Jonah Williams raised some eyebrows in a good way when reporters asked him about how he transformed his body to prepare for the 2020 season.
Williams was always known as a workout warrior, but he shifted his routine during the pandemic to gain flexibility in preparation for facing some of the league's top pass rushers.
"I was doing yoga, which I've always done, but doing more of it," said Williams. "A lot of things about mobility and quickness, because I think that's one of my strengths and something I wanted to continue to capitalize on just being more athletic. Being able to move better, opening up my hips, just things you can't play in the NFL if you are stiff."
Williams suffered a shoulder injury during Cincinnati's offseason program last year that caused him to miss the entire 2019 campaign. What the time off did was allow Williams to reflect and transform to the speed and strength of the NFL game.
Reflect and transform. Those are big themes for the second-year of the Bengals offense. Head Coach Zac Taylor is excited about the possibilities after a first year of learning and reflecting about the good and bad from 2019.
While Taylor acknowledges that last season wasn't good enough, he is excited about correcting the errors from year one and make a big leap forward offensively.
"We feel confident in the things we are going to ask our guys to do and build on the momentum we had at the end of last season," said Taylor. "We can really hone in on the details that were lacking last year and really set our identity early in training camp. It certainly evolved over the course of last season. This year we get a chance to really watch what we did well, what schemes throughout the league that maybe would benefit our team as well. We feel really good about the direction we are heading."
The Bengals had a tough time finding consistency on offense early on in the 2019 season, especially rushing the football. Through their first seven games, the Bengals averaged just 53.1 rushing yards per game, and topped 100 rushing yards just once as a team. Running back Joe Mixon had a notably difficult start, averaging just 36.2 yards per game and 3.2 yards per rush over that span.
However, in the eight games after the Bengals' Week 9 bye, Cincinnati averaged 130.1 rushing yards per game, and topped 100 yards as a team in five of eight games.
There were, however, glimpses of excellence in the passing attack early on. John Ross III opened the season with 270 yards and three touchdowns in the first two weeks of the season. Other individuals enjoyed strong performances as well like Auden Tate's five catch, 91-yard performance at Baltimore or Alex Erickson's eight receptions for 137 yards against Jacksonville.
"We do feel like we have a lot of talent we can utilize in offense in a lot of different ways," Taylor said. "Whether that is a ton of 11 personnel, 12 personnel, 22, whatever it is, we feel like we have the horses and the depth to keep defenses off balance and score in a lot of different ways. That's something that excites up to get some reps in during training camp."
It's easy to see why Taylor is as excited as ever about the offense.
- A.J. Green is healthy. Last year Green suffered an ankle injury on the first day of training camp that caused him to miss the entire 2019 season. The seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver looks to re-establish himself as one of the best at the position.
- Williams locked in at left tackle. After injuring his pectoral muscle during last season's minicamp, Williams is now 100 percent and taking first-team reps. He was the first offensive lineman taken in the 2019 NFL Draft and the coaches believe he has one of the brightest futures in the league.
- The addition of quarterback Joe Burrow. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner has looked great in camp, which should be no surprise after coming off a season where he threw an FBS-record 60 touchdowns while leading LSU to a 15-0 record and national championship.
- Productive veterans are more comfortable in the system. Mixon and wide receiver Tyler Boyd are each looking for their third consecutive 1,000-yard season. Giovani Bernard is as reliable as any pass catching running back in the league and receiver Auden Tate broke out with numerous highlight reel catches.
Add in a group of high-ceiling talent like receivers Ross III and Tee Higgins with an offensive line that played much better in the second half of the season and the potential for greatness is in place.
"There's so many pieces that we are finally putting together that we didn't have in place last year," said Boyd. "Now that we have everybody rolling and everybody set in key positions, guys don't have to overthink, or be confused with what their role is. I think with all of the pieces in place, the sky is the limit."
With his familiarity with Taylor and the Bengals' offensive scheme, Williams agrees with Boyd expecting year two to be even better.
"We kind of learned what we were good at, and I think in the back half of the season we found out we were a great running team," said Williams. "We ran the ball really well. We have a great running back and our line blocked up really nice. We kind of changed our scheme a little bit. I think this year we are trying to maximize the things we were good at last year and kind of replace things we weren't so good at, while also adding in the things that Joe Burrow was so good at in college."