The Bengals opened their voluntary workouts Monday at Paycor Stadium and their biggest overhaul in three years could be seen in the new lockers, new seating arrangements and, if you're new starting safety Dax Hill, a new beard to match a new role.
"I started growing it for the AFC championship game and decided to keep it," Hill said of the season's last game on Jan. 29. "I just wanted a different look. Everything is different."
Left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., one of four new starters, asked center Ted Karras, one of last year's captains, where the offensive line would be sitting in head coach Zac Taylor's first team meeting of the season.
"I'll show you. We're changing it up," Karras said. "We didn't win (the Super Bowl), so we're changing it up."
Brown and another new starter acquired via free agency, tight end Irv Smith Jr., were enjoying their first vibes from their new teammates. Smith, coming from the NFC North champ Vikings to the two-time AFC North champ Bengals, says he can tell they have the closeness of winners.
"The camaraderie, especially up front. How close of a unit it is," said Brown of his first impression of his third team. "How well everyone gets along. I feel like that's not something that is necessarily common in every NFL locker room."
No. 1 cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, encouraged but cautious as his ACL rehab heads into its sixth month, tried out his new locker. Which is next to his old one and on a coveted corner. It also happened to be the locker of long-time starting safety Jessie Bates III before he left for the Falcons in free agency last month.
"I'd probably be more offended if someone took mine, so I just said, 'Let me just take Jessie's locker,'" Awuzie said. "I think he would be cool with it."
Kicker Evan McPherson also now has the valued corner locker and says it's even more special because former punter Kevin Huber willed the prized location after many of his 14 seasons were spent there getting ready for a Bengals-record 216 games. McPherson recalled Huber telling him the three specialists used to have their own area until the wall was knocked several years ago to expand the locker room.
"The locker was passed down," McPherson said. "That means a lot coming from a guy who played here for so long."
TAYLOR-MADE PLANS: Taylor convened his offseason earlier than last year's workouts that came on the heels of the Super Bowl run.
"It'll be more running and lifting for those guys. Getting them back in a little bit sooner and getting the whole nine-week program there," Taylor said of the two-week gap. "The two main things for us to get in here (are to) refresh our schemes and then the team chemistry portion of things."
Since Taylor met the media before the team, he had no idea about attendance but it appeared as if the majority of players were here at some point for the start of phase one. Phase two in a few weeks starts the on-field activities and draws the most attention and pretty much all the players.
"We've always had a really good turnout from our guys. That's what I like," Taylor said. "Our seasons have been running long the last couple of years and so, I'm sure there will be some guys who are still a little bit in their routines wherever they're at, for another couple of weeks and generally, that's pretty normal."
INJURY UPDATE: The two biggest rehabs belong to Awuzie and right tackle La'el Collins as they come back from ACL tears. Awuzie tore his on Halloween and Collins on Christmas Eve and Taylor was general but optimistic.
"Everybody that's in that injury bucket has been progressing as we had hoped," Taylor said, "There have been no setbacks for those guys. I won't put timelines on any of them. But the guys that I've seen in here, doing the rehab, some of them are elsewhere doing their rehab. I'm sure more of them will come back today but so far, so good on all those guys."
Awuzie recently told Bengals.com the plan is to be ready for Opening Day, but he's still being careful in words and actions.
"Just staying patient. The biggest thing I can mess up on is getting too cocky because my knee is doing well. I haven't had a setback," Awuzie said. "Trusting the people telling me what to do.
"Trusting the process. I think that trust is now building because I've made a lot of progress. I'm able to sit back and understand that it's not the best thing for me to push too, too hard."
RIGHT TACKLE: Since Collins had surgery so late in the season, he may not be ready for the opener and the race is on at right tackle.
Step into the IEL Practice Facility as the Bengals work during day 1 of offseason training, presented by Kettering Health.
After telling left tackle Jonah Williams they would move him to right tackle after signing Brown, Williams reportedly asked to be traded. But the Bengals continue to say he's in the mix at right tackle with Collins, Hakeem Adeniji and Jackson Carman, last year's swing tackle who came off the bench to start the last two postseason games after Williams dislocated his kneecap in the Wild Card win over Baltimore.
Taylor wouldn't say if he's talked to Williams (or any of his others players in what he views as private conversations), but he continued to talk up Carman on Monday.
"Jackson did a really good job working all those positions. His number was called there at left tackle, and now his number's going to be called at right tackle to go over there and compete," Taylor said. "Year three for Jackson, we've got high expectations for him. I really liked his approach over the course of last season. He really got a feel for what the NFL is like and what the process is like, and now going into year three, I think it's a great opportunity for him to continue to show us that he's got what it takes to be a full-time starter for us."