Nearly 40 percent of the players currently on the roster were not on the Opening Day roster when the Bengals opened in Seattle last season. So it's only fitting that three of the seven captains are newcomers.
They are led by the man believed to be their first rookie captain at least in this century when quarterback Joe Burrow got the nod in a vote of the players. He bookends the most senior Bengal when punter Kevin Huber became a captain for the first time in his 12 seasons and 174 games.
"We had offensive players vote for two guys on offense and one special teams player. On defense, they voted for two defensive players and a special teamer," said head coach Zac Taylor, who is pretty sure he's never had a rookie captain during his coaching career.
So Burrow and two incumbents, wide receiver A.J. Green and running back Giovani Bernard, rep the offense while another incumbent, Shawn Williams, and newcomers Josh Bynes and Vonn Bell, rep the defense. Huber is punting in just his third opener at Paul Brown Stadium after he made his 2009 debut in a PBS opener against Denver.
"I just think that we added the right types of people for sure. Then there were some guys who were right up there against the vote who have been here and would have been great leaders," Taylor said. "We only have seven of them. You can't make the whole team leaders. It does show the progress that we've made. It's a different locker room and we're really excited about that.
"It shows the confidence that they have in themselves to not just sit back and say nothing, because they've worked to earn that leadership role and the respect of their teammates. They did it the right way. They weren't fooling anybody. They are true to who they are, and they have the confidence that they put in the work to earn it."
He went for a big captain's class because he felt like there could have been even more, such is the new and improved locker room.
"It's just the way it fell," Taylor said. "The vote was so close at a couple of spots that we felt like there were seven guys who had clearly earned it."
Even though it was a major first, no one seemed very surprised about Burrow winning. Especially Burrow, who didn't expect it but, like everything else, took it in stride.
"It was one of my goals coming in," Burrow said. "I really didn't expect to be a captain, but I couldn't be happier represent our team and our offense. We have a lot of guys that could have been up there. I'm happy my team decided I should be one to get that honor."
INJURY UPDATES: Eight-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who hasn't missed a game since 2013, didn't work Wednesday because of a shoulder issue and neither did defensive tackle Mike Daniels (groin). The season's first official injury report kept banging the Bengals' most banged-up position. Shawn Williams (calf) also figures to be on it since he didn't practice, but he was running around active as the defense worked, Left end Carlos Dunlap got a rest and cornerback LeShaun Sims, who had left camp for personal reasons, didn't practice. Before he left he had been routinely getting the starting snaps Darius Phillips is getting now.
NATIONAL ANTHEM: No sooner had they been elected then the captains faced one of the biggest questions of the offseason. What to do during the national anthem? The Cincinnati Enquirer had a report Wednesday saying the team was mulling either kneeling or staying in the locker room. Taylor wouldn't reveal the plan, but said whatever they decide it will be unified decision.
"We're supportive of each other. Everyone has a different background. Everyone has a different reasoning for things," Taylor said. "We've talked in-depth as a team. It was very emotional meetings and we're not even complete with those yet. We'll keep those to ourselves, but again, we want to be unified in our approach and supportive of everybody in this organization."
MAKING HISTORY: Sunday at PBS against the Chargers (4:05 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12), Burrow becomes the first Bengals rookie quarterback to make his NFL debut in a home opener since the University of Cincinnati's Greg Cook at UC's Nippert Stadium in 1969. But with no fans allowed and the Bengals not being shown on TV in Burrow's hometown of Athens (and maybe not even Cook's hometown of Chillicothe), his parents are thinking about driving to Cincinnati to watch it at their son's house.
"They're trying to figure it out right now because when we're in Athens we get the West Virginia news channel. They don't televise the Bengals games. We're trying to get maybe a different system," said Burrow, who knows what chaos that's going to cause in his home burg. "I think so, yeah. But there's nothing they can do about it."
TWO FOR TAYLOR: Taylor begins his second season as coach of the Bengals in the middle of a pandemic that wiped out all the spring and preseason games and left him with basically three weeks of field work to get ready. Yet he not only feels so much better about his leadership, but he also feels so much better about the grasp he has of the players and they of his schemes. He thought it was noticeable in Wednesday's walkthrough.
"I've watched some of our walkthroughs from last September and last August. It's night and day difference," Taylor said. "And those are things you don't really think about day-to-day until you go back and you actually watch and you think, 'We were light years ahead of where we were.' And the players just have a better understanding of the schemes. That's the bottom line. We have a better understanding of them. I know I've said that several times, but that's really what it comes down to."
"The way that our guys on both sides of the ball and on special teams just approach it. The way the scout team works. The looks you get. It's hard to put into words, but there's a clear difference there."
ONE DAY AT A TIME: It has already started. Burrow is supposed to be a generational player, the Bengals most complete quarterback in mind, heart and body since Norman Julius Esiason more than 30 years ago. (By the way, Esiason didn't start an opener until his third season in a 24-14 loss in Kansas City.)
"I don't really think about that stuff. I let you guys talk about that in the media," Burrow said. "Write what you need to write, but I'm going to prepare like I always prepare and practice like I always practice to win games because at the end of the day it doesn't matter if we don't win."