Zac Taylor might have made some players a little nervous when his “Price is Right” style competition forced them to guess how many rushing yards he had his senior year at Nebraska.
The first-year Cincinnati Bengals head coach wrapped up minicamp meetings Thursday morning with his own game show of sorts, breaking players into nine-person teams to see who came the closest to providing the correct answers to various sports-related questions.
It was just one of the ways Taylor is doing things differently in his first offseason workout program since replacing Marvin Lewis in February. He’s focused on creating a better team environment and implementing a little fun into the monotony of the offseason.
Players say it has worked so far – even if they are put on the spot to answer questions about their coach.
“He's trying to create more of a team environment, which I would compare to some of the stuff we did in college, just trying to get everybody to get closer, have a little fun and that brings us together more as a team,” defensive lineman Jordan Willis said. “The football is the same, it's just different ways of doing it. He's taking his own approach to it.”
Willis said in the defensive unit’s turn at Taylor’s “Price is Right,” no one knew how many rushing yards Taylor had in 2006, but the closest team got the points. Taylor rushed for minus-32 yards that year. There were about 20 questions asked in all. The offense played first for 30 minutes, and then the defense got a turn.
Thursday’s game was more about just having fun and “getting the competitive juices flowing,” according to Taylor, but earlier this offseason, he was doing similar stuff in meetings while also teaching the X's and O's of his new offense.
A few times the offensive players broke into four-person teams and competed against one another to see who could correctly draw out the most plays on the wipe board. They even had themes for creating team names. One week it was a “Game of Thrones” theme, and another they had basketball team names.
“I think the way they are teaching us is good,” tight end C.J. Uzomah said. “We're going up on the board. We're doing walkthroughs where he's challenging us as players in front of the offense to go up and write out everything -- not just what you have (to do on the play) but everything. So, we have a little fun with it. We have a little competition.”
“It's been fun. You don't want to just be in a meeting and you don't want to just continuously shove a piece of paper in someone's face and say, 'Learn this.' So, I think the interactive way we are doing it, going up to the board, having walkthroughs by ourselves, it definitely helps.”
On the field, Taylor has kept things light, as well. During OTAs he implemented a “red-zone lockout” competition between the offense and defense, where there are different ways to earn points and the first to 18 wins. That made the team periods a little livelier than in the past, and they continued those into minicamp. Taylor said training camp will be much the same.
“Everyone wants something on the line,” Taylor said. “They know there is going to be a winner and loser. It creates a little more energy and enthusiasm.”
At least one portion of every practice is unscripted so players are forced to make decisions and adjustments like they would in a game when they won’t know what play is going to be called next. On Thursday, the entire practice was unscripted and veterans – most of the starters – did not participate in order to allow the younger guys a chance to get more reps.
The “red-zone lockdown” is always unscripted, and it has become a part of practice that players look forward to.
“During practice he puts that stuff in to get guys to just compete,” Willis said. “If we just went out and did regular team periods, after a while it would feel like, 'Oh, it's just another team period.' But if you are competing for something you want to fight a little more and do a little more. There's no games to break up practice during the offseason, so you've got to find different ways to do things. It’s been good.”
Wide receiver John Ross said Taylor’s way of doing things – and the emphasis on building a cohesive team – will pay off for the Bengals in the long-run.
“The energy is completely different,” he said. “Everyone is just having a good time. Even in the locker room. It's not just on the field. We come in here, and we're in there playing basketball, we're in the weight room having a good time, we're in the locker room or training room and everyone is smiling. I know the season hasn't started yet, but it's good to see. It's a good sign of good things coming.”