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Game Within The Game: The Evolution of Cam Taylor-Britt Right On Time

CB Cam Taylor-Britt celebrates after the Bengals beat the Cardinals 34-20 in Week 5 of the 2023 season.
CB Cam Taylor-Britt celebrates after the Bengals beat the Cardinals 34-20 in Week 5 of the 2023 season.

Cam Taylor-Britt, who has grown so well and so fast in his 15 games and two seasons on the NFL corner, turns all of 24 Sunday on a day the Bengals play a game of ages at Paycor Stadium (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against Seattle's young 3-1 guns.

At a couple of junctures last Sunday during the win in Arizona, Taylor-Britt was the oldest guy in the secondary of the second-youngest team in the NFL. His 11-yard pick-six in the last belches of the first half got the Bengals righted as the game buckled and it symbolized just how quickly Taylor-Britt has gone from clock-challenged rookie to grizzled playoff pro playing right on time while assigned to the other team's best receivers.

"It's growth. Taylor-Britt says. "You have to grow. Especially in this profession, You can't stay the same. With all the changes (of a rookie year), I wasn't up to par like I should have been. I learned from it. All the vets and even the coaches said things. I think that's why they put their trust in me because I changed. In a tremendous way."

With the Seahawks coming to town holding the NFL's fourth-youngest roster, Charles Burks, the old soul cornerbacks coach at the age of 36 who plasters his office with the words of Muhammad Ali and Chuck Noll, sat down rookies DJ Turner and DJ Ivey and told them what he told Taylor-Britt about this time last year.

Turner had just come off his first NFL start and Ivey his first NFL game.

Look, Burks says. He isn't comparing this Bengals secondary to Seattle's legendary Legion of Boom of a decade ago, the secondary head coach Pete Carroll is trying to re-invent a talented youth movement. Burks' only point is that the Richard Shermans and the Cam Chancellors made their All-Pro impact while they were on their first contracts.

"You don't wait on anybody. This isn't wait my turn," Burks says. "You dictate. You take your turn. You've earned the opportunity. It's the NFL."

Of course, Burks may have had to wait to start that meeting with Taylor-Britt last year. Suffice to say the rookie had a punctuality problem.

"That's a generous way of putting it," says safety Mike Thomas, the Bengals' oldest player in the locker room and one of the many vets who had a heart-to-heart with him. "But the thing about Cam, he not only had a lot of veterans around him who talked to him, he listened. He's a smart guy. He was able to figure it out."

Burks thinks he's figured it out so well that he says, "I can see a C on his chest in the near future." His energy has been a given, a boundless synergy he's had since college at Nebraska, where he came by the nickname, "Juice." Mindful of Taylor-Britt's great baritone that always sounds like a pep talk, Burks sees a future "The Juice Lounge Podcast."

There had been a full circle moment last month during the week of the Rams' game when Burks called a meeting with Taylor-Britt and Turner, the second-round pick who acquired a fair number of snaps quicker than his 40-yard dash that headlined the NFL scouting combine.

Taylor-Britt, who learned his lessons, showed up about three to five minutes early. Turner arrived on the dot but not soon enough for Burks.

"Three to five minutes is the standard," Burks reminded him.

When Turner began to protest, Taylor-Britt jumped in to side with Burks. "No excuses, no explanations," referring to the motto in big letters on the walls of the cornerbacks room.

"He knows how to read a room now," says cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, the man Taylor-Britt replaced last Halloween when he went down with an ACL injury. "He's starting to realize the impact he has in the room. We talked all the time one-on-one, but it was more like a brother. He's done a great job learning to do the little things that make a pro. How he prepares for a game and it's showing up in his game."

Awuzie is one of those culture-changing locker room figures on which the Bengals have built this latest run. He's a Renaissance Man whose interests range from chess to African traditions. He's not alone with union active Mike Thomas and defensive captain Mike Hilton.

When Taylor-Britt arrived in the second round last year, there was also the veteran safety tandem of Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell who prepared like coaches. Throw in Burks and the role models abounded for a young player.

"That's why you want guys like that," Awuzie says. "They pass it on."

Now Taylor-Britt is suddenly a role model. He didn't practice last week because he was in concussion protocol, but when Burks got on Turner for not running to the ball, Taylor-Britt piped up from the sidelines: "You're better than that."

It reminded Burks of a moment last year in Pittsburgh.

"Cam busted a coverage and there was a chance for Jessie to get upset at him. But Jessie just basically tapped him on the head and put his arm around him," Burks says. "I think that was really big for Cam.

"It was a divisional game. He was inconsistent in that game. But he battled and eventually played well in that game. Those guys really helped. That's why it's important to have guys like that and you really see Cam and his relationship with DJ Turner and DJ Ivey. He's really taken a leadership role in the secondary right now."

Burks also offers an environment to grow. At points during the season, he leads readings from self-help books. Lately they're from "Five Dysfunctions of a Team," with such topics as absence of trust and fear of conflict.

"Chuck is one of those rare guys in this industry that if you show him you're willing and able to work," Awuzie says, "he's going to pour it into you and he's definitely poured it into Cam."

Taylor-Britt says Burks has helped him see it all on and off the field. He'll talk about that, but he's hesitant to talk about his new role as No. 1 cornerback as Awuzie comes off his ACL while he also deals with a back issue.

So that means he's got Seattle ace receiver DK Metcalf, which would be a matchup of two of the world's most physical human beings?

"It is what it is," Taylor-Britt says.

Hilton is more definitive: "It's going to be fun to watch."

He already has been through five games. Burks points to the opener when Taylor-Britt covered Amari Cooper. Then the next week when it was Odell Beckham Jr., Pro Bowlers past and present. Then it was Rams rookie sensation Puka Nacua. Taylor-Britt made sure none of them broke the game.

Then after the game in Tennessee when he gave up two deep balls in what was probably the worst game of his career, he responded last week with maybe his best. The Cards threw at him seven times and they caught just one on him on third down. There was the pivotal pick-six to go with another pass defensed.

"Didn't get my hands on him. Have to get my hands on him," Taylor-Britt says of the long ball to DeAndre Hopkins. "Short memory. That's what you have to do. You have to rebound in this league. Next play."

In Sunday's birthday game of ages, he's right on time.