A.J. Green wasn’t even a participant in the Cincinnati Bengals’ first practice of Organized Team Activities on Monday, but he loved the pace he saw as he watched from the sidelines.
The seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver won’t be going through OTAs this spring as a precautionary measure while he returns from toe surgery that ended his 2018 season early.
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He looks forward to getting more involved whenever that times comes, though —- he said definitely by the start of training camp but possibly by minicamp in mid-June. For now, Green is just running some routes on the side and doing a little rehab work.
“I like the tempo,” Green said Monday when asked about what he saw from the first practice. “Everything is so fast-paced. We’ve got a lot of plays. There’s no standing around. It’s boom, boom, boom. The ones out, twos in and then ones right back in. I like that. It’s different.”
The Bengals were moving from drill to drill and rotating in and out more quickly than in the past and even showing more motions in setting up the offense.
Green called it a “complex offense” that requires players to be in their playbooks more often to make sure they understand all the little intricacies that come with it. Although that makes their jobs more difficult, Green said it’s exciting to be a part of an offense that he believes will put everyone’s talents on better display.
“The sky is the limit with this offense,” Green said. “I feel like this offense mirrors a lot of when we had Jay (Gruden), a lot of deep shots and a lot of stuff like that. It could be a big deal.”
Defensive end Carlos Dunlap is entering his 10th season with the Bengals and can’t recall seeing anything quite like Taylor’s offense, though.
“The offense threw in a lot of different looks that I haven’t seen, so it was fun (to go against),” Dunlap said. “Being an experienced guy and seeing new looks, that’s rare.”
Players were still adjusting to that higher tempo the first day, though.
While they seemed to understand where they were supposed to line up and what they were supposed to do, Taylor said there were way too many unforced errors and times the ball hit the ground. Mental mistakes are something that should cut down as OTAs progress over the next three weeks.
“I thought the energy was good,” Taylor said. “Guys came out and they were ready to roll, it’s just now a matter of now we’ve got guys across from us which we haven’t had for the last three weeks. Getting used to that tempo and what it’s like to compete against somebody. I don’t want to make excuses for what today looked like, but we do expect tomorrow to be better.”
Having several key players out also could have contributed to some of the sloppiness. Green, tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Joe Mixon were among those working on the rehab field during the individual drills portion of the practice. The offensive line was missing several backups, as Alex Redmond, Christian Westermann and Trey Perkins were nowhere to be seen, and long-time starting left guard Clint Boling was on the rehab field.
Taylor didn’t want to discuss injuries or reasons certain players didn’t participate but said that wasn’t an acceptable excuse for the mistakes. Players will get up to speed soon enough.
“We expect the guys out there to compete like a starting unit,” Taylor said. “Whether A.J. Green’s out there or not or Joe Mixon’s out there it doesn’t matter. The guys have to be ready to play, that’s life in the NFL. You’re going to have injuries throughout the season so we’ve got to make sure that we’re three deep at these positions right now and everybody we expect to step up and be able to make plays and execute.”
Taylor wasn’t surprised to see the defense looked ahead of the offense on Day 1 just because of how complex the offense is, but that’s also a credit to what defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is doing. The Bengals were blitzing a lot and getting to the ball quickly, making things even more difficult on the offense, which is something Taylor was glad to see. He hopes to continue to see some good competition throughout the rest of the spring workouts.
“The defense I thought outplayed the offense (the first day),” Taylor said. “That’s not unexpected day one of training camp, day one of OTAs. I did like the energy of the defense. They were well coordinated, they moved around right and they got us in the backfield a couple of times. I thought the defense did a really good job coming off the ball.”
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