The NFL is in the middle of a shakeup after the pandemic changed so much of the normalcy that had become routine for an NFL offseason. The first signs of that in 2021 were several teams making statements that they would not attend in-person voluntary workouts this offseason.
There are a few arguments for this as at the time vaccines for COVID-19 hadn’t yet been given the green light to meet in-person with people without masks by the CDC. There is also the argument that the offseason workout programs are far too long. That position was strengthened when most of last season’s workouts were done via Zoom and other video calls.
It doesn’t appear to be a concern that the Cincinnati Bengals players share. In fact, a team with as many new faces and young players seem eager to get on the field to get their communication down.
This is a decision that was headed by the Bengals new representative to the NFL Players Association, safety Jessie Bates.
“Getting everybody’s opinion from our team was good,” Bates told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “There wasn’t much disagreement or anything like that. I think it was just smart for us to come in for three weeks before minicamp. For us, we can’t just go in off virtual meetings and have a productive minicamp. Just getting around each other and being able to talk to people in person, I feel like that plays a huge part in communication for a defense. I’m excited.”
This Bengals team now feels like it has officially entered the Zac Taylor and Joe Burrow era. There aren’t the household names like A.J. Green, Carlos Dunlap or even the team’s previous NFLPA representative Geno Atkins around leading the show. It is now the young guys like Bates who are they players being looked up to in these situations.
Bates took this situation extremely seriously by getting everyone’s say. He also is aware of the situation set before them. This is a young team looking at plenty of change going into 2021. These extra workouts could be the difference in this team being closer to a cohesive unit early in the season rather than enduring a slow start.
“We need to get a head start somehow just to get the standard back to where we want it to be,” Bates said. “We really don’t have a lot of old guys right now. The older guys are me, Sam, Vonn’s only 26 … we’re a whole new team almost.”
Then there are also players who didn’t feel like a virtual offseason was right for them or their team, and it is hard to argue with the results from last season in that regard.
“I didn’t feel comfortable without those reps and time around each other,” Sam Hubbard said. “We’ve got some new coaches and new techniques. That’s the consensus of the team and we’re happy about it. That was the consensus from the leaders and everyone on the team. We wanted to find a way to get together.”
It is understandable why some teams or players may be more comfortable trying to move away from the marathon of offseason workouts to try and extend their careers. However, it is an issue that will be handled on a team-by-team (and even player-by-player) basis as to what is best for them.
For a team like Cincinnati who is looking to make some huge changes going into 2021, it makes sense to get to work as soon as possible.