Initial comments ...
"It's an exciting week for us. It's another work week in our normal rhythm. We had the extra practice last week and an extra practice on Monday. The players were off yesterday, so now we're ready to roll. Again, this will be a good divisional game at home. Our guys are excited. It's a team we've played once before. They're having a great season right now. They're doing some good things, so our guys are really excited for the challenge and the great opportunity to start the second half of the season the right way. I saw our guys' approach today and all of the installs have been good. We had the chance to get out on the field, and I know the weather is turning a little bit. That's exciting. That's fun. That's life in the AFC North."
What are your expectations for WR A.J. Green this week and do you expect him to play against Baltimore?
"I do think he'll play on Sunday. He's been making great progress this week. Wednesday was a good day, Monday was a good day. He's getting back in the fold, and we'll have a good plan for him in place on Sunday."
What are your expectations for LT Cordy Glenn?
"We'll keep taking it day-by-day for practice. Today is another practice and we'll see where we go. We still haven't gotten through a padded practice yet. That will be important tomorrow."
Who would be your left tackle in place of Glenn?
"It would be between John (Jerry) and Andre Smith."
Do you expect RG John Miller to be back as well?
"Yeah, John Miller will be back at right guard."
Does Sunday's game feel like opening day for DE Carl Lawson, given he's missed so much time?
"It does feel like it's been a while for him. You forget that we had a two-minute drill last week, and he had a sack. It was like, 'Who is that guy?' It's been a while, so it's good. The bye week came at the right time for us. We had a chance to get guys like that, who had been trying to fight through some injuries, missing a game or two, and then coming back and re-tweaking things. It came at the right time for us, and the guys that were fighting (injuries) week-to-week are now healthy. They had the chance to get fresh. We have all the stuff they need to rehab. To get guys like him back in the fold, we feel pretty good."
How much has the team missed the pass-rushing depth that was much-anticipated heading into the season?
"I think the injuries played a part in that up front. It hurt the depth, so now guys are playing more snaps, and we're playing a bunch of quarterbacks that like to run. These plays feel like they go on forever, and it really affects your defensive line, so it's good to get as many bodies back as we can, and get those guys to get to most out of the snaps that they play."
Does it help QB Ryan Finley to have a multitude of coaches that are former quarterbacks?
"It certainly doesn't hurt. He has asked the right questions. He has experience. He spent 10 years in college, you know (laughs). He's a mature rookie. His approach has been really good. He's always prepared like he's one snap away, like any good backup quarterback would approach it. The bye week came at the right time for him. He got the chance to do some extra work in the bye week on his own. Now he's focused and ready to go and understands the purpose and intent of everything we do, and I'm excited to watch him play."
How different do practices feel with the addition of Green?
"It's good just seeing him walk back out there and getting in the huddle. It has a bit of a different feel to it. I'm really excited for him. He's been through a lot of adversity over these last 12 months. For him, it's a chance to get back (in practice) and get back in a game. I know it's important to him, and it's important to the team, so we're excited to get him back out there."
Since you are starting a rookie quarterback, is it more important to establish a running attack?
"Sure. We work through that every week — trying to find the best plan for the run game, and finding the right personnel groupings to give ourselves the best chance. We keep challenging those guys that we need to be on point. It takes all 11 to be efficient in the run game. I thought we finished the last game the right way. We need to continue to build off that going forward."
Did you see a specific moment where Finley began to "click?"
"The expectations for a rookie quarterback in the offseason are not sky-high. You know that there's going to be a learning curve, just going from college to the NFL, regardless of what system you played in. There was never any panic on our end. There were things we could see, 'OK, he's seeing it for the first time.' And then you get a chance to really strap the pads on in training camp and go compete. That's where he's at his best. He gets the chance to extend plays. He sees the field well. He has really good feel in the pocket. He gets the ball where it needs to be. Sometimes you call play-actions and he check it down for a 10-yard gain. He has a great feel. That comes from all the game experience he had throughout the course of his college career. He's had some great coaches in his past. That's all stuff that factors into, 'OK, we think he's ready to play. Let's see what he can do on Sunday.'"
Did QB Andy Dalton's mechanics suffer as a result of what was taking place around him?
"I think Andy competed his tail off and did what he could do to try to help us win games and be efficient in the passing game. We're right there on the top-10 fringe of passing (offense), and Andy did a great job in that regard. We need to continue to build on that with Ryan. Again, we're getting healthier at receiver as well, and guys are getting fresh. We have some offensive linemen back. We expect his offense to keep trending in the right direction."
How well is Green cutting on his ankle?
"A.J. has gotten better every day I've seen him."
Have you been pleased with the way he's been able to cut on that ankle?
"Yeah. I think he's been making great progress. I don't want to get too specific, but I think he's starting to feel really confident, and we're feeling confident now that he's out there."
Did the team's overall depth at wide receiver improve as a result of Green's injury?
"That's exactly right. Because of injuries, we've had to develop that depth. Guys who didn't think they were getting an opportunity six months ago or three months ago, they got it. They showed up well. The snaps drop a little bit for everybody (now), which is a good thing. Now, when you're playing 20-30 snaps as opposed to 50-60, you get a chance to be fresh and run. The defensive backs feel your presence a little bit. Sometimes when you play 50-60 snaps, you're technique wavers a little bit at the end of the games because you start to get tired and you lose track of the things that you're being coached to do — some of the details of the technique. It's a good thing to have depth at that position."
Does Finley have the green light to check out of plays at the line of scrimmage?
"We always have our checks and he always has the things that he has alerts for. That doesn't change, regardless of who the quarterback is. We wouldn't be rolling him out there if we didn't have the confidence that he's able to handle the things we ask our quarterback to do in our offense and the things that the defense is going to throw at you. He's a smart guy. He's playing for a reason. We'll see what he can do."
Do you need to adjust your play calling to accommodate a rookie quarterback?
"No. You try to play to the strength of any quarterback you have — the strength of your offense. The No. 1 objective is to put ourselves in position to win this game. That's the No. 1 thing you do. How do you attack this defense and challenge them and present problems for them, and be explosive and score points? Then, obviously, you factor in what your receivers do, and your quarterback — it's all the same. You factor in all the guys you have on the field and what they do best. How do we fit that into the plan to beat Baltimore?"
How have the questions Finley has been asking increased your confidence in him?
"He has great awareness. He knows what he knows. He isn't afraid to ask questions about things he doesn't know. A story I've always told guys I've coached is don't be afraid to ask a question just because you're a little nervous, or you think it's a stupid question, or (you feel) 'I should know this.' I transferred three times in college — I went to Wake (Forest), junior college and Nebraska. I remember I was the starting quarterback at Nebraska, and I would stretch every day, and the defensive backs coach would say, 'Hey, this is a big fire zone team.' I would just lie my tail off and say, 'Yeah, a little bit.' I didn't know what a fire zone was. I would just way, 'Yeah, a little bit, a little bit.' But I was too afraid to ask, 'What does that even mean?' I felt that the expectation was that you're supposed to know. Sometimes you just miss that level. Somewhere along the line, you missed it. That's what's good to see from Ryan. He'll say, 'Hold on, what does that mean?' He keeps saying that — 'What does that mean?' That's good. That means he's not afraid to ask that question, and it helps us better deliver the intent of what we're doing. Our communication is crisp, and we're all on the same page. That's good to see."
When you're a college quarterback and you transfer, is that a bet on yourself?
"Not for me. I wasn't good enough to play where I was playing (laughs). I think it's always different reasons for different guys."
The offense didn't utilize "11 personnel" as much against the Los Angeles Rams. Is that a trend moving forward?
"It's always based on the matchup we're going to face. How are they when they're in their base defense? Where are they when you're in '12?' It all ties in together based on the opponent. L.A. (the Rams) played a lot of dime against our '12.' They played with four defensive linemen, and a linebacker, and a bunch of defensive backs on the field. We felt like we could find success in '12 personnel,' and we'll approach Baltimore the same way. We'll try to look at their different personnel groupings and where our advantages are at, and how we should play the game to score the most points possible."
If your first NFL start featured Andy Dalton as a backup quarterback and Alex Van Pelt as the quarterbacks coach, would you be confident?
"I would. I have a lot of faith in our coaching staff. That's why they're here. I have tremendous respect for them. I hadn't worked with a lot of these guys — I had just known of them. That's why they're here. It's comforting for any quarterback on this team to know the background of all the guys that are helping them through it. We'll see where it goes."
What is it like to face Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson a second time?
"He's talented. He's having an MVP-caliber year. He's playing with a lot of confidence. The whole team is, really. They're coming off big wins — one on the road at Seattle, and one against New England, and the one over us three weeks ago. They present a tough challenge. Our guys are up for the opportunity. There's no doubt about it. It's a divisional game at home after the bye, and we're healthy. Our guys are excited. This is a great way to start the second half of the season."
Is it a benefit having played against Jackson rather than just seeing him on film?
"I'd like to think so. You look at the starts of their games. They get on people quick. They had a 17-0 lead on New England, a 17-7 lead on us, and they got up on Seattle pretty quick as well. They've started fast. That's been their trademark so far, and in these last few games particularly. That's important for our guys to come out and approach it the right way and be ready for that. That's what they've hung their hat on lately."
Is preparing for Baltimore's offense similar to preparing for a college offense?
"It's not easy. They do a great job. They obviously spent a lot of time in the offseason understanding how they wanted to attack teams this year, and it's shown. Their personnel fits their scheme really well and they've had a lot of success. All the coordinators had a lot of success at Buffalo and at San Francisco doing these similar things with quarterbacks. Again, it's a great challenge for our whole team."
Are you excited to see what Green can do when he's healthy?
"Of course. I am. I think everyone is excited to see A.J. back out there. All the hard work he's put in to rehab and get himself back — it's still an ongoing process. It's really his first full week of getting to practice and getting the chance to compete. I'm sure it feels different to him. We're all excited for him to get the opportunity."
Is this a good opportunity for the organization to see what Green is capable of in the future?
"I think it's a great window for us to try to get a win. We're getting guys back healthy and that's what we intend for him to come out here and do — give us another weapon and help us go win our first game."
How do you simulate Jackson in practice?
"Joe (HB Joe Mixon) has volunteered (laughs; Mixon was in back of news conference room). Joe wants to take some scout-team reps. That's part of the test — your guys need to be disciplined and understand that the speed of the practice isn't necessarily what it's going to feel like in the game. You need to make sure you're really detailed with your fits, and the leverage you're playing with. Guys need to take that to the practice field and really set the standard high this week."
Do you have a number of snaps in mind for Green?
"We do. It's probably not something I'm going to share, but we certainly have a plan for him and how we want to utilize him in this game."
Do you need to prevent Green from playing too hard?
"I'm sure he will. We'll have a good plan in place all week — and he'll have an understanding of what it is — and give ourselves the best chance to be successful."
When you're watching film of Baltimore, have you seen a team that blitzes that often?
"Not really. That's just what they do. It's a fun challenge. We have plenty of tape to watch of them. Obviously this is the second time we've played them, so we have the first game to watch. That's in their DNA, and it's something we definitely have to be ready for."
Given that you've been named the starting quarterback, what has this week been like for you?
"For me, it's just been a little more of a time commitment. I'm trying to get myself prepared. It's been fun. It reminds me of getting ready for a game back in college. It's been a fun experience so far."
Have you been leaning on other players for advice?
"Yeah. Andy (quarterback Andy Dalton). As difficult as this has to be for him, he's been awesome toward me. He's been very helpful. I trust him 100 percent. He's given me a lot of helpful things. Obviously he's played the Ravens many times in his career, so any insight he can bring to me I'm definitely going to take."
The Bengals have quite a few coaches who were quarterbacks during their playing careers. Have you been leaning on them at all?
"I've been trying to spend as much time as I can in this building. Like you said, there are times I want to go into Brian's (offensive coordinator Brian Callahan) office and sit and talk and just watch ball and hear from him. We have a bunch of meeting time with Alex (quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt) and Andy, so there are quarterbacks all around me. That makes it a lot more comforting. There's a lot of experience in our room as players and coaches."
When did you begin feeling comfortable for you in your transition from college football to the NFL?
"It takes time to get to know an NFL playbook and get into a rhythm. I feel like I'm a rhythm player. Once I was able to have some success in the preseason and get some confidence, then I take off from there."
What is the biggest key for you in Sunday's game?
"Just to get completions and execute plays. Just to do the simple stuff, like the run checks we have – execute those and feel good. Just mastering every single play and take it one play at a time and just executing plays."
What is your best attribute as a quarterback?
"I think I'm smart. I throw with good anticipation. I get the ball out quick. I pride myself on knowing my answers and getting completions and marching down the field."
Head coach Zac Taylor said he knew you were ready based on the questions you were asking in meetings. Where does that come from?
"Details are huge. For me, I have to find ways to simplify things, and once I learn the details, I can push it to the back of my mind. When you do that, new questions come up and you find new ways to make sure any given play is executed perfectly and it's how we want it to be executed. It's all about the details. For me and for us, walk-throughs are huge. That's when those questions come up."
How have you used your competitiveness as an advantage?
"Being competitive is advantageous in almost all circumstances. I'm competitive and this team is competitive, and we're excited for a fresh start. We're treating this like a new season, and we have a lot of energy and a lot of juice. We're going to try to win some football games."
When you played in college, was there a big burden on you in your offense to check out of certain plays when needed? And how does that compare to those responsibilities for you here?
"There's a lot more responsibility here, but it's the National Football League. I'm up for the challenge. Andy and Alex are two of the best around. I'm getting coached by the best. I have confidence in myself to be able to pick it up. There's nothing like live bullets and getting that experience, but I'm confident I'll be able to pick it up."
Is there a benefit to having good reps during preseason games?
"Absolutely. Football is football, and like I said, getting into a rhythm and proving to myself that I can do it is a big thing. And relying on good coaching. I'm not going to try to do anything special. I'm going to go out there, get completions and run our offense the way it's meant to be and get us into the right checks and let our playmakers make plays. We have a lot of playmakers, so when in doubt, give those guys 50-50 shots. We have A.J. (WR A.J. Green) back, Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate – just give those guys chances to make plays down the field. And with Joe (HB Joe Mixon), just give him the rock and see what happens. Put the ball in the field."
Was it good to have the bye week during this transition?
"Absolutely. The bye week was huge for me to get my mind right and make sure I'm good on the minor details. The bye week was very good for me."
What is your definition of leadership? What can this team expect from you in that regard?
"At this point, I just want to bring energy and juice and positivity, and get guys going to feel like we're getting into a rhythm. That's huge. We have so many athletes, and getting into a rhythm and feeling like we're moving the ball is huge. For me right now, it's just executing football plays for this football team, and bringing juice and bringing energy."
Has there been an emphasis placed on improving the team's red-zone offense?
"Yeah, there has to be. We've struggled at times. We're going to have some really good ideas this week. It's the same thing – just get down there and execute. We just can't kill ourselves with penalties. We have to play disciplined football. When plays need to be made, we need to make them."
Do you have free reign to check out of plays before the ball is snapped?
"Yeah. Within the confines of our offense, definitely. There are some situations where there are some base rules where if we don't get a look we want, we have a base rule on what we do against that certain look. It's definitely something I'll be looking for."
Do you expect a large cheering section filled with family and friends on Sunday?
"Yeah. I have a really good amount of family and friends coming, so that's exciting."
Who have you turned to this week for advice?
"Honestly, there are too many people to name off that have reached out to me and given me little tidbits – past coaches from college, high school, and quarterback trainers. I have a lot of people in my corner – a lot of support amongst them and amongst this team. So I'm confident, and I think we're going to get this thing turned around."
How important is Green's return to you and this team?
"About as big as it could possibly be. We all know what A.J. can do, and getting him back opens up a tremendous amount of things that we can do. Having his presence at practice is huge. He's a gamer. He's a baller. To be able to throw to him and give him chances to make plays and allow him to do the things that he's always done, that's definitely huge for us."
Do you feel that Baltimore is a good "measuring stick" opponent for your first game?
"The Ravens are just the next team on our schedule, and we need to take them seriously. They are very good against the run, and their offense is very explosive, so we need to worry about us and execute our stuff. They're our next opponent, and that's why they're the most important one."