The Bengals had plenty of turnover following their 2-14 season last year. One of the biggest things focused on when bringing players in were high character guys in hopes of helping cultivate a culture that can raise this team out of the basement quickly. Zac Taylor has already noticed a shift in the tone of practices from the 2019 training camp.
“The competitiveness of practice, that is a change from last season, just the energy,” Taylor told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “Just the overall competitiveness and the expectations the players have for themselves and each other I really feel is different than last year.”
That is a good sign for a team that didn’t win a game until Week 13 last season. Then again, Cincinnati absolutely paid for this change. They spent like they haven’t spent in many years to bring in players like defensive linemen D.J. Reader, safety Vonn Bell, cornerback Mackensie Alexander, linebacker Josh Bynes and defensive lineman Mike Daniels.
Those free agents have already been paying dividends. Daniels, Reader and Bell have been giving the defense more of an edge by letting the offense know when they win the rep. They have not been easy on an offensive line trying to find its footing, and that can only help them develop. Bynes has also been a valuable asset. Rookie linebacker Logan Wilson has already noted how the veteran has been invaluable to him this offseason with his wealth of knowledge.
“The leadership feels different from guys who were here and guys who we added and it’s been a welcome change,” Taylor said. “I’m excited to see these guys embrace the adversity that the season is going to bring.”
It is also hard to understate how much drafting a player like Joe Burrow changes the mood. The rookie has spent the entire offseason earning the teams’ confidence by showing up prepared and working hard every day. He may just be a rookie, but everyone saw what Burrow pulled off at LSU last year having the best year ever by a college quarterback. It also helps that he did it while running the SEC gauntlet unscathed on his way to winning a National Championship.
Having a guy like Burrow walk in the building was expected to get everyone standing a little taller. The guy just exudes confidence to everyone around him. He isn’t the sole reason for the change in Cincinnati, but he has proved to be a crucial part of this shift in tone.
Whether it be returning leaders, new free agents or rookies making their mark, these Bengals are not the same as their 2019 counterparts.