With his defending AFC champions prepping for Sunday's opener with the Steelers (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) at Paycor Stadium, head coach Zac Taylor took a timeout to speak with Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson.
GH: The decision not to play the starters in the preseason, has that evolved from what you've seen during your tenure? There was no preseason in 2020 because of COVID and Joe Burrow basically hasn't played at all in the last two preseasons. Were those the leading factors?
ZT: There are a mixture of things that lead to the decision. I don't think it was one thing. I might feel different next year with the type of team we have. So you just take it training camp by training camp and see how our guys practice the first couple of weeks before we decided what to do that first game. We felt they were far enough along to where I didn't need to put those guys out there and here we are. They're fresh and they're ready to go and we'll see how they handle it.
GH: Not a lot of tackling to the ground, but that seems to be where training camps are now.
ZT: It's possible some teams get a couple of more reps than others. At the end of the day I think we've got an experience group on defense that will do good job with the physical portion of things. We'll find out on Sunday.
GH: You have to happy where you are health wise. The thinking seems to be if you can get to the gate in this league with your people, you've got a shot.
ZT: We're in a good spot. I think our guys did a great job taking care of themselves. We're in a great spot health wise.
GH: What did you come out of the preseason feeling good about? Where maybe you had a little bit of a concern, but after the preseason you had a really good feeling about it?
ZT: I think how the new guys have integrated themselves. Whether you're talking about the offensive linemen, Hayden (Hurst), Dax Hill. All the guys coming back from injury have really been as good as we could have hoped. Talking about Logan (Wilson) and Tee (Higgins) and guys like that. We're in a very positive place.
GH: What does it say about your locker room that they chose for captains one newcomer in center Ted Karras and safety Michael Thomas after he got picked up in the middle of last season?
ZT: They're pros' pros. They've been around long enough. They know what it should look like. They know it's something you live every day. They know people can see right through people who just talk the talk but they don't walk the walk and those two guys represent us pretty well.
GH: The fact your locker room was able to recognize and chose to reward leadership outside last year's core says something, too, I would think.
ZT: I think we've got a lot of guys that would have fit into the captain role. I didn't know how it would shake out. There were a lot of people that were available that I think would have been great. This just happened to be the seven that got it.
GH: This is the first time you've opened against a division foe. How different is that on Opening Day, when in your three previous openers you've played two NFC teams and an AFC West team? And on Sunday you play what should be a familiar Steelers team, but it has a new quarterback and new defensive coordinator.
ZT: It really doesn't feel that different. The first game is always exciting. There's always a lot of unknowns that come with it. It's obviously an opponent we know better than the majority of the teams we play and the same with them against us. It just happens to be a week one opponent. We all know how important divisional games are and we have to take advantage of it.
GH: Talking to the receivers, they seem to know that they're going to see every kind of defense this season.
ZT: We feel good about our system we have in place. It's got good progressions. It's got good one-on-one opportunities. If the matchup presents itself I've got a lot of confidence that even if our receivers are getting doubled or bracketed there are still plays to be made with them when Joe gives them the opportunity. Other times you just have to go find the best matchup or stick with the progression and I just have confidence we've built our system the right way and Joe does a great job managing it the way it should be managed.
GH: One thing we saw in the Rams' practices, I think the offensive line showed they're playing with a different kind of edge. There seem to be new sheriffs in town at that spot.
ZT: They're made of the right stuff. (Offensive line coach) Frank (Pollack) does a good job of creating culture in that room and I think we've got the right guys there to get it done.
GH: Do you think you guys did a good job in training camp of getting past the Super Bowl loss? Even though you finished up with the Rams?
ZT: I think we did. That doesn't come up in anything we talk about. That's all just … the media kind of talks about. New year brings new things and there's a lot to get ready for, so we're not spending a lot of time talking about our past.
GH: The preseason crowds were really unique. Do you wonder what the atmosphere is going to be like when you take the field on Sunday as AFC champions?
ZT: I don't wonder. I've got a pretty good sense of what it's going to be based on some of the late games we had last year. I thought the crowd did a great job of giving us an extra boost and I certainly expect to see it again at 1 o'clock on Sunday. I'm excited to see them in action as well.