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12 months on the job, Zac Taylor reveals his personal growth as Cincinnati’s head coach

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“You can’t really put that into words how different this year feels compared to last year.”

San Francisco 49ers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Life as a rookie in the NFL is a whirlwind. It’s a whole new world stepping off the bus from a college campus and into the locker room of a professional football team. Everything is faster, and if you fail to adapt, you’re left behind in one way, shape, or form.

For first-time head coaches, it may not be the exact same transition. The growth and noticeable differences between year one to year two, however, does transcend players and their teachers.

This is the hope for the Cincinnati Bengals and their head coach Zac Taylor. In an interview with The Athletic’s Paul Dehner Jr., Taylor revealed the personal growth he’s experienced now 12 months into the job as well as where the coaching staff is at in terms of their offseason preparation.

“It doesn’t matter what team you are part of. Year 2, you have such a better grasp of the needs of the team,” Taylor said. “You might have heard it, you might have watched the tape, but until you are around certain players within our own schemes, Year 2 is such a big jump and we are so far ahead right now. Draft prep, free-agency prep, all being on the same page with exactly what we need to upgrade ourselves and improve.”

While the coaching staff experienced a healthy turnover last year, the roster stayed relatively the same. Most of the new coaching hires happening just a few weeks before free agency began, and the time to evaluate the roster and the free agent market was short. Questionable signings proceeded and so did 2-14.

Naturally, Taylor, his assistants, and director of player personnel Duke Tobin should all feel more comfortable about where they stand now that they have a season together under their belt.

“We’ll have new players coming in,” Tobin said. “That’s part of a regular offseason. But we’ve got our systems built. We’ve got our schematics in. Our coaches understand how each other works and thinks. I think we are a little further along in terms of integrating them into the scouting system and trying to build a collaboration there. It’s not all new. They are not all trying to find homes, moving their family and building a new playbook and all the other things they do when you have a new staff. They are tweaking what we are going to do and focused on building a team. That’s what everybody in this building is focused on right now is building a team for next year.”

The noise inside the building is obviously trending in a positive direction. And unless you’ve been living with ear muffs on, the noise outside the building is obviously not. There’s only one way a coach can help put a silence to that.

“You got to win more football games to get people to shut up,” Taylor said. “Or whatever it is, have a higher respect, whatever you want to call it. It’s up to us to win more games and follow our plan, do it the right way, execute it. Build the team the right way, do it through free agency and the draft and keep building the culture we built upon and we will be in really good shape.”

The “do it through free agency” part is something Bengals fans need to see more than they need to hear it. Will there be a little more urgency to dish out real cash on the open market this March? Maybe. It’s never been about spending more, it’s been about spending smarter. The Bengals can bring in quality players while still (mostly) sticking to their financial guidelines.

If Taylor’s comments foreshadow a more cohesive plan to do such a thing, then that’s all that matters.