Zac Taylor led Cincinnati Bengals take new approach with rookies on mini-camp weekend

Kelsey Conway
Cincinnati Enquirer

Most NFL teams have a three-day rookie mini-camp either the weekend immediately following the draft or the next week. Typically, it involves two days of practice, meetings and getting acclimated to their new facilities.

The Bengals are continuing to do things differently under head coach Zac Taylor. Following a grueling 2021 season in which his team played 20 games, Cincinnati’s 39-year-old coach opted to move the start of his offseason program back two weeks so his coaches could focus on the draft. He also canceled mandatory mini-camp and the Bengals are the only team to do so. 

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Cincinnati started Phase I of its offseason program on May 1 with players limited to strength and conditioning work. On May 16, the Bengals will begin Phase 2 which allows players to work on the field with coaches but is limited to individual work only.

Taylor opted to shorten rookie mini-camp to a brief on-field workout on Friday morning. The rookies didn’t wear helmets or pads and the drills were mostly at a walk-through pace with coaches providing instruction.

Bengals first-round pick Dax Hill at camp

All of the Bengals' draft picks except second-round pick cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt were present during Friday's session. Following practice, Taylor said Taylor-Britt was not present because he is sick. First-round pick Dax Hill was donning his new No. 23 jersey while working with the rest of the defensive backs. 

Defensive back Dax Hill (23) runs between stations during the first day of Cincinnati Bengals rookie camp at the Paul Brown Stadium practice field in downtown Cincinnati on Friday, May 13, 2022.

As for why Taylor chose to shorten rookie mini-camp and not put his players through a full practice, his reasoning falls in line with his player-friendly approach. Taylor wants to control the environment to avoid any potential soft tissue injuries. This way, he feels the rookies will get easily adjusted to their new environments safely as he and his staff can monitor their workload. 

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"Let them slowly build up into OTAs and not overdo things so quickly," Taylor said on Friday morning. "I know there’s a lot of excitement. They get here and have them out there on the field too long when there is a lot of excitement, we don’t want any soft tissue injuries.

"We haven’t been around these guys so we will ease them into it. That way Joey Boese (Bengals' strength and conditioning coach) has control of them in the weight room for a week. We can control them on the field in a restricted environment and we are not necessarily overdoing it here over three days." 

One of the main reasons Taylor was an attractive head coaching candidate in 2019 is his ability to connect with players, often called a “players coach” by many. There’s been a recent switch in the mentality towards the voluntary offseason program by several NFL teams since COVID-19 occurred.

When the NFL canceled the offseason program in 2020 and shortened it in 2021, coaches started to find other ways to teach their players that didn’t necessarily require physical, on-field work. This allows players to take full advantage of their offseason to be ready for training camp and the 17-game season.

Speaking of the season, Taylor found out his team’s schedule on Thursday as the NFL released all 32 schedules. For the first time in his tenure as head coach in Cincinnati, the Bengals will play five games in prime time and three 4:25 p.m. ET start times as well.

The attention and excitement surrounding the Bengals following the 2021 season is palpable. And Taylor is excited for his team.

“Really excited to start off at home against a division team, I think is great,” Taylor said. “A lot of prime-time games which is fun for the guys. We feel like we’ve got a team that is deserving of that opportunity, that’s always a lot of fun.”