a lot of stuff and it can go a lot of ways depending on who we’re playing and what personnel and just having that flexibility,” Hubbard said. “We want to dictate the game, so that’s where our head is at from what I’m seeing so far.”
New head coach Zac Taylor will be more hands-on with the offense but wants to make sure players on both sides of the ball are comfortable with the way they are doing things. He said last week in his first press conference of the spring that he was mindful of the need to keep some things the same from the past while still putting his own stamp on it, just so players who have been with the team have an easier transition to this staff.
It helps, Taylor said, that he brought in coaches who he believes are good communicators.
“You take everything into the equation,” Taylor said. “I am familiar with how they communicated here in the past. I’ve communicated a certain way the last couple years. It’s a (marriage) of everything. We are trying to make it our own, we really are. There are a lot of things I’ve been comfortable with and that the players are comfortable with that we want to marry together. We know we all are going to be ready on Day 1 of the season, so right know you work through some kinks of it that might be new to the players. But most important is that it all makes sense. Does the way we are calling something make sense, and is it easy for the players to process in the long term? So that has been our starting point.”