The Bengals bolted as if a rattlesnake had been let loose in their locker room Thursday, but as they broke for their six-week summer vacation the coaches had plenty from their 12 days on the field this spring to load into their players' new iPad playbooks.
By the time the players return to Paul Brown Stadium for training camp on July 27, the coaches and support staff will have pushed enough video into their network that feeds the playbooks to match 300 Netflix movies in a day.
Paul Brown, who invented everything from the Bengals to the draw play, also came up with the playbook and last week the Bengals became one of about 12 NFL teams to take his innovation to the next level with the iPad. On Thursday, Geoff Smith, a retired P&G IT executive who has been consulting with the Bengals for six years, unveiled the team's move to padding their playbook in a project the club says it has committed "hundreds of thousands of dollars."
"It is dramatically going to change the time they spend during the week getting the playbooks published," Smith said of the coaches. "Instead of printing the playbook and collating it into (80) notebooks on a Tuesday night, you can push a button and give it to the players. Andy (Dalton) can be looking at a play Tuesday night or installs instead of 12-14 hours later on Wednesday."
Marvin Lewis, who began his tenure as Bengals head coach nine years ago in the age game plans were faxed to quarterbacks on Tuesday nights before the week of prep began Wednesdays, not only has a different tool now. But the team he'll review on his iPad for the next 42 days is as different as any he's had as he prepares for the Aug. 10 preseason opener at Paul Brown Stadium against the Jets.
"We're a bigger football team. I believe we're a faster football team," Lewis said after Thursday's practice ended the mandatory minicamp. "The depth and development of our young guys has been impressive. That's what will make it a competitive camp. It will make it competitive for the preseason and playing these games.
"That's where guys will win or lose jobs, in playing these preseason games. That's the exciting thing, is when we get out there against the Jets and open things up in the preseason, we'll have a lot of guys playing for keeps."
True to his defensive nature, Lewis talked up the young safeties that are vying for the starting spot opposite Reggie Nelson. He acknowledged that the young corps of receivers has impressed, but he also pointed out that third-year cornerback Brandon Ghee has also emerged in his duels against the likes of Armon Binns, Brandon Tate and Ryan Whalen.
"There's been obviously a lot of talk about Binns and Tate, you know, Whalen, what they're doing," Lewis said. "But I think the defensive side, what Brandon Ghee has done, (safeties) Taylor Mays, Robert Sands, Jeromy Miles, that group, they're coming in where we left open holes for guys to emerge and earn an opportunity to play. I've been pleased with what they're doing."
For example, Sands, the 2011 fifth-rounder from West Virginia who played just one game last season, had some tough moments in coverage and some nice ones. On Wednesday he appeared to let receivers get behind him a few times, but on Thursday he picked off a ball headed for tight end Jermaine Gresham over the middle for an interception of quarterback Andy Dalton.
And the 6-3, 230-pound Mays has been flying around in coverage while special teams ace Jeromy Miles is showing the same instincts and smarts from scrimmage that he's showed on the kick coverage teams.
"We have to get it in the game and that will be fun to watch," Lewis said. "To me, that's the fun and seeing how it transfers to the next step and having to do it along with making tackles and so forth in the preseason games."
Asked if it's a coin flip among Mays, Miles and Sands, Lewis offered, "Not really, but it has been a good competition."
Dalton, headed to Napa Valley next month to celebrate his one-year anniversary, sounds like he's going to toast his new receivers.
"I'm excited about this group," Dalton said. "They haven't been around very long, but we're communicating. Everyone is on the same page. It's the hand signals that we're doing and things like that that everyone is picking up and we don't have to worry."
But now he has to start saying "we're on the same screen" instead of "the same page" thanks to technology.
Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn suggested the iPad playbook to Lewis last year, when only the Bucs and Ravens were using it.
"I kind of declined to do it," said Lewis, citing the lockout. "There was not the opportunity to play with it. The coaches have played with them since the end of May, since before Memorial Day, as far as the new apparatus. The players have had them for this last week. We gave them to them last Thursday, so they've had the opportunity to view them and fool with them over the weekend and then coming back this week. So far, so good. I like the feedback. For a guy to watch what they're watching on the screen clearly (and) watch in front of them, too, if they want and be able to take notes on it, it's very user-friendly."
With Lewis ready to go in January, Smith and video director Travis Brammer went viral.
"Last year almost every player had their own personal iPad and the video department would manually load video," Smith said. "They know how it works better than we do.
"We know it is a proven device and a way of delivering it. That consumed a lot of our video department's time but they were getting killed by 40-50 players wanting video loaded. What this allows us to do is to push the information to them. They are getting it almost in real time. The position groups are getting what they need. It is very secure, now we can give them practice video. They can get video of a classroom session, practice, games. More information in a faster way."
The hours have just opened up for both coaches and players and the scenarios are endless. On Tuesday nights, defensive assistant David Lippincott and offensive assistant Kyle Caskey would be saddled for hours copying and collating about 80 playbooks. Now at about 6 p.m., they're pressing a button and at 6:01 Dalton can be scrolling through it at home. Scouts, coaches, and management have iPads with 4G connections through Verizon.
What's next? Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer loading his lectures a la your history professor?
But then, Dalton's generation is used to all this. He was one of the guys loading up his laptop with video last year.
Smith figures the Bengals have just eliminated from the calendar year about half a million sheets of paper and saved a forest of 30 to 50 trees. While also reducing the stress level of the quarterback.
"The great thing is how quickly they can get stuff on there; you can be looking at things right away," said Dalton, who is also thinking about showing his mates plays from other teams for instruction.
(What better way to show Gresham how the Patriots use Rob Gronkowski on a stick route than to watch Gronkowski running a stick route from that week?)
Dalton figures it would take a mere hour after the practice to review the Sands interception.
And the quarterbacks are going to be better versed on the iPad because they're the only guys that got to take them home for the vacation. There may be no more paper, but there is still paranoia, although Smith says the network is more secure than notebooks.
"If a player was disgruntled they could go to Kinko's and make 100 copies and send it to everyone," Smith said. "They can't do that with this. There is software that allows you to remotely wipe it out."
Now you can't even say the Bengals look good on paper as they break for the summer. But Lewis thinks they look pretty good on the screen.
"I'm excited. I don't know if we're ahead or behind. I'm glad where we are," Lewis said. "I'm glad to come out of these practices where we are. Now we have to go and recharge back up. The guys have to go prepare again, get their body and mind physically prepared for the rigors of training camp and the opening of the season. That's our next challenge."