A sunny but cold day in Mobile, Alabama began with Cincinnati Bengals’ head coach Zac Taylor sitting down before all eyes and ears and kicking off the week of the Senior Bowl. A few minutes later, he stood up and talked some more to a handful of professionals and a doofus that helps manage this website.
For Taylor to go from putting together a staff behind the scenes during the NFL playoffs last season to having a full group of coaches all together coaching the top seniors in the country is quite the turnaround. In his exact place last season was Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers, who has gone from coaching the South roster in the 2019 Senior Bowl to now game-planning for Super Bowl LIV. The NFL is engineered for quick turnarounds of all kinds, and opportunities like this can help springboard the craziest of them into action.
As the coach of the South roster, Taylor has the two biggest names of the game to work with for the next handful of days. Quarterbacks Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts are drawing all the buzz leftover from Joe Burrow’s declined invitation, but Taylor, being a former quarterbacks and wide receivers coach, knows the expectations for even the most talented passers working with new receivers on such a short notice.
“It is hard.” Taylor said. “And in one week to say that they’re going to formulate much chemistry...you know the quarterback might be throwing just a couple balls to all six or seven receivers...so there’s no expectation to formulate great chemistry. It’s just execute it to the best of your abilities, doing what we’re asking you to do so we can be on the same page.”
Keeping players in their comfort zone is imperative for Taylor and his coaches, but the opportunity to see how they manage tasks suited for Cincinnati’s scheme and general NFL concepts is also one that he wanted to capitalize on.
“I think that’s the benefit of these all-star games...you take them out of there comfort zone of the things that they did for four years in college and do we do and (what) a lot of the league does and see how quickly those guys can process that information and play with confidence.”
The South’s first practice featured plenty of top talent putting their names on the radar. Wide receiver K.J. Hill started the day measuring in with mere 29” arms, but that mattered little on the practice field. The former Ohio State Buckeye showed his exceptional quickness and route running ability. In a Senior Bowl that is weak in receivers, especially compared to the class in total, Hill definitely stood out in a positive light.
Jonathan Greenard, who transferred from Louisville to Florida, also had a great practice after a great weigh-in. Grennard had a great final year for the Gators as an edge rusher, but he was being used at linebacker and occasionally at 3-technique during one-on-one drills. While he should probably be rushing the passer most of the time, the Bengals’ coaching staff is using him all over since he can clearly handle it all.
Grennard’s teammate at Florida, Jabari Zuniga, also flashed brilliance coming off the edge in one-on-ones. His quick hands and hips got him winning around the edge from both the right and left side. This was impressive considering the tackles of the South had great days as well. St. John’s Ben Bartch and Texas Tech’s Terence Steele both looked incredibly fluid with confident and strong hand usage. Plenty of times Bartch was tested with inside counters and he never faltered. Steele was praised a couple times by Bengals’ offensive line coach Jim Turner.
Defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw is already a player who won’t be around when the Bengals pick in the second round. With two more days like today, the South Carolina product may not make it out of the first 16 picks. Kinlaw was great on the podium; answering questions well and being very personable. At the weigh in he measured in absolutely humongous, and then at practice he was the most dominant defensive lineman in the one-on-one drills, winning with speed, power, and technique.
There are two more practices to watch, and much more to learn about each roster. The South will go after the North for the next two practices, and more and more will be implemented into the practices.