Zac Adjusting To First Draft Of The Zooming '20s

Head Coach Zac Taylor looks on at practice.

If this had been the world as we once knew it, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and director of player personnel Duke Tobin would have already landed Thursday night in Baton Rouge, La., after grabbing a flight from West Palm Beach, Fla., and the site of the NFL's annual league meeting.

But there was no flight because there was no meeting and there was no trip to the Bayou because the defending national champion Louisiana State Tigers didn't have a pro day to put their bounty of NFL prospects on display.

But then, of course, maybe this world isn't all that different than the one we knew. All indications that the Bengals are taking LSU folk hero and Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow with the first pick in the April 23-25 draft have survived the pandemic.

Taylor, perched upstairs in his Cincinnati home Thursday instead of the hotel shuttle, continued not to tip his hand in this world or that other one.

"The only thing you didn't get to a chance to see was a guy throw 40 throws in front of you," said Taylor of the cancellation. "At the end of the day, what does that really give you in the grand scheme of things? Sometimes that's a big factor if you take a guy in the fifth or sixth round. Something like that. We've had plenty of exposure to the guys that have put themselves in position to be the No. 1 pick. We feel very confident with whoever we decide to take."

Taylor is sitting in what has been his office since Paul Brown Stadium closed about three weeks ago. It's a spare room at the top of the stairs. There seems to be a stray Lego on the floor from one of his four kids, all banned from the room with a double-bolt lock. The projector hanging from the ceiling meant for productions from Nickelodeon and Disney is displaying one of college football's top all-star games, January's East-West Shrine Game.

There are very few breaks to go downstairs. Almost none. He grabs enough bottles of water in the morning for the day. Wife Sarah prefers he stays up there while she settles the kids with schoolwork. Which is fine because Taylor is also crafting a new kind of off-season program he has set his own May 1 deadline to go along with scouting the next rookie class. The only thing lacking is his signature Starbucks coffee, an urge that can't be quenched despite some jolts of a couple of K-Cups and his daily Kroger's Kombucha tea.

"You have to adjust. You have to adapt. That's what we're doing," Taylor said.

He can't comment on the most expensive free-agent group in franchise history because they haven't officially been announced. But he can say coaching in January's Senior Bowl has given the Bengals quite an advantage and that Tobin and his scouts have the club "as prepared as anyone in the league."

We are now in the Zooming '20s, where those video conferences are becoming a way of life and the NFL Draft is no different. Teams can have three hours of contact with a prospect per week, no more than an hour at a time. Safe to say that in the past month or so Burrow's image has appeared in more Bengals coaches homes than Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.

"I don't do many Zoom calls with players. Our position coaches do most of that," Taylor said. "I'm pretty much calling college coaches I know and ask about the prospects. The feedback so far has been great for the coaching staff."

What Zooming can't do, Taylor says, is replace the pro day for the guys that didn't work at the combine or the physical for those players coming off injury or who didn't get worked over by team doctors at the combine and get to take them in the visits to NFL facilities that have been wiped out.

"That's hard to replace with a phone call," Taylor said. "You look at our undrafted history here and our scouts have done a great job finding guys that can play for us. And the coaches started looking at players when we prepared for the Senior Bowl, so we've been looking at guys three weeks or a month longer than we normally would have. We really feel like we've got a chance to talk through those guys that didn't have a pro day. The medical is always going to be a challenge, you've just got to be as thorough as you can."

Taylor is also going to be Zooming into the offseason workouts. There won't be any right away. They were supposed to start April 20 but have been delayed indefinitely, yet Taylor is working on what amounts to a virtual reality installation of offense, defense and special teams.

"We want to be as creative as possible," said Taylor, who wants to hold off on divulging his plan until he gets more specific. "We want to do the best you can making the install like you would do it in front of the room with the players. No different than that. They are professionals, no question about it, but you want to make sure there is some entertainment and you engage them as much as you can. We've all been in a virtual classroom before and it's easy to stray a little bit. We just want to make sure these guys are engaged so when we install it, it really hits home."

Taylor would like to have his plan in place sooner rather than later, so he's prepping for a May 1 start to a virtual offseason. If it's delayed again, he'll at least have it.

As for the draft itself, whether it's conducted by a small group in the draft room or on Zoom out of a gaggle of households, the NFL has yet to decide.

"We just don't know," Taylor said.

In the Zooming '20s, the key is adaptation. Like the man said, "You have to adjust."