The Bengals and Rams, the kissing cousins of the NFL, got together Wednesday for the first of two joint practices and the crispness and no-frills punctuality of the camp on the sweltering Kettering Health Practice Fields in downtown Cincinnati showed why these teams ran so well last season and played each other in the Super Bowl.
The coaches should have been dressed business casual.
The offenses and defenses worked against each other on adjacent fields for about 90 minutes. While the Bengals' new No. 1 offensive line stood up with some give and take to the Rams' No. 1 defensive line that bedeviled the old one a few months ago, the Bengals defensive line again showed up stout like it did that day in SOFI. Meanwhile, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and Rams head coach Sean McVay had the trains running on time with no smashups.
"Good work," everyone said and one coach added, "And there was no B.S."
Since Taylor worked under McVay, that would make sense with so many similar organizational philosophies. But the Bengals-Rams tie stretches past Taylor and McVay to a man standing on the sidelines in Rams gear looking to say hello to Bengals president Mike Brown.
When Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis hired Jay Gruden in 2011 as offensive coordinator, one of the first things Gruden tried to do is hire McVay away from Washington, where he had just turned 25 and was an offensive assistant, and make him the receivers coach.
But Washington didn't give him permission to go to the Bengals and made McVay tight ends coach while Gruden went with James Urban. Gruden knew McVay from his days with the Buccaneers and took him to the UFL.
"It worked out well for everybody because James was great," said Gruden, now a Rams consultant, of quarterback Lamar Jackson's current position coach in Baltimore.
"And if Washington had given (McVay) permission, history would have stayed the same. I would have hired him in Washington when I became head coach (2014), made him the youngest offensive coordinator ever and he would have left a few years later and won a Super Bowl."
Which is of course, what happened. It looks like Gruden knew what he had in McVay and McVay knew what he had in Taylor.
On Wednesday, it was all business.
McVay, who, like Taylor, appreciates a leader when he sees one, made sure he talked to Bengals free safety Jessie Bates III walking off the field. Since Bates signed his franchise tender on Tuesday, he's not practicing yet and McVay wanted to tell him how well he thought he was handling his contract situation.
"He gave me some love," Bates said. "He said he studied me before our game and he has a lot of respect for how I play the game and kind of player I am."
After asking McVay a question, it's a lot like listening to Taylor. Each man has turned a franchise coveting and nurturing locker room leaders.
"Every year is a new year," McVay said after the pleasantries. "I feel good about the player-leadership we have."
That's how Wednesday went. It was all quite professional and business-like.
On the next-to-last-play of the Bengals defensive series, cornerback Chidobe Awuzie knocked away a deep pass from the man that killed the Bengals on the last drive and now leers from the cover of the 2022 NFL Record and Fact Book as Super Bowl MVP.
Cooper Kupp said something like, "Sweet, Chido," or something like that after the play. They have the same agent and were workout partners before the draft, so they know each other. And Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford knows Awuzie after he picked him in the Super Bowl.
"We see it every day. We've got a few guys like that ourselves," Awuzie said. "It's a great measuring stick. (Kupp) walked back (to the huddle) and said he tried to show his hands late, but he didn't get me. Ja'Marr (Chase) does a really good on that, so he didn't get me."
The last time we saw Chase, the Bengals' record-breaking rookie wide receiver, and Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, one of the very best, Chase was running past him on the last play of the Super Bowl as Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald had Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow in a bear hug.
On Wednesday, Chase was picking Ramsey's brain about his "catch," technique and we're not talking about those kinds of catches Chase does 120 times after practice. He's talking about the technique Ramsey uses to cover.
"He's the only guy I've seen do it," Chase said. "It's a rule now. They say he can do it.
"(Ramsey) plays eight-to-ten yards off. So if I do a go route or a double move, he's still at 10 and sits there on his body and I'll run into him. You're not going to call a penalty on either of us unless I intentionally run through him. I have to make him miss and (make him) hold me. The best thing I can do is push his (butt) off. Just keep trying to get open, keep fighting to do my job."
Chase is really impressed with how quickly Ramsey reads the quarterback and how he knows routes. "He's a hell of a player." He says he didn't line up much against Ramsey on Wednesday with Ramsey playing more slot as he recovers from shoulder surgery.
And Ramsey had a nice day, almost picking Burrow twice. But Chase got his licks in, too. He made a leaping one-handed catch on Ramsey on the sideline boxing him out.
"Again, a great throw by Joe," Chase said. "He's like the MJ (Michael Jordan) Affect. He helps people get better out there."
Chase also ran a solid out route against Ramsey in the two-minute drill in the final period of the day, where they settled for a 57-yard Evan McPherson field goal. That would have tied it in the last two-minute drill they ran against the Rams and we still may be playing the Super Bowl.
"We were trying to get into field-goal range, but we wanted to get more than that," said Chase, who says he has more work tomorrow.
"I still want to learn more about the catch technique."
It was business conference. Gruden recalled what he liked in McVay.
"He's got great positive energy and passion. That's a great combination for a coach," Gruden said. "Energy, passion and he gets along great with the players and has a great knowledge of the game. And he's got a great memory. Remembers everything."
How great? Gruden said McVay remembered more things about his Bengals offense than he did once he studied it when Gruden brought it to Washington.
"Eventually," Gruden said, "I let him talk to the quarterback because I would call everything in Cincinnati Bengal terminology."
These two teams go back away. And at least on Wednesday, Taylor and McVay had them speaking the same language.
"Good work," said Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan.