Bengals Notebook: New Twist On Bengals-Steelers; Contrasting Preseason Styles Clash

Tyler Boyd getting ready for the Steelers again.
Tyler Boyd getting ready for the Steelers again.

No one knows better than him the grit, the intensity, the emotion of Bengals-Steelers. He has been in the middle of whatever long-time Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has concocted for them on defense.

Never mind that Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd is one of the most accomplished high school players to ever come out of the Pittsburgh hot bed. Or one of the greatest Pitt Panthers in the college game.

Even beyond that, no one on the Cincinnati offense or defense has played more games against the Steelers than Boyd. But even when Boyd plays them for an 11th time Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12), everyone is going experience something new in the rivalry's first game at Paycor Stadium.

Never have the two long-time division rivals as old as the merger opened a season against each other.

"That's the only thing that's new in my career," Boyd said after Monday's practice. "It's going to be huge. Any battle in the division is huge. But with that Steeler energy, it's going to be a special day."

On Sunday Tomlin starts his 16th season, tying former Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis for the longest tenure by an African-American head coach in any pro sport. The former University of Cincinnati secondary coach has a semi-new defensive brain trust with the addition of former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores and new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, the former Bengals defensive coordinator who has been in Pittsburgh the previous three seasons.

So after the Bengals swept them last year, do the Steelers show them something different? Or will it be another diet of Tomlin's steady crunching zone fundamentals that produced the NFL's most sacks last season?

"I'm not really sure. They've got Flores over there. We know he's a man pressure guy, but Pittsburgh isn't known to be a blitz man team," Boyd said. "We've watched some of the preseason, but they're not showing anything in the preseason. There'll be so much different stuff. We'll be prepared for everything. Double teams. Trying to take one player out. Zone. Man. We've got plays for everything. In my opinion they may go man, but there's no team that's really going to go man on us. If they do, we'll be prepared."

Boyd says there's not much they haven't seen. Not after the Ravens tried to defuse quarterback Joe Burrow's 525-yard game late last season with what looked to be a few snaps of double teams on all three receivers.

"I've never seen that in all my life. And Tee (Higgins) still caught the ball," Boyd said. "We expect the worst now that we've seen everything."

So the Steelers in an opener, maybe a twist on the Pittsburgh defense and, in his seven seasons, never has Boyd played the Steelers when Ben Roethlisberger wasn't the centerpiece of the Pittsburgh franchise.

"You look at Ben, he's a Hall-of-Famer. Whenever you're going against any Hall of Fame quarterback, you have to be dialed in," Boyd said. "You have to take advantage of every drive because of what he can do on offense. They still have great players" said Boyd, well aware there's a Pitt rookie in the wings even if it's not on Sunday.

"They've got the young kid. Kenny Pickett. I like him. I think they'll be ready. We're not going to overlook any team because of any guy not there now."

CONTRAST GALORE: By all accounts Tomlin has had a rather physical training camp and he played his starters fairly heavily in the last two preseason games in a contrast to head coach Zac Taylor's plan. Taylor padded up the guys plenty in practice, but he played no starters in the preseason.

Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, former starting Bengals defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who came into training camp rehabbing the foot he broke in the Bengals' Jan. 15 Wild Card win, is starting Sunday for the Steelers after playing a combined 46 snaps in the last two preseason games. In the preseason finale, the Steelers' two best players, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (34) and edge T.J. Watt (21) got plenty of snaps and almost paid a dear price when Watt tweaked his knee.

That's the flip side. The Bengals are extremely healthy and, they say, game ready without risking playing in a game.

"We've prepared like it's a game. The only difference is we'll have fans," Boyd said. "None of us is going to be nervous r not know what we're going to do. I'm a veteran. I've been here several years. I know what it takes to prepare for a game."

Taylor simulates game conditions in practice to such an extent that rookie left guard Cordell Volson noted after his NFL debut in the preseason opener that the game felt like practice.

"I feel like we had those game reps at the Rams combined practice," Higgins said. "Our practices are up tempo. It's just like a game. I feel like we'll be fine. Get into that rhythm early and go from there."

If you take the scrimmages against the Rams, the Bengals regulars probably got more work than they did in last year's three preseason games. Taylor doesn't have concerns about tackling and thought his defense played well in last year's opener. They had to go to the last second in overtime to beat the Vikings, but Taylor hasn't forgotten the failed fourth-and-one deep in his own territory early in the second half.

"We work it in every way we can without actually taking people to the ground, necessarily. I think our guys are professional. I think they've really attacked those drills in the right way," Taylor said. "They do their circuit. Nothing can simulate real life hitting the guys that they have. But these guys have played a lot of football they know how to prepare themselves in training camp to be ready for Week 1. I'm confident they'll be able to do that.

"I thought our defense started really strong last year (in the opener). If we hadn't gone for it on 4th-and-1 at our own 30, we might have had a bigger win than we did. That's just the way it went."

SLANTS AND SCREENS: Boyd on the obligatory how-many-tickets-do-you-have question: "Didn't get there yet. I can only imagine. So far 13." Boyd has a simple rule for those attending with his tickets: "They're not allowed to wear any other jerseys, no other color. You wear orange and black or wear some outside clothes." …

Higgins hears a lot about the Burrow-Ja'Marr Chase connection and he gets it, but, "Him and Chase had that connection in college. They'll always have that connection. Now me, Chase and Tyler and Burrow all have the connection. It's not who has the better connection. We've all got that good connection, so that's how we look at it." …

The Bengals made room for safety Jessie Bates III on the roster Monday by waiving rookie cornerback Allan George and appear to have made room on the practice squad for him if he clears waivers when they released tight end Thad Moss.

"I forget that he missed time to be honest with you," Taylor said of Bates. "I think he did a really good job taking care of himself. We wanted to be cautious as we integrated him back into what we were doing. He's a got a great understanding of what we're doing and he's up to speed on any tweaks that we made and we expect him to be out there every down." …

One of the newest Bengals, claimed last week from the Patriots, tight end Devin Asiasi, didn't work Monday with an unspecified injury that appears to be only nagging and not major.

"Just kind of a lingering deal," Taylor said. "Hope to get him up to speed very quickly. It's good for him to get a chance to learn the system first of all. That's the biggest thing before you get into the field."

So it looks like Mitchell Wilcox (foot) is going to be healthy enough to go …

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