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Quick Hits: Zac Taylor Says His Deepest Bengals Team Primed For Training Camp; Newest Offensive Starters Impressive On And Off Field

TE Irv Smith Jr catches the ball during OTAs at Kettering Health Practice Fields on Monday, June 5 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
TE Irv Smith Jr catches the ball during OTAs at Kettering Health Practice Fields on Monday, June 5 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

As he bid farewell to his Bengals for the summer, head coach Zac Taylor said Thursday what many have been thinking since the draft. This is their deepest roster in his five seasons and the expectations are soaring with the talent.

"(The depth) is the best we've had and it is hard in pro football now to have as strong as a 53-man roster that we can potentially have," Taylor said after the last practice of mandatory camp. "I just think it is the way the salary cap is built. You've got to acquire young players and hope they step up quickly.

"You just really kind of think through where the roster is  at the 90-man and you are really encouraged from top to bottom. There are no players that don't belong here. You can oftentimes get on a 90-man roster. But everyone belongs here and has a role and I'm excited to watch all these guys compete."

That won't happen until training camp opens July 26 for  the first practice on the Kettering Health Practice Fields at Paycor Stadium. But Taylor is clearly bullish on how well his streamlined spring ball schedule unfolded and who executed it.

"I think this team has really high-end starters and really talented depth," Taylor said. "You feel like this thing is way ahead of where we've been years past. Especially from the first day I got here. So you can see the details. Guys are moving so quickly. The players here are empowered, they've taken ownership of our schemes and so that allows them to take the next step …  New players I think feel that and they feel the need to study up and maximize the reps they get because they can see guys that have been in these systems for years now at the high level that they're playing, the high level of understanding what we're asking them to do, and that's a really good thing for our team."

When Taylor was hired in 2019, the former Rams quarterbacks coach brought the rather avant-garde workload philosophy of Sean McVay, his head coach in Los Angeles. Less is more. That was four years ago. Now it's even less. After playing in the NFL's last game in 2021 and the next-to-last game of last season, the Bengals' light spring regimen has fit a Super Bowl contender's grind.

Taylor used all three of his scheduled mandatory practices because he used only three of his OTA practices leading up to it.

'This is something we always preach to our guys is we're going to do everything at a Super Bowl caliber. Things that we believe will get us to Super Bowl," Taylor said. "You may not see the results yet, but the process is what we believe in and then you saw that in year three and four and now five is what our expectation is. And so it is something that we think is tried and true. We've been in it. It's not something we just think will work, it's something we know will work and our players understand the intent of everything that we're asking them to do.

"I just think this is a team that's not trying to go through the motions of just being a pro football team. We have high expectations for ourselves. I think everybody around this organization has high expectations for our team and we want to meet those expectations And so we know that there's a lot that goes into that. It's not just on paper. We have a really good roster and we've done really good things in the past. We all understand that's not how it works."

ZAC ON JOE: As Marvin Lewis said 20 years ago when the Bengals drafted Carson Palmer overall No. 1 in his first year as coach, 'We're joined at the hip,' and so it is with Taylor, in his second year when Joe Burrow arrived No. 1 overall.

Now as Burrow heads into his fourth season after just his second full spring of work, they're still on the same hip. Taylor thinks he's on top of his game as they knock on wood for what should be his first full NFL training camp.

"Really sharp. I think he's got a good recall of some of the adjustments we made as the season went and some of the adjustments we're continuing to make. There's been really good feedback and communication that way," Taylor said. "I think he knows that we're going to continue to empower him and we want his feedback as we continue to take the next steps as an offense, as a team, and he's taken that role to heart."

FACE-TO-FACE: New Bengals left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. has been terrific with the media and with everyone else since he arrived. The personable four-time Pro Bowler's willingness to take on all questions reflects his stature in the game, the confidence of a guy that has blocked for two NFL MVPs and has a Super Bowl ring, and natural leadership.

"He's a guy that feels like he's been here for a lot longer than he has," Taylor said. "There's no shyness to him. That's how you blend into a locker room and get to know people when you're personable like that and he is, so I appreciate that about him. He asked really good questions, football questions. He wants to be the best. It's really exciting when you are able to acquire a player like that. He's got all that tangible stuff and personality stuff. That's all good stuff."

Brown met the best there ever was for the first time face-to-face Thursday when Bengals Pro Football Hall-of-Fame left tackle Anthony Munoz visited practice.

Thanks to Bengals radio voice Dan Hoard, they had already met via Zoom as Brown publicly went through a laundry list of questions for Munoz. Brown is still picking his brain. On Thursday he asked Munoz and Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham about family vacations.

"It's great to be able to talk to a guy like that who played the position. What a great guy," Brown said. "I'm hoping we can go to lunch in a few weeks."

He said the best answer he got from Munoz during the Hoard broadcast concerned consistency.

"I'm looking for his mindset and approach and he said he went into every training camp like he had to make the team," Brown said. "He's the best to ever do it and he went into it like that. It makes you think. And I had a lot more questions I didn't get to."

Orlando Brown Jr.'s destination vacation? New York City.

IRV EASES IN: The other new Bengals offensive starter, tight end Irv Smith Jr., has looked superb. Smith is the third different starter in three years tight end Drew Sample has lined up with and he's been suitably impressed.

Sample hates to call him "sneaky fast," because he says, "If you're fast, you're fast." Sample calls him "effortless."

"He's a really smart, savvy player. We don't have a lot of new guys on offense, but he's picked it up seamlessly as far as a lot of adjustments go. He's done a great job picking that stuff up," Sample said. "C.J. (Uzomah) and Hayden (Hurst) are great. For Irv, I think he may be the smoothest of those guys. Getting in and out of his breaks. He's a very smooth route runner. He can get down the seam. Makes a lot of cuts like receivers. All great players, Irv just brings his different spin to it."

Taylor knew all about Smith's talent. He's always been a high-profile guy, first at Alabama and then a second-round pick. But Taylor has found out he's got a lot more than that.

"Forget about the talent. He's a talented guy. We knew that's what we've seen on tape so that didn't surprise me in anyway," Taylor said. "But I think just how quickly he's integrated himself has been really impressive.

That's the most impressive thing about Irv is how quickly he's picked everything up and even taken on the nuances. And that's a credit to (tight ends coach) James Casey. James does a great job with every tight end that's walked in his room making sure that they maximize their potential and I think Irv has a willingness to work to get to that point. And so I think just how quickly he has understood not just the scheme but the nuances in the scheme of playing tight end in this system and I've been really impressed with that."

SLANTS AND SCREENS: Sample, who missed all but one game last season with a torn MCL and torn PCL, wasn't supposed to be cleared until training camp. But he was able to get into the last three practices and he chalked it up to Taylor's light schedule touch that allowed him to get acclimated into seven-on-seven drills throughout the spring …

It sounds like the expectation for cornerback Chidobe Awuzie coming off his Halloween ACL is that he'll be able to play the Sunday after Labor Day in the Sept. 10 opener in Cleveland. He looks good, but Taylor is hesitant to talk about injuries and timelines.

"That's one thing I've learned in five years. Always reserve injury excitement and I see the same things you guys do," Taylor said. "Chido's built differently. He's done a great job attacking the rehab and doing the things you need to do coming off injury had on Halloween he's done a great job attacking the rehab and doing the things you need to do coming off injury … Won't make any rush of judgment on him coming back." …

Here's a guy to watch in training camp, seventh-round pick DJ Ivey, the University of Miami cornerback. They're really hjgh on this guy because of his size (6-1, 192 pounds) and his 4.4 speed. And Thursday he sent a warning to camp when he had an interception in the red zone …

The battle for back-up quarterback job started this spring with Jake Browning and Trevor Siemian pretty much splitting the non-Burrow snaps ...

Evan McPherson hooked one field-goal try Thursday. He also went into summer vacation drilling a 60-yarder into the wind ...