Zac Taylor: ‘It’s the next Sunday and we’re playing’

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor works the sidelines during the second half of NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor works the sidelines during the second half of NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)

Bengals coach looking forward to season opener

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor never let doubt creep into his mind about whether or not there would be an NFL season this year.

Even as the entire offseason workout program was washed and turned into virtual meetings, Taylor said he remained optimistic about the fall and kept plugging along as though nothing would change.

Now, this week it’s almost surreal to be preparing for a season opener Sunday against the L.A. Chargers, a game that will be played in an empty Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals have been working together for just over a month and are ready to take the plunge into competitive games.

“We always proceeded like we were playing until someone told us otherwise,” Taylor said. “While that was certainly public conversation with people, it was never a private conversation with us. It was, ‘Let’s move forward. Make sure we’re prepared to get the things installed and run the way they need to be and be ready to play week one, September 13th.’ It’s fortunate we had that mindset because it’s all true.”

Taylor said there’s “just a different energy” this week as players transition into game week mode.

The Bengals are practicing in the afternoons to line up more with when they will be playing Sunday, as kickoff is set for 4:05 p.m., an unusual time for a home game. They held a session Monday in the stadium and have gotten plenty of chances to get a feel for the turf and no fans in the seats.

“There are no more Sundays going to go by,” Taylor said. “It’s the next Sunday and we’re playing. So we have to be on top of the details and that’s been the challenge for the guys all training camp. This week is really no different in that regard. It’s just you feel the game is coming. … We’ve done our best to put these guys in those positions so that it feels normal on Sunday.”

The Bengals will be testing out new quarterback Joe Burrow and the other rookies without any preseason games to help with the adjustment. It also will be the first NFL game for 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams, who missed all of his rookie season recovering from shoulder surgery.

Cincinnati held three scrimmages to simulate games, and even though there was no live tackling, players said that gave them at least somewhat of a feel for what to expect. The defenses will both be flying hard Sunday.

“It’s the best thing you can do when you don’t have preseason games with everything going on with COVID right now,” Williams said. “Obviously going against guys we have here, one of the better D-lines in the NFL. That’s been helpful for me being able to go against them in practices and scrimmages.”

Burrow not only will be adjusting to the speed of the game, and how hard defensive linemen can hit in the NFL, but he also hasn’t had much time with some of the team’s best receivers. A.J. Green missed most of training camp because of hamstring tightness and was limited to individual position drills when he returned two weeks ago up until now, as Taylor says he is full go.

Rookie second-round draft pick Tee Higgins got a late start in camp because of a hamstring issue as well, and John Ross missed time while in California with his ill son and then suffered a minor arm injury shortly after his return.

“We try to be creative with how we get those guys to work with his rhythm and timing with each receiver,” Taylor said. “Sometimes that can be a part of just the routes, sometimes it’s a group install. There are times in 11 on 11 when everyone is in the huddle. All the pieces work together and sometimes you can get that one-off work and they don’t always have to be in the huddle together.”

Taylor said he’s looking forward to seeing what his offense looks like with Green, as he never got to coach a game with him on the field last year. He indicated Green will be on a snap count, as he eases back into play for his first game since December 2, 2018, but the advantage of having him play at all is that defenses have to prepare for him.

That will help take pressure off the other receivers, as well.

“We’re fortunate because we’re deep at receiver and we feel like there are a lot guys that can step in there and be a primary receiver,” Taylor said. “Obviously A.J. Green is A.J. Green, there’s no replacing him. But our guys have had a strong training camp. … You call a play and you don’t necessarily have to look to see who’s out there to make sure what play to call. You feel the confidence all those guys can execute their jobs.”

As for the defense, the Bengals will be preparing for an L.A. Chargers team playing a new quarterback as Tyrod Taylor has been announced the starter instead of rookie Justin Herbert.

Linebacker Josh Bynes said not having preseason games to see how Tyrod Taylor looks in that offense is a challenge, but the players will adjust Sunday as needed.

“Obviously we’ve got to wait until Sunday to see exactly what we’re going to get from them and what they plan to do as an offense, what direction are they going?” Bynes said. “I think it’s going to take us looking at what we look at and then obviously there’s going to be adjustments come Sunday, and just be ready for that.”