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A Team Meeting In Zacland, Where Less Is More For Bengals

Head Coach Zac Taylor speaks to the team during offseason training at the IEL Practice Facility in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Head Coach Zac Taylor speaks to the team during offseason training at the IEL Practice Facility in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Welcome to a Bengals team meeting, but don't get too comfortable. The only thing shorter than a Zac Taylor address is on his office mailbox at 1 Paycor Stadium.

"Very efficient information dispensed and there isn't a lot of faffing around," says center Ted Karras, one of his captains who has played more NFL games than anyone on offense. "I would put Zac as the best scheduler I've ever been around."

Taylor, the unassuming fifth-year head coach who has quietly won the most playoff games in Bengals history, is getting rave reviews from current elder statesmen such as Karras and Tyler Boyd and a Ring of Honor member in Ken Anderson for this spring's streamlined but saucy workouts.

In Zacland, less is more. And it transcends the field and floods his locker-room culture that has caught the fancy of the league.

Like Thursday morning's team meeting, a once-a-week agenda item during voluntaries scheduled for ten minutes but probably won't make it. In this one, Taylor went all of three minutes, shorter than most of Joe Burrow's scoring drives. The rest belonged to head athletic trainer Matt Summers for a rousing rendition of the sprawling new-look training room the Bengals see come training camp.

(Summers' description of the recovery ward earned some happy table pounding.)

"The schedule with the report dates, guardian hats, and Matt Summer's overview of the training room renovations," clicks off Doug Rosfeld, Taylor's chief of staff. "Zac just wanted to let them know some positions are going to have to wear the caps in training camp but not now.

"Very concise. Straightforward. Three to five minutes. Some are a little longer. Come in, get together one time, but speak the culture and get to know each other and that's it."

Like last week, which was a bit lighter but had a certain design. Taylor had Rosfeld put together some informational slides.

"Name That Rookie," had a then-and-now photo and it was pretty easy because punter Brad Robbins' current dome outshone a hairy snapshot from his early Michigan days. Photos of the four players who have been with the Bengals the longest were pretty easy, too. Boyd and running back Joe Mixon, of course, and first-rounder Myles Murphy could recognize two of his defensive linemates in Josh Tupou and Sam Hubbard.

"What Is The Heptatlon?" wasn't as easy. But rookie wide receiver Andrei Iosivas, who finished fourth in it last year at the NCAA indoor track and field championships, took care of that by naming the seven events and then receiving applause from veterans and rookies alike.

Rosfeld devised two other slides that were no-brainers for the rookies. When he arrived in 2019 Taylor crafted a definition of "What Is A Bengal?" and now every Cincy schoolkid knows it is "Physical, hungry and accountable." Team rules? The only thing shorter than Taylor's list of rules are transcripts of his speeches.

"Don't be late and protect the team," Karras says.

Taylor, 40, who set a couple of Nebraska single-season passing records, is close enough to his career to remember sitting in plenty of numbing meetings. But, player-friendly only goes so far.

"It's great," says incumbent special teams captain Michael Thomas, the longest-tenured NFL player on the roster. "And Zac does a great job. But in order to make it work you need self-governance. The players have to police it and we've got guys willing to do that."

Karras, who won two Super Bowl rings doing it "The Patriot Way," under future Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick, appreciates snapping in the middle of two eras. He also points to ownership and roster construction headed by director of player personnel Duke Tobin.

"Bill would talk about 30 to 40 minutes a day. That's how that program was structured," Karras says. "I loved listening to Bill. It's just a different style and we had great camaraderie on those teams, too. This one is different … It's less militaristic.

"The credit for the culture goes to Zac, Duke, Mike (Brown), Katie and Troy (Blackburn). Just being able to pick the right guys. It can't work if you've got guys all over the place. You look from top-to-bottom in this locker room and you're not going find any (bleeps)."

Another Ted Karras is observing. Karras' father is the head coach at Indianapolis' Marian University and has a notebook full of both styles.

"My dad has taken a lot of notes from Zac. We've been very blessed with a lot of knowledge from great leaders in the NFL and Zac is right up there with the best of them," Karras says. "There is a new kind of wave of younger coaches that take care of guys. It only works if you bring in the right guys."

Karras nods to the post-workout activity behind his locker. College roommates Germaine Pratt and B.J. Hill are taking on all-comers in ping-pong. New left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., stops for a chat at Burrow's locker. Karras is hunched over his phone coordinating a weekend event with about a dozen teammates.

In Zacland, it's the only unscripted part of the day. And the longest.