Head coach Zac Taylor sat down with Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com to talk about Ryan Finley's debut, the release of Preston Brown and facing his old coach from that oh so brief training camp under Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay all those years ago.
What was behind the Preston Brown move?
We've got to change up the linebacker rotation. It hasn't been good enough up to this point. We're waiting on someone to step up, be consistent, take over that room and be a leader. We haven't seen it yet. It's time for a change. Those guys have to be more consistent as a group. We felt like this was a change we needed to make.
You seemed to be making a statement cutting a veteran with a three-year deal.
Yeah, we're looking for ways to change that room up.
After their Ravens' second touchdown drive on Sunday, you gathered the linebackers around you. That's the first time I remember you doing something like that when the offense had the ball.
Each game is different. I've certainly spoken to the defense many times before. But we got them together and just gave them a little message.
What was your message?
It will remain between us.
Is that something we may see more as you get more comfortable in your role?
Trust me, I have no problem confronting anyone on this team. It doesn't always have to be in public.
How do you replace Preston?
Germaine (Pratt) has taken that role over. Preston won't be back there to back him up anymore. We'll see how the week goes what the moves we make are and who gets a little more playing time. We'll continue to move that room around to see what everybody has to offer.
Germaine would seem to be your starter.
Did he take any strides Sunday?
Just like all our young players. There are some positives and some negatives, things we have to improve. We can't make repeat mistakes. We just have to build off these performances and keep learning from them and be better next week.
What did you think of Ryan Finley's debut?
That was a tough defense. That was one of the better defenses in the league right now. There were certainly some things you'd like to have back, but those are learning experiences for a young quarterback. I thought he was really composed throughout the game. He extended some plays, got us out of some tough looks, had some good third-down conversions. It's exciting to see, now we have to build on that performance.
What is it that you like about Finley as a player?
We certainly thought high enough to draft him because we liked the qualities he had and the career he had in college. He had a lot of things we look for and thought he could be a good player in this league. We've continued to see that over the last seven months that we've had him. He's certainly shown those intangibles that we hoped he would have, so we're encouraged and have to keep building on his performance.
What does he need to work on?
The two turnovers, we've got to avoid those. He has to be better with ball security in the pocket. When he's outside the pocket, he's got to tuck the ball away and be stronger. On the interception, the ball has to come out of his hand sooner with better location. Those are two things that worst case it's an incompletion, best case it's a completion that puts us in second and four. Those turnovers gave them 14 points and those are things we've got to avoid going forward. He's got to learn from his mistakes and not repeat them.
There seems to be more of a commitment to run the ball lately.
We've got to find ways to score more points. We've been productive the last two weeks running the ball. That's been encouraging.
You changed the running scheme and guys seemed to respond. It appeared to be different than what Baltimore saw last month, more power, more man-to-man blocking. Is that something we'll see moving forward?
We approach each game as if it is its own entity. We felt like that was the best plan against Baltimore and Oakland will be a different test.
How do you keep everybody together?
It starts with building a strong foundation in the offseason and we felt like we've made progress in that area. We've got guys that believe and believe that we can win games and turn this season around. I think we've got a good core of leaders in the locker room. If there is anybody wavering, they'll bring them back into the fold. I think that's the progress were making in terms of culture.
You've said it has to be fun. How do you make it fun now?
It's not about being fun. It's about being positive and finding ways to win and still getting our work done and making sure everybody is disciplined and held to a high standard. It's easy when things aren't going well. To slack in some areas and let it go. That's not an area we're going to let stuff go.
Do you have to strike a balance between looking to the future and trying to win games?
Regardless of what your record is, you always have to have a big-picture awareness of what the future holds for your organization. At the same time our immediate goal is to win each game and prepare each week as if it's the Super Bowl. That doesn't change whether you're 0-9 or 9-0. You always have to balance those two things and that's no different than what everybody else is facing right now.
You played for Raiders head coach Jon Gruden.
I played for him briefly as a free agent. We have a lot of the same history with coaching staffs.
How brief was it, Coach? In a Tampa Bay training camp, right?
I got cut at the beginning of training camp after signing as an undrafted free agent on the last day of the draft.
Did he ever talk to you?
I've talked to him dozens of times.
How about when you were playing for him?
I played for (offensive coordinator Brian Callahan) Brian's dad and he and Jon coached together for a long time. I know Jon Gruden as well as I know a lot of coaches in the league. I think he's a great coach. Full of energy. Gets the most out of his guys. I have a lot respect for him.
Do you remember anything he said to you when you were playing for him?
I remember many coaching points to this day that I still use. I do remember him saying to me one time, "No matter what happens here, you can play this league." And I remember thinking, "What's about to happen?" And sure enough a couple of days later I got cut. That was probably the writing on the wall. I remember that conversation.
So Sunday is not a grudge match.
No grudge match. I've got nothing but respect for him.