For football fans, the beginning of OTAs means the very first official football action of the season. For NFL players, on the other hand, football is a year round point of focus. One player who knows this very well is veteran cornerback Adam Jones, who was ready to share his thoughts about rebounding next season and his goals for the year.
The painful memories of that early playoff exit were one of the first things on his mind. As a result, he made a point to show his absolute belief that the team will improve in 2016. He began by discussing in the importance of getting a first round bye in the playoffs and his determination to get there.
"I want a bye," Jones said via ESPN. "I've gotten to the point where like we don't ... we need a f-----' bye. Period."
That sentiment isn't exactly anything new. The Bengals were so close to picking up that elusive first round playoff bye last year, but a second half collapse against the Denver Broncos in Week 16 all but ensured their inability to secure that berth. But, Jones believes the team is talented enough to get it done this year.
"We have a good team," Jones said. "We could be way better than last year if we just stay healthy and do the little things."
Getting a first round playoff bye will require the team to continue to improve over the best season they've had in the Marvin Lewis era. They've come close to this level of success in 2005 and 2013 when they went 11-5 and won the AFC North division crown. But, they haven't gone 12-4 in the regular season since 1988, a season in which they wrapped up the AFC's No. 1 seed and earned a Super Bowl appearance.
Jones pointed out more than once that he expects this team to be better than last year, but there were a few players who he noted as being particularly more impressive than others.
Jones was beaten by A.J. Green on a catch yesterday and thinks it's actually a good sign. As he told the Dayton Daily News, "I had a good year last year and he beat me on the first day. He beat me on the first day again this year. I don't know man, I'm a bit, what's the word I'm looking for, superstitious."
We don't mind the superstition; if Green beat out Jones to start out his best-ever season as a pro in 2015, we'll take it in 2016, too.
But, Green's performance wasn't really the highlight of the day. The fact that quarterback Andy Dalton appeared to be fully recovered from his fractured thumb injury that ended his 2015 season was the point of interest that drew the most attention. Jones was quick to offer his two cents on the matter.
"They had a good first day, we had a good first day," Jones told the Cincinnati Enquirer about Dalton and Green. "Making sure everybody is doing everything right is the main thing right now. Guys are going to get beat here and there on the first day against wide receivers. In about a week everybody's feet will get up under them and speed will get back together and everything will be all right."
In addition to Green's performance, Jones noted a couple other receivers who caught his eye in practice. It's good to see these lesser known young players getting some notable attention. That is especially true given how wide open the wide receiver position is this season. The more great performances they can get from these unheralded players, the more likely their chances are to achieve that all important first round playoff bye, or even make it to the playoffs, which isn't easy either.
"I like 17," Jones said, impressed by the performance of undrafted rookie Alonzo Russell. "He's tall and sneaky fast. I figured that out today. And 83 (second-round pick Tyler Boyd) is like a Cadillac. He's got the nicest stride on the team. He's smooth as hell. It don't look like he's running fast, but he's moving."
The ability to move deceptively is important for a player like Russell who is likely to receive very few opportunities to prove himself. Making sneaky quick moves on inexperienced cornerbacks in the preseason could prove to be exactly the kind of opportunity that can make you stand out -- for the right reasons -- when the team is making the final roster cuts.
But, being able to make those kind of moves successfully against higher end cornerbacks during the season could be exactly what the team's wide receiver position needs to take that next step and continue to improve over an already impressive 2015 group.
"I was very impressed by 15 today. He played pretty fast today," Jones noted about second year receiver Mario Alford. "They look pretty good. I'm eager to see how good they can be. I'm eager to see how the young guys pan out. I see two or three of them that maybe can make a splash for us."
Ultimately, what matters is how the team comes out and plays once the 2016 regular season begins. They could very well come together and improve over the high mark they set in 2015. If Jones' comments are to be believed, they most definitely will.