Coaching voice overs on the iPad. No watching meetings in the car. Jeopardy with the defensive backs. Locker room needling without the lockers and look out if you didn't win the national championship game.
Such is virtual reality with the Bengals in the Zooming '20s as they finished their third week of remote meetings while Paul Brown Stadium remains closed in what would be the first phase of off-season workouts.
Head coach Zac Taylor's young guns staff raised on Super Mario hasn't missed a beat with the long-time Vicar of Video, Bengals film coordinator Travis Brammer, and director of technology Jake Kiser.
"I think that we really have gotten a feel for it, Taylor said Friday in another Zoom news conference that has become the normal in the abnormal. "It helped that we were doing the scouting calls really for the two months leading up to it. We got a bunch of really tech-savvy coaches that have been able to incorporate a lot of fun tools to help these guys learn."
Yes, Taylor broke a bit of news Friday when he basically ruled out bringing in a veteran to back up rookie quarterback Joe Burrow when he said, ""We're set. We've got three young guys (Burrow and sophomores Ryan Finley and Jake Dolegala) we really look forward to investing a lot of reps in. We think they have bright futures. We feel really good about where we're at right now."
And, yes, he confirmed he's has good conversations with wide receiver A.J. Green since he's been tagged their franchise free agent.
"I wouldn't expect anything else knowing the kind of guy A.J. is," Taylor said.
But the story of the day was virtual. Monday is the first day both rookies and veterans can meet together with the coaches in cyberspace. The veterans have been meeting for two hours a day four days a week since April 20. Last weekend the rookies had their minicamp, although they didn't use all five allotted hours each Friday, Saturday and Sunday to baptize the freshmen.
Taylor wouldn't say who's been in attendance ("It's voluntary"), but he painted an in-depth and intriguing picture of the new normal.
"We open up the Zoom about 10 minutes before so that the players can try to get a locker room feel to it a little bit and start to build that camaraderie," Taylor said. "The coaches typically shut off their Zooms and mute their volumes. Your first day of all the rookies they don't know each other and so you flip on that Zoom and it's just a bunch of guys silent, all-muted for the 10 minutes leading up to the team meeting."
Apparently second-round pick Tee Higgins has had a tough 10 minutes. Word is, reportedly via Burrow on a podcast, the assistant coaches have been needling Higgins about Clemson coming up short against Burrow and LSU in the national championship game.
"Some of our coaches with some bigger personalities may have jumped in there and tried to stir the pot a little bit and get those guys riled up and see kind of what they're made of," Taylor said. "That was pretty entertaining to watch."
But the coaches have been as creative as well as kidding. Spurred on by offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, he and defensive counterpart Lou Anarumo have come up with an innovative way to reach the players on their iPads. It reminds Brammer of ancient times when former Bengals secondary coach Kevin Coyle voiced-over DVDs for his DBs.
"It's a really cool teaching tool," said Brammer Friday. "They're doing a basic screen capture. They're using a software that allows them to capture the screen … the information is all up on the screen. It's an effective way to send a teach tool to a player's iPad and then the players get a similar type session they would get in the classroom."
Callahan and Anarumo, or any other coach for that matter, can put on headsets and talk over the video. They've got a telestrator and they can hit pause, all the while putting the information up on the screen, such as the play call and the installation. Then they can create a video link and drop it in the individual player's iPad.
Taylor himself has been thinking out of the box, stationing a camera in his home office and standing in front of it going through the installation as if in a classroom, diagramming each play and then going into watch the film.
"Our coaches have done a great job adjusting in the last couple of months," said Brammer, who broke into the business during the VCR late '80s. "They've come up with some fresh ways to look at it."
The players use their iPads in the Zooms, where there are some rules. Not a lot. But at least one.
"We've made it clear we don't want guys in cars on the Zoom," Taylor said. "It's hard to take notes when you are doing things like that. Guys have done a great job; they are all comfortable. They pick their favorite chair; they pick their favorite couch as opposed to sitting in a meeting room. You can take a five-minute break and everybody doesn't have to get up and leave the room. They can shut their screen off, check their cell phone, get a bite to eat, whatever it is."
And despite the shutdown, there has been carryover from last season's off-season workouts.
"One of our coaches had a Jeopardy parody and did a great job of incorporating the DBs into this Jeopardy deal that they did," Taylor said. "It's been really fun to watch our guys respond to that. They've been really engaged and I know they've gotten a lot out of it."
It hasn't just been the young cyber jockeys carrying the day, either. Specials teams coordinator and assistant head coach Darrin Simmons, the senior Bengals assistant, sounds as comfortable as he did when he convened that first punt meeting in 2003.
"He's got 20, 25 guys popped up on the screen and if he shows the written things about what we're about as a special teams unit in each of the phases and he shows the film it's very crisp," Taylor said. Travis Brammer and Jake Kiser and those guys have done a great job of helping the coaches maximize the performance of the video so it's very clear for the players.
"It's like they're sitting right there in the auditorium and listening to Darrin present and they can ask questions. Guys have learned they have to speak loudly, quickly because often times the presenter can only see your screen. Over these two weeks guys have really gotten a feel for, 'Go ahead and stop it coach.' It's not in a meeting, you can't raise your hand so be vocal, speak up and ask and guys have done a great job of that. We haven't missed a beat there."
One of the greatest plays in football history is "The Ghost to the Post," when Raiders tight end Dave Casper won a Christmas Eve playoff game catching two huge post routes in the final 2:17. They were preserved back in the 16mm film days of 1977. But Taylor is Ghosting in the Zoom Era so he can pop up anywhere.
"I'm able to just jump in and watch every meeting as they happen," Taylor said. "I kind of just disappear and then I reappear in somebody else's meeting."