John Clay

‘Fresh energy.’ Bengals ready for new start under young, new head coach.

Zac Taylor looks young because he is young.

The new head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals turned 36 in May.

“New ideas,” Duke Tobin, the team’s director of player personnel, said Tuesday at the Bengals’ annual pre-training camp luncheon. “New way of doing things.”

“Fresh energy,” said Mike Brown, the Bengals’ 83-year-old owner of his new head coach, 47 years his junior.

If ever there was a franchise that could use a shot of freshness, it is the Bengals, finally free from Marvin Lewis’ 16-year tenure. Not that Lewis was a bad coach. Better known as the “Bungles” when Lewis arrived in 2003, he took Cincinnati to the playoffs seven times, including a string of five consecutive seasons from 2011 through 2015.

Problem was Lewis went 0-7 in those playoff games. By the time he and Brown reluctantly agreed to part ways, the Bengals had suffered through three straight losing seasons, including a 6-10 mark last season. It was time for something new. Something different.

Mike Brown, owner of the Cincinnati Bengals, was interviewed during the team’s annual media luncheon on Tuesday. John Minchillo AP

“I hope that I have enough time here to see a spurt here that will energize our fan base, get them excited,” said Mike Brown on Tuesday. “We know we have to reach out to them to get them to buy in and get them back with us. We disappointed them and we can’t do that as often as we have done.”

Enter Taylor, a Norman, Oklahoma, native whose father, Sherwood, was a defensive captain with the Sooners for Barry Switzer in the late 1970s. Zac Taylor played quarterback at Nebraska before embarking on a coaching career that included college stops at Texas A&M and Cincinnati, and NFL stops with the Miami Dolphins and the Los Angeles Rams, where he was the Super Bowl team’s quarterbacks coach last year. On the plus side, he’s part of the now-popular Sean McVay coaching tree. On the con side, he’s never even been a coordinator in the NFL.

“I think it’s important to learn something each and every day,” said Taylor on Tuesday.

To that end, he has been morning meeting daily with Brown and his family to learn just how things work around Paul Brown Stadium and a little bit about NFL history. For example, the Taxi Squad. Taylor had heard of what now is called the “practice squad” but didn’t know the origin of the name. As many things in pro football do, it traces back to the 1940s, Paul Brown’s days as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. When players were cut, they went to work for the team owner driving a taxi. That way, when an active player was injured, Paul Brown knew where he could go for a replacement.

Already, Taylor needs a couple of offensive line replacements. The Bengals lost first-round draft pick Jonah Williams, a left tackle out of Alabama, during mini-camp to a torn labrum. Williams won’t play this year. Then offensive guard Clint Boling announced that he is retiring after eight seasons.

“It’s going to be a work in progress as we go,” Tobin admitted. “I don’t feel like it can’t come together, but we’ve got some work to do to get it to come together.”

Zac Taylor took over as head coach of the Bengals after spending the past two seasons as an assistant with the Los Angeles Rams. Gary Landers AP

One thing came together Tuesday. News broke that wide receiver Tyler Boyd had agreed to a four-year, $43 million contract extension. Boyd caught 76 balls last year. Alongside fellow wide-out A.J. Green, Boyd figures to be a major player in Taylor’s offense, which will try to re-vitalize Andy Dalton. The quarterback’s passer rating has dipped from 106.2 in 2015 to 91.8, 86.6 and 89.6 the last three seasons.

“I like that the head coach is calling the signals,” Brown said of Taylor. “I find that a good thing and I’m anxious to see what that means for us.”

Why is that important?

Said Taylor, “I know what I want this team to look like.”

The hope is it will look fresh, and new.

Bengals’ preseason schedule

(Home games in capital letters)

Aug. 10: At Kansas City, 8 p.m.

Aug. 15: At Washington, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 22: N.Y. GIANTS, 7 p.m.

Aug. 29: INDIANAPOLIS, 7 p.m.

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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
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