Zac Taylor, the Bengals rookie head coach who prides himself on detail and execution, did a little of both to get his first practice off the ground Tuesday when he opened a three-day voluntary minicamp on the Paul Brown Stadium practice field.
With rain a 50-50 proposition, Taylor had two times for practice to start and with the help of his operations chiefs, Jeff Brickner and Doug Rosfeld, they made the right call and eschewed a late morning start in favor of one for early afternoon in a two-hour workout that ended as clouds converged.
“You have to be prepared for anything they throw at you,” Taylor said.
Guys like wide receiver John Ross are ready to catch it. Ross, the Bengals’ wide receiver in what could be his make-or-break third season, is often identified as one of the biggest beneficiaries of Taylor’s hire. As in, Taylor’s Offense Can Revive His Career. Pardon the hackneyed term “narrative,” but Ross loves the storyline.
“I think it’s a good chance for me. I know it’s a good chance for me,” Ross said before the Bengals hit the field. “I’m going to go out there and continue to be myself. I already know I’m going to love it. I love it now. How exciting it looks, the amount of big plays for everybody. The amount of opportunity everyone is going to get is amazing.”
This is the week that was for Ross. Two years ago this Saturday the Bengals took Ross with the ninth pick and both he and the team are looking for him to take off like he took off with the NFL scouting combine 40-yard dash record. The 4.22 seconds has translated into 21 catches and while his seven touchdowns are maybe one of the most overlooked stats of last season, Ross wants more.
“I overlook it myself because I feel like the touchdowns I was scoring weren’t really for someone of my build,” Ross said. “I was scoring (six) touchdowns in the red zone. I’ll take it, of course. It helps the team, and I definitely want to continue do that and other things and (make) bigger plays.”
He thinks he’s in the right offense for that, although he began the Taylor Era Tuesday like he began his career two years ago. On the sidelines for spring ball. But that’s the only similarity. Two years ago he didn’t get on the field until training camp because of shoulder surgery. Yet he may be back out there before the end of this camp because he says they’re just keeping an eye on after he developed some tightness in the wake of a stepped-up off-season conditioning program.
“I had to up my workload,” Ross said. “I’ve been grinding it getting into shape … I have to … Each year it gets bigger for me.”
Ross is looking to make the same kind of leap wide receiver Tyler Boyd did in his third season last year when he went from part-timer to a clutch 1,000-yard man. Throw in Hall-of-Famer A.J. Green and no wonder Ross has been looking at Rams tape since Taylor got hired. After all, the Rams, with Taylor as the quarterbacks coach, went to the Super Bowl with wide receivers Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks each getting more than 1,200 yards. Quarterback Andy Dalton agrees that this can be a Ross revival.
“You see everything that the Rams did, not that we’re going to be identical to the Rams,” Dalton said. “But they had three guys that were going to get 1,000 yards until (Cooper) Kupp got hurt. You see the skill set that (Ross) has if you compare him to a couple of those guys. Cooks probably has more straight-line speed than Woods does, but John has got that straight-line speed and he’s got some shiftiness. It will fit really well.”
With the Bengals unable to talk playbook with their new coaches until two weeks ago, Ross had been immersing himself in Rams video. It’s all he had and he liked what he saw.
“Something new is always exciting. Especially coming from where (Taylor) came from. I think a lot of us are excited. A lot of big plays. Not just from one player. A lot of people,” said Ross, who saw two things stand out on the tape. “Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods. Those are two great receivers that do their jobs really well. They play with a lot of energy and effort. That’s something for sure I know I can bring.”
While the helmetless Ross and Green (toe) shadowed receivers like Boyd and Auden Tate Tuesday during team work and seven-on-seven, their mates brought enough for Taylor to note and compliment.
“Day One is not where we’re going to be in September, but it’s a good start,” Taylor said. “For the most part there weren’t a lot of mental errors. There were some that were cleaned up. .. They did a good job. No reason to overwhelm them. We wanted to make sure we gave them stuff they could play fast and I thought they did a good job of that.”
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the Bengals' voluntary minicamp as the team takes the field for the first time in preparation for the 2019 season.
Taylor puts a big part of his motto “It’s About Us,” on himself. He wants to use communication and relationships as foundations of his program and so he felt it was important to start that process Tuesday when early in practice he jogged to each position group to check in. But he’s also balancing that in his role as the offensive play caller installing a new scheme and that’s why he spent most of the day on the offensive side.
“There were a couple of new teaching things first time,” Taylor said. “For the most part you want to spread it out and be with the defense and special teams as much as possible. But there were a couple of things Day One, Day Two where I think it’s important to be around the offense and let them hear it from me for the first time.”
It seems to be getting through. If Ross isn’t revived, he’s certainly renewed. Especially when Taylor reached out to him in the wake of a published report last month that the Bengals were shopping him and told him to forget it, indicating he’s very much in the plans.
“He teaches the offense really well. He simplifies it and breaks it down in a way we can all understand, which is the best part,” Ross said. “Another good part about it is anyone can be used any way in this offense. I know a lot of guys have to feel the way I feel.”
Taylor offered a glimpse of his hands-on style while also getting on guys for moving early and lining up in the wrong spot. But he didn’t have a whole lot of players with a slew of guys still rehabbing (Green, linebacker Carl Lawson, right guard Alex Redmond), resting soreness (Ross), out for unknown reasons (left guard Clint Boling) or being used sparingly (tight end Tyler Eifert). At one point Taylor huddled them up before the next period.
“We don’t have a lot of bodies, so we had to do some 11-on-11 and combine it with seven-on-seven,” Taylor said. “It’s important for everyone to be on the same page before we start the period.”