Zac Taylor's Youngest and Deepest Bengals Plot Next Moves

Jake Browning 082623
QB Jake Browning during the Bengals-Commanders preseason game on Saturday, August 26, 2023.

In the wake of Tuesday's initial roster cut to 53, head coach Zac Taylor and his team are taking the next day to ponder the next move, if any, on his deepest and youngest team in his five seasons on the job.

With just two quarterbacks on the roster and Pro Bowl quarterback Joe Burrow not practicing since July 27 with a strained calf, could the Bengals be in the market for a practice squad quarterback with one of those moves?

"We'll give it 24 hours to see how it all shakes out at the quarterback spot," Taylor said after the cut.

Asked if Burrow is to practice on Wednesday and Thursday before they break for the weekend, Taylor said, "We'll see."

Taylor remained upbeat about him and his new backup Jake Browning.

"I think he has a very healthy body and I'm encouraged by that," Taylor said. "I feel really good about Jake being the No. 2."

The post-COVID practice squad rules allow players like a No. 3 quarterback to be elevated at a moment's notice. It's also those new rules, which allow teams to keep up to six vested veterans on the practice squad, that may take the edge off Tuesday's tough good-byes to valued locker room leader Mike Thomas and special teams staple Stanley Morgan Jr.

Thomas told Bengals.com after Saturday night's preseason finale in Washington that he would return to the squad if asked. Morgan has a similarly good relationship with Taylor and his staff and both could be back as soon as Wednesday at noon, when the practice squad is announced.

"It was a tough conversation, certainly," Taylor said of his fellow Cornhusker Morgan. "He's been a part of four years' worth of teams here and been a part of a lot of ups and downs, so difficult conversation when you're dealing with guys like that. Certainly appreciate Stanley and love Stanley and we'll just continue to see how things shake out these next couple of days.

"Similar," Taylor said of Thomas. "I mean, those are two guys that, of course, have been very valuable to us for a lot of different reasons and two of the harder conversations certainly today."

Those tough talks are the product of competing on the deepest Bengals team in recent memory. Taylor says it is.

"I think this is the hardest. And it's the hardest because you have a higher number of quality players that are worthy of being on it," Taylor said. "As opposed to maybe there are years where you have 49 or 50 and you're trying to sort through it. It can be difficult that way, too. But I think this year, I thought our 90-man roster was as strong as it's ever been. Obviously, that leads to more difficult decisions there for the final 53."

It's not only the deepest of Taylor's rosters, it is also the youngest. The average age of 25.4 years old is about a year younger than last year's Opening Day roster. The new locker room dean is center Ted Karras, the only 30-year-old in the locker room. His eight NFL seasons are tied for the most with wide receiver Tyler Boyd and nose tackle DJ Reader.

It also marked the fourth straight year director player personnel Duke Tobin and his staff have led a selection process that has seen every draft pick survive the initial cut to 53. The only one who didn't make the roster was 2021 seventh-round pick Wyatt Hubert, who went on the non-football injury list.

"We've got really young talent. As the roster gets more expensive, it gets younger as well," Taylor said. "That's the nature of the NFL and how it unfolds. Duke has done a great job in the draft. It's all these guys we've drafted over the last couple of years, they're playing key roles for us if they're starters, depth players, or featured on special teams. It does speak to the young talent we have, and I'm really impressed by a lot of those guys.

"You're relying on some younger players at some of those positions. That's the nature of pro football. You need these young guys to step up. "Grab the bull by the horns. Take ownership and responsibilities and they have done that."

More Taylor-Made Takes:

On edge Joseph Ossai's ankle that he appeared to sprain Saturday: "We're going to get more information here today and tomorrow to be a little more conclusive on that."

On the practice squad: "To me, you have a 69-man roster with 21 inactives on game day. Because you can standard elevate with the Covid rules that have become permanent rules. So there's a group of guys on the practice squad that you feel like, 'Man, these guys could play for us quickly on game day if you have an injury or the situation calls for it.'

"And there are other guys that are more developmental, maybe younger guys that you want to keep in your system and on your roster and in your organization that you continue to develop. Maybe they aren't ready to play in a real game right now, but you feel like in time they will be, so you want to continue to invest in them. With the larger practice squad now at 16 players, different guys fall on different places on the scale, but they're all here because we think they're ultimately going to help our organization.

On keeping ten offensive linemen: "Tough decision. Those are just decisions we think are best for our team right now. We felt like we had a really strong roster, tough decisions to be made, and that's just where things fell for us."

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