The two teams from the last Super Bowl practicing against each other in the next preseason may be a first when the Bengals host the Rams for two sessions before staging their preseason finale on Saturday night, Aug. 27 at Paul Brown Stadium.
But preseason practices against other teams may become more common for the Bengals under head coach Zac Taylor.
"It's a controlled environment," said Taylor, who has done it a handful of times as an NFL assistant. "And with your starters playing less and less in the preseason than probably ten years ago, it's good to get good work against an opponent in practice."
It's the first time Taylor has brought in another team in his fourth preseason with the Bengals. He wanted to focus on his own roster in that first season of 2019, and COVID prevented him from planning on it for 2020 and 2021.
Now with head coach Sean McVay's Rams on the preseason schedule, it made more than enough sense pairing the mirror programs with Taylor coaching against his good friend and boss in the last two seasons before he took over the Bengals.
"They were open to coming out here. Probably wouldn't have done it the other way around," Taylor said. "It's a coach I trust and two teams I think will work well together. A lot of these teams get paired up as the season comes to a conclusion. We were two teams left without a dance partner. We just jumped on the opportunity … We know how they practice, they know how we practice. There are a lot of similarities."
The Bengals rarely did in the Marvin Lewis Era, getting together just four times in his 18 preseasons against the Saints in 2007, Falcons in 2013, Giants in 2015 and Vikings in 2016.
But, like Taylor and McVay, it was always with a head coach Lewis trusted. The Falcons and Vikings were coached by two men he had coached with in Mike Smith and Mike Zimmer, respectively and he had served with the Saints' Sean Payton on the NFL competition committee. Lewis and the Giants' Tom Coughlin were then two of the longest-tenured head coaches in the league.
Nose tackle D.J. Reader, one of Taylor's locker-room leaders, is all for it, too. Reader did it when he was with the Texans, but certainly going against the team they last played in the biggest game of all is an eye opener.
"It's crazy. It will be a good time. I'm excited about it," Reader said. "I'm sure some guys will still have some things going on. That will be a good part about it. Get those things ironed out … I'm sure guys will have some juices flowing.
"I just enjoy joint practices. You get the chance to go out there and it's your first time really getting a test against somebody else not on your team. Everybody has different opinions of them. I love them. You need your guys ramped up and they get to go against somebody they're probably going against during the year."
Reader is a good example of the modern trend. He was rehabbing an injury last preseason, but still only took 14 total snaps in the three games and joined most of the defensive starters on the sidelines in the finale, when the offensive starters played just three downs. Reader followed through in a huge year many thought Pro Bowl worthy.
And certainly lack of preseason game snaps hasn't hampered quarterback Joe Burrow's career. He has a grand total of three.
The starters could play more in this finale ("Every year is different," Taylor said), but they'll certainly get work in the joint practices.
"They'll practice their normal reps," Taylor said. "It's also another opportunity to evaluate your depth as well. You can maybe manufacture more looks in a practice than you can in a game."