Bengals head coach Zac Taylor's defending AFC champions take the field Wednesday afternoon for the first practice of 2022 as training camp opens and he huddled with Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson to talk about it.
Taylor expounds on his team's biggest challenge, his one major change of training camp, how he feels about his team's health and why he hasn't changed mottos.
GH: What do think the biggest challenge is this year?
ZT: Well, we know we're not going to surprise anybody. I can't speak for other teams. I don't know if we surprised them or not. I hope they saw a good team on tape in week one. But this year, certainly, I think people are more aware of the type of team we can be and we have to prove that.
We have lot of work yet to go to make sure we can meet our own expectations and continue to raise our standard. That it just doesn't come based on what you did the previous year. There is going to be a ton of work that's got to be done over these next 45 days to make sure we're ready for week one against Pittsburgh.
GH: Any one thing you're looking forward to see on Wednesday?
ZT: It's just good to see everybody back. A lot of veterans come back Tuesday. We haven't seen them for six or seven weeks. It's good to get everyone back in the building and then you really feel like, all right, it's go time. Let's start to get ready.
GH: Do you have a motto for camp?
ZT: No special motto. It's always been, 'It's about us.' That's what you see in the weight room. That's just the overall thing that we have. It's not specific to this year.
GH: Nothing like the obligatory 'Unfinished Business?'" I guess everybody knows that.
ZT: That's the goal every year. To get back and win that game. That is certainly something that drives us.
GH: It is Camp Normalcy. The first normal training camp since your first one in 2019. What's the biggest difference four years into this thing? That has to be a big factor how you've mapped out camp and what your vision is for this year.
ZT: Sure. It allows us to get our installs in. We're not trying to shorten anything because there's a lot of guys learning it for the first time. But there is lot of repetitiveness for veterans. There's some refreshing that they'll need, but they'll be able to play at a higher level and faster than three or four years ago. It is exciting to have the same coordinators in all three phases. We've got a lot of continuity there we can continue to build on.
GH: The continuity, I would imagine, helps new guys like trying to ease in.
ZT: Consistency is just helpful to the entire team. The players who have been here know what to expect and the new players, I think can quickly get into the mix because of that chemistry we have as a coaching staff and the familiarity players have with the systems and how we prepare day to day. That will help guys get up to speed much faster than, say, three or four years ago.
GH: You don't have a conditioning test this year, which makes sense because down through the years guys have been known to get hurt.
ZT: It's a way for us just to monitor as guys come back to practice and what our team needs. We can work that into practice with our strength coaches. We just made a decision to eliminate it this year.
GH: Did you find that teams seem to lose a guy or two in the tests pretty much every camp?
ZT: It's happened certainly. We've had a lot of conversations about it. We decided the best way to approach it was kind of work it in with our strength coaches the best we could after practice.
GH: Is that the biggest change of camp that we'd notice?
ZT: That's the biggest change. We felt like we had a good shell of training camp last year and we'll continue to make the tweaks as we need to, but we feel good about how our plan has been.
GH: How do you think you are health wise? You've got some starters on the physically unable to perform and non-football injury lists. Anything major?
ZT: I think we're in a pretty good spot. A lot of times you just put guys on a list and ease their way into training camp. Make sure you don't rush anybody too quickly. That's where you certainly stand with a lot of guys on this list. We're very optimistic overall as a team with what our health has been at this point.
GH: How do you see it for Joe Burrow? It's his first camp that's not delayed by COVID protocols or by his rehab. What do you see different for him?
ZT: There are things he can help along with the offense. We've got new offensive linemen we have to bring up to speed and the communication and rapport with those guys. With Tee (Higgins), he's coming off the shoulder (surgery), so we're going to protect him early on in camp and so it's an opportunity to continue to develop some of that receiving corps and Joe is certainly a big part of helping bring that along. Hayden Hurst, the new tight end, to build that chemistry with.
There's always changes that occur from year-to- year for the quarterback and we're counting on him to him to help bring people along and make sure our offense continues humming.
GH: How can Burrow and the offense be better?
ZT: You're really just talking about the entirety of the offense at that point. Score more points in the red zone. We certainly didn't always start some games the way we want to. We did a really good job of finishing. We had a lot of production late in the first half, but I think now the next step for this offense in its entirety is to really build some leads early and score points early in the game. The best brand of football is playing with a lead. That's an area we can certainly improve on.
GH: Are red zone and short yardage the big emphasis in this camp?
ZT: Those will be key areas of focus for us. We map out training camp and make sure we hit all our areas and spend some time on it and talk through our weaknesses from a year ago and strengths from a year ago and that's part of what we present to our players. We feel good about what our plan is going into training camp.
GH: You're always looking at trends and tendencies. Do you think defenses are going to dare you to run the ball this year?
ZT: It's hard to just put a general blanket on every team we play. We know that each team can throw something a little bit different at you. Teams have shown that over the years. You just have to prepare for each game as an individual game and see what the defense throws at you and adjust the next week. That's a part of it in this league. No two teams are usually the same when you prepare for them.
GH: After getting the contract extension, have you changed anything knowing you've got five years?
ZT: I think in this profession you aways approach things year to year. It's what have you done for me lately. Sure, there were some great things that happened here last year. The expectation and standards continue to be raised every year. That's what you want. That's why you're in this profession. If you don't have that mentality, that you have to improve on the past, you're probably in it for the wrong reasons. That's just the mentality we've all taken here.
GH: Will you do it like last year when it comes to preseason games and play the starters in just the first quarter for the first two games before shutting them down in the last one?
ZT: We're not there yet. You want to get into practices and get a sense where the team is and then you can make those decisions. We'll wait until we get closer to the games.
GH: I would imagine training camp is going to draw some big crowds. How do you handle what plays you practice?
ZT: In training camp you want to get your work done. We're going to put it all on tape eventually. We've got our history on tape over the last couple of years. So you want your guys to play with confidence. You manage it. Not every practice is open, so there are certainly opportunities to hold some things for the right time. But we want our guys to get the work in. You feed off that energy. It's good to see the excitement. I think the fans are really excited about the team that we have. It's up to us to put in the work and make sure that we can match those expectations.
GH: When you walk out on the field Wednesday, how much does the Super Bowl hang with you? If at all?
ZT: You just work to turn page and work toward this year. We learned from all the wins and losses from last year. Those are things we'll continue to show it in our cut-ups that come up and we have to learn from all the different in-game situations we found ourselves in. We use those cut-ups that we've encountered over the last few years and still will come up. The guys that were here know them first-hand and the guys that weren't here will learn though our teaching.
GH: I would think you don't have to say much to anybody. All you guys lived it. Thirty-nine seconds away.
ZT: Yeah, I think everybody knows how it ended and we're ready to attack the new year.