The Cincinnati Bengals are starting to see how the offense will look with new quarterback Joe Burrow, but they’ll begin putting it more to the test when the pads come on Tuesday.
Cincinnati made some adjustments that paid off in the running game in the second half of 2019 and now the passing game will evolve slightly under Burrow.
Players note only small changes in the system since the Bengals moved on from former quarterback Andy Dalton after drafting Burrow with the top overall pick, but fans who followed Burrow at LSU might see some similarities in things he ran there and wrinkles added to the 2020 playbook.
“I think the big thing this year is we’re trying to maximize the things that we were good at last year and kind of replace the things we weren’t so good at, while also adding in the things that Joe Burrow was so good at in college,” said left tackle Jonah Williams, who was sidelined last year because of shoulder surgery but watched the team closely. “It’s a mix of everything. I think coach (Zac) Taylor has his base offense that he wants to run. but it feels like we’re playing into our strengths really well. And I think maybe last year, we didn’t know what our strengths were until we played.”
Wide receiver Tyler Boyd said the Bengals just “tweaked a few concepts” to Burrow’s liking.
Boyd started watching Burrow toward the end of 2019 when it became clear the Bengals would be getting the No. 1 pick and potentially using it to draft the Heisman Trophy winner. Even since then, he’s studied the connection between Burrow and former LSU wide receiver and Vikings first-round pick Justin Jefferson, so Boyd could get an idea what made them click.
“Just seeing them connect on certain routes, and we kind of implemented their concepts into what we’re doing now so that he can continue that same connection with a guy like me,” Boyd said. “Leaving from a guy like Jefferson, we’ve kind of got similar abilities and a similar game. So I feel as long as the timing and the chemistry is put together, he’ll basically be starting from a week after he won his national championship.”
Boyd also is excited about the potential for the offense to add a new dimension with Burrow’s ability to throw on the run or scramble. Burrow and his receivers at LSU seemed to perfect the scramble drill last year, and that’s been an untapped part of the Bengals’ offense under Dalton, who had a career-high of 61 carries in a season and never had more than 184 yards rushing in any of his nine seasons with Cincinnati.
Burrow rushed 115 times for 368 yards and five touchdowns last year and 128 times for 399 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018, his first season at LSU after transferring from Ohio State.
“Extending plays is the biggest key of keeping the offense on the field,” Boyd said. “We really didn’t have too much scramble throw or scramble touchdown last year. It was very limited. But I think that’s the key to winning. You got Russell (Wilson), Lamar (Jackson), everyone scrambles around and tries to make plays and allow the receiver to make separation. Joe, I believe, is a great fit for a guy like that who knows how to utilize his ability in the pocket to maneuver and get away from tacklers so he can extend plays and we can continue to move the ball.”
Boyd isn’t worried about a dropoff in the passing game with a rookie quarterback. Burrow has looked smooth throwing the ball and already is showing confidence, being vocal and bringing a competitive energy to the field.
“Just the confidence, man,” Boyd said. “I can just tell by his swag and his whole demeanor just how he goes about himself. One thing on the field, man, he’s very vocal. So that’s a great start. He’s not shying away from none of the competitiveness and shying away from the position that we want him to be in. I feel like he’s handling everything pretty well.”
The Bengals likely are behind other teams right now that aren’t installing an offense with a new quarterback, and the gradual progression into training camp doesn’t help speed up that process. However, Bengals coach Zac Taylor said it might have been beneficial for the newcomers to have that slower pace to learn before putting the plays into action in a live situation.
Cincinnati strapped on helmets for the first time Thursday and is set for its first padded practice Tuesday. Media will be allowed to attend a session for the first time Monday.
“We have been able to do a lot in the walk-through periods,” Taylor said during his weekly video news conference Tuesday. “It’s really been good for us, because when you don’t have the OTAs and you just been talking through it through Zoom, it is good to be able to do this at a slower pace for two weeks – really for these rookies a little longer now. So, they are going to have a really good grasp of things when we are counting on them to do it full speed against some competition in practice.
“They are gonna be ready for it. We get a chance to iron out a lot of mistakes that we are kind of working through right now. It’s been a really good process for us. We’ve been able to get a lot in.”
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