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Zac Looking For Every Edge As Bengals Open Camp


Bengals head coach Zac Taylor's Opening Day quarterback is a rookie and Joe Burrow won't take a snap in a game until the Sept. 13 opener at Paul Brown Stadium against the Chargers.

And Taylor's defense, which could have as many as six new starters on that first snap against what could be another rookie quarterback with absolutely zilch pro film in Los Angeles' Justin Herbert, won't get together for its first walk-through of the year until next week.

But Taylor has always been a half-full guy and the first pandemic in a century won't turn him into a half-empty sort. During Wednesday's first Zoom news conference of training camp he went through the Ayes of August instead of the Nays of Never and the Ayes had it.

"There's a lot of advantages that we're finding right now. Just the way we're going to be able to structure practices and create more scrimmage situations," Taylor said. "You consider in a pre-season game Joe Burrow maybe wouldn't have gotten to play with a couple of guys that you're holding out or don't give many reps to. Whereas you can protect those guys in a scrimmage that you control a little bit better."

The Bengals were one of the worst tackling teams in the league last season, so now they're going to have to do it in practice. It has Taylor thinking about how the college game goes from practice to real games with nothing in between.

"We're going to have to tackle. We're going to have to learn how to take hits and take care of the ball. All those things that will be critical to our success this year," Taylor said. "Quite frankly, we weren't good enough last year in a lot of those areas. Not only was it going to be a point of emphasis this training camp, but now even more so with the lack of pre-season games."

The helmets won't come on for two more weeks, padded practices won't start until about Aug. 17 and Taylor believes that's an advantage, too.

"There isn't that immediate pressure of going outside and executing at full speed like you normally would have. You get this introductory phase, or however you want to phrase it, for almost two weeks before the players are required to put on helmets and go full speed against a defense or an offense," Taylor said. "So in a lot of ways, for young players this a good process for them to follow since they didn't have the offseason.

"It's changed the way we have to approach some of our practices because you've got to do a lot more live tackling to put these guys in situations they're going to be missing out on."

He pointed to his camp experiences with that other team in Los Angeles, Sean McVay's Rams and how they had two fields going. With the social-distancing protocols, he hinted the Bengals could be using some form of double time.

"We have two separate groups as we walk through, which is very valuable in a lot of ways because now you really maximize your reps," Taylor said. "So you're able to go two fields and have two groups of walk-through when you start practicing."

As for that quarterback, Taylor isn't buying the argument that shoe-horning the NFL offseason and preseason into basically a month is an excuse not to play Burrow ("He's prepared for that. We drafted him because we have a lot of confidence in him and what he's going to bring to the table.") and he's expected to come into PBS Thursday for the first time to take his physical, his contract and control of the franchise.

So, no, there is no plan to go with a veteran bridge quarterback to at least start this most unique of seasons.

Actually, reports have the Bengals prepared to sign on Thursday a five-year quarterback journeyman in Brandon Allen, a player Taylor had with the Rams but never coached in a game. Not to compete, but maybe to protect.

Allen, who turns 28 the week before the opener, has three NFL starts and appearances (all with Denver last year), and a 46 career completion percentage after Jacksonville took him in the sixth round out of Arkansas in 2016.

Allen would join sophomores Ryan Finley and Jake Dolegala in pure back-up roles at a spot no one keeps more than three. Like everyone else around the league, Taylor says they have been kicking around the idea of keeping one quarterback quarantined.

There's also another list with which NFL teams are dealing. There's a growing number of players opting out this season for health reasons and Taylor wouldn't say if any Bengals have told him they won't play this year.

And he won't.

"Those are personal decisions for those guys. And certainly we'll support those decisions," Taylor said. "I don't want to speak for any player in this league that's going through those conversations with their loved ones. If those guys want to announce things, they can. But we're not going to make any comment on it."

These are sober, cautious times. Remember when training camp would always start with some pithy upbeat Coach-speak T-Shirt slogan to sum up the upcoming season? It looks like this year it is the same T-Shirt for everybody.

"Safety First."

"The starting point is making sure that we're all healthy and safe and not just protecting yourself but your teammates and your family members," Taylor said. "That's the first thing as they come in the building, or as they're even on the Zoom messages, going through the daily testing, is just making sure that we keep everybody safe. That's the number one priority for us right now."