When the Cincinnati Bengals announced a two-year contract extension for head coach Marvin Lewis on Jan. 2, the sentiment from most of those outside of Paul Brown Stadium was “more of the same” and “nothing’s every going to change.”
But with the players reporting for the first day of voluntary offseason workouts Monday, the feeling inside the locker room was much different.
With seven new assistants joining Lewis’ staff and revamped schemes on defense under new coordinator Teryl Austin and on offense with the interim tagged stripped from coordinator Bill Lazor, most of the talk centered on how fresh and new everything seemed.
“Any time you’ve got this many new coaches, it’s going to be different,” wide receiver A.J. Green said.
“I feel like a rookie again,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick added.
“I think that’s one of the big things that we’re trying to do here, start from scratch, make things feel new,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “Things feel new, and I think that’s a good thing. What we’ve done up to this point in the last couple of years wasn’t good enough, and so we’ve got to do things a different way.”
Lazor will be Dalton’s fourth offensive coordinator after Jay Gruden, Hue Jackson and Ken Zampese, but he said the Bengals have basically been running the Gruden system since 2011 with a few tweaks and wrinkles installed by his successors.
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“This is a complete change,” Dalton said. “What we were doing before was basically Jay (Gruden’s) offense with the adaptation of Hue (Jackson), he put his stuff on it, then (Ken Zampese) took over and he did his thing. Now we’re starting from Square 1. This is all new.”
By taking over after Week 2 when the Bengals fired Zampese, Lazor was limited in how much he could change on the fly. Now he’s had an entire offseason and craft a new offense, and he has new position coaches in Frank Pollock (offensive line), Bob Bicknell (wide receivers) and Alex Van Pelt (quarterbacks) to help steer the change.
“Everything’s different,” Dalton said. “Nothing’s really similar to what we were doing. You see that from the start. We haven’t done much yet, but the things that we do have and the thing that we have done, it’s all new.”
Perhaps no player is as willing to embrace change as tight end Tyler Eifert, whose career has been defined by a serious of injuries that limited him to playing just 39 of a possible 90 games since the Bengals drafted him in the first round in 2013.
Limited to just two games in 2017 before heading into free agency, Eifert signed a one-year contract to return to the Bengals.
“I’m excited to be back,” he said. “With the injuries and everything, I didn’t really know what was going to happen. But this is where I wanted to be and where I want to be playing.
“I’m obviously in a unique situation with the amount of games I’ve missed,” he added. “I’m doing everything I can as far as maintenance goes and all that stuff so I can stay on the field. I don’t’ feel like I have anything to prove other that just prove that I can stay healthy, which is easier said than done.”
The Bengals defensive scheme is undergoing a complete overhaul as well with the addition of Austin.
“It’s not going to be as complicated as it was,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s going to be a lot of second-nature things, things that kind of fit what’s really going on. So far he gets a “100” from me. The things he’s telling us, I’m definitely buying in.”
The offseason workout program continues into May when the players will get their first chance to put the changes in action on the field.
The three weeks of OTA practices begin May 22-24 and will be followed by the mandatory minicamp June 12-14.