At the start of almost every workout, Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals head coach asks the team to do a “group install”.
It’s a session with quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends. Taylor calls a play and has the offense run it without any defenders.
Then the musical chairs begin.
Taylor calls the same play, except each skill position player is in a different place than they were before. In Friday practice, the Bengals offense executed many of those concepts with their wide offense while working against third-down packets from the Bengals defense.
“We have a lot of work moving guys around and making sure they have to think critically before sending them into squad periods,” Taylor said. “I think our guys are handling that really well. And that allows us to be flexible with matches in terms of matches that we think we can create and that we like that week. Our guys generally reacted very well to that.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher: ‘It’s a big advantage when we can move our guys’
The play that defined the Bengals’ “musical chairs” mindset was in Week 4 of the 2021 season. On Thursday Night Football against the Jacksonville Jaguars, quarterback Joe Burrow noticed a total blitz. He had former Bengals tight end CJ Uzomah on the sidelines, and the Bengals called a screen off the numbers at Uzomah.
It was the perfect play call to set up the winning basket. The Bengals train for moments like this throughout training camp.
“It’s a big advantage when we can move our guys around,” Bengals quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher said. “It requires our guys to be very smart in football, very detailed with what we’re asking them to do. When the defense comes up with a plan, it’s a lot easier if they know a guy will always be on one side. We have always had the ability to structure the attack like that, some years we do it more than others.
On Friday, the Bengals took that concept to the extreme.
On one play, the Bengals had running back Joe Mixon lined up with wide receiver Mike Thomas and tight end Mitchell Wilcox in the middle of the right side of the field. That formation isolated wide receiver Tyler Boyd for a one-on-one matchup on the left side of the field with cornerback Mike Hilton.
Boyd made a quick cut to find an open space and landed a first hold.
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor: ‘You should be able to play anywhere and understand the routes’
The Bengals have had plays where Wilcox has been set in motion, plays with running back Chris Evans lined up all over the field, and plays with wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase in the slot. Chase faked a route to midfield and cut for a crossfade down the right sideline. Quarterback Brandon Allen hit Chase in stride for the pickup from over 30 yards.
“The way our concepts work, you should be able to play anywhere and understand the routes,” Taylor said. “We think there’s a lot of flexibility with all the guys we have. That’s why they are here. So that gives us a lot of options as offensive callers.
Pitcher noted how this style of offense imposes a defense. Friday, the best day of training camp for Allen, the offense showed what is possible in their spread offense.
Pitcher explained that when moving through an offensive formation, a defense needs to have contingencies and checks built into their pre-snap routine. He said defenses can’t have that many calls in their game plan because they have to have eight different adjustments they have to be ready to make depending on the lineup of the players.
The Bengals had several standout plays on Friday, including tilts to wide receivers Kwamie Lassiter II and Kendric Pryor, where the pre-snap pattern and movement helped them open up. On a slot at Pryor, running back Samaje Perine, Wilcox and tight end Thad Moss lined up at receiver.
“It’s always something we thought about doing,” Pitcher said. “It’s something we will continue to do in the future.”
Bengals Friday practice observations
* Mike Thomas and Stanley Morgan Jr. are expected to split reps as the Bengals’ No. 4 receiver during the regular season. But the Bengals almost always have seven players in that position. Pryor and Lassiter outplayed Trenton Irwin, Pooka Williams and Trent Taylor during camp, putting themselves in a better position to make the team.
* On Thursday, rookie cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt was demoted behind undrafted free agent Allan George on the depth chart. Taylor-Britt had some rookie moments in practice earlier in the week, especially on individual drills. He had a rebounding day on Friday, showing the speed, reach and physique that made him the Bengals’ second-round pick.
* Bengal tight end Drew Sample will miss the next few weeks with a leg injury. With his status for the start of the season in question, training camp will change for Wilcox, Moss, Scotty Washington, Nick Eubanks and Justin Rigg. Previously, the only role available was for the tight third point, which is mostly about blocking and special teams. Now, if Sample misses the start of the year, the Bengals will need a more versatile tight end who is a bigger threat on offense to support Hayden Hurst.
* Sophomore offensive tackle D’Ante Smith left practice in a cart just as position drills began with an unnamed injury. He had gotten first-team reps in place of injured right tackle La’el Collins.
* Bengals safety Vonn Bell completed his second pass of camp, showing the improved covering instincts he developed last season. Due to tight coverage by rookie safety Dax Hill on Hurst, Allen turned to Boyd in midfield. Playing in a shallow area, Bell jumped the route and picked the pass.
* Even though Taylor-Britt was back ahead of George on the depth chart on Friday, George made the play of the day with the team’s second defense. While playing physical field coverage on the left sideline, George tipped a pass to safety Mike Thomas for an interception.
* Aside from Chase and defensive end Trey Hendrickson, sophomore kicker Evan McPherson might be the best player in camp. He was 6 for 6 on field goals Friday, including one from 50 yards. A week after going for 65 yards, McPherson continues to show the Bengals why he could be one of the best kickers in the NFL for quite some time.