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Bengals Eye Draft To Continue Franchise Transformation

Zac Taylor eyes his second draft as Bengals head coach.
Zac Taylor eyes his second draft as Bengals head coach.

Never mind showing his hand.

With the Bengals about 50 or so hours away from making one of those No. 1 selections that dictates a decade for an NFL franchise, head coach Zac Taylor barely lifted a finger in Tuesday's first pre-draft news conference of the Zooming '20s.

He wouldn't even say they're keeping the pick even though long before the Las Vegas draft was cancelled the smart money installed LSU quarterback Joe Burrow the presumptive No. 1. The Bengals are already emerging from a rollicking month of March they committed a free agency record of more than $150 million. Because of that and the pandemic, last season's 2-14 record almost seems to be ancient history.

"I have a hard time looking at it as a new era. It's what we've gone through for the last 12 months since we've been here," said Taylor, embarking on his second draft as the head man. "We have to continue to adapt and improve and learn from all of the things that we've done over the last 12 months, good and bad.

"We've got to continue to learn from them and improve upon them and find new ways to do things if necessary and find ways to improve upon things that we thought we did well. I have a hard time just calling it a new era … It's part of our process of establishing our culture and making sure we get the most out of our coaches and players and being prepared to be successful when September rolls around."

If September does roll around. Like the NFL, the Bengals have attacked the uncertainty of the pandemic as if it won't impact the start of the regular season but there are signs it's not business as usual.

With the Burrow pick appearing to be all but a certainty, other topics are trying to push to center stage:

The status of incumbent starting quarterback Andy Dalton. Drafting of players without the benefits of pro days or stadium visits. The trade value of the first pick in the second round. Simply the spectacle of the first live sporting event, the first live anything, in more than a month of heartbreak.

"I think in general people I know that maybe don't follow football as closely as a lot of people, they are just excited to see something that's unscripted and you don't know how it's going to turn out," Taylor said. "I think at this point, people would be watching pretty much anything that falls into this category. It happens to be the NFL Draft, which is great.

"It's kind of like you're playing the first game of the season, it's that level of excitement right now. That's how I feel, and I imagine that's how a lot of people that follow the sport closely, maybe even people that don't follow the sport closely, will be interested just because it's something different to be able to watch. So, it's exciting in that regard."

After sitting through Monday's two-round mock draft to smooth out the rough spots of the first virtual draft, Taylor pronounced himself satisfied with the communication despite a snafu that began the exercise. But the Bengals weren't involved in the mishap as the league traded the pick to begin an effort to involve all 32 teams in the first 16 picks.

"Pretty smooth," Taylor said.

But in real life all indications are a Bengals trade wouldn't happen until No. 33 at the top of the second round. They've got a streak of trading back in the second round three straight years but this year, in all probability, they'll be staring at a player they have bestowed a first-round grade and have all day Friday to listen to offers.

"It's always fun to guess at what we would do and what scenarios pop up," Taylor said, "but until they do, we just make sure we proceed with our plans of making the picks we're planning on making and having the conversations over the course of the day on who that player's going to be. If something pops up, we'll have the conversations and take the best route available."

The Bengals and the teams haven't been shortchanged exposure to the prospects. Not with FaceTime or Zoom, and the ability to talk to them three times a week for an hour each. The tough thing is that about half of the 30 prospects they always invite for a Paul Brown Stadium visit weren't at the NFL scouting combine and don't have a physical by the team.

"I would say the biggest thing that you lose out in is just bringing those top 30 guys into your facility and really getting a chance to use that full day however you wanted to use it to get to know that guy," Taylor said. "That's the biggest thing that you really can't replicate through a FaceTime call, is forming that personal relationship with a guy when you're eating lunch with him or meeting with him in your office for two hours.

"I can't say with certainty that you learned more about a prospect than years past. I can't say. But again, we utilized our time wisely and we feel like we've got a great grasp on these guys," Taylor said. "I'm talking about the trainers and the scouting departing trying to uncover all the information that they can on the guys who are dealing with issues from an injury standpoint. They have really put in a lot of the leg work to make sure that we have a final picture of all the information that we are going to be able to acquire on a player before we decide if we are going to pick them or not."

Although it's hard to see Dalton, the Bengals' winningest quarterback ever, sticking around for the next franchise quarterback, Taylor said it remains a distinct possibility, although he didn't say one of the reasons is because they could be facing only a training camp of practices and no spring workouts. A daunting assignment for a rookie quarterback, indeed, any young player.

"We've already made a lot of those decisions," Taylor said of the composition between veterans and rookies. "We'll take the draft picks allotted to us and get those guys up to speed. You'll be leaning on your veterans this year if the offseason is reduced. If something is reduced, you certainly want to lean on the guys who have experience under their belts, guys that you believe are leaders on the team, so we're counting on them.

"But at the same time, we're not going to make excuses for the young guys. We're counting on them to play. We're going to make sure that they can maximize their abilities virtually, however it looks. We have to make sure those guys are up to speed to help us out."

The virtual offseason starts the Monday after the draft for the veterans and that's a whole other story. The rookies can't start until May 11 and if you want to know if they're going to arrive here by position or need, Taylor gave the answer when asked if he's ready to take the current offensive line into Opening Day.

"We won't be afraid to help ourselves at any position. If the right player is there that we have a good grade on and they're in the right spot I think we're certainly open to making our team the best it can be and not being afraid to upgrade at any position," Taylor said." There are some good linemen in this draft who can help you. You're always carrying eight or nine linemen so you're always looking to add as starters, as depth. We'll see how it all shakes out, but there are a lot of quality players on the offensive line in this draft."

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