CINCINNATI — As Tyler Boyd returned to his locker with a gaggle of media waiting to speak to him Tuesday, the most veteran Bengal sported a fancy set of multicolored shades that kept the glare in control on his walk back from his first offseason practice.
Boyd was all smiles and did what he always has done in his seven seasons with the Bengals – he patiently and gracefully answered all questions about his future and why he chose the day after Memorial Day to return to practice after sitting out the first phase.
“I just feel like wanted to come around and bring camaraderie,” Boyd said. “I miss the guys. And even though I was away, I was just away spending time, my family, quality time with my daughter and I just felt empty not being around my guys and just being there for them.”
Boyd was back with his posse that features Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins and also includes Stanley Morgan, Trenton Irwin, Trent Taylor and Kwamie Lassiter II. Of course there were rookies Charlie Jones and Andrei Iosivas who were part of the workout with coach Troy Walters and watching Boyd closely.
There’s good reason for that.
Chase and Higgins are the undeniable stars but Boyd has been the glue. And that’s not going to change this season, which could be his last in Cincinnati, as his contract expires after this season.
That’s why – after the smiles and laughter in the locker room – there was a sense of urgency in Boyd’s thoughts about what’s ahead for the Bengals this offseason as they prepare for 2023.
“This is my home for now. I’m not going to worry about the unexpected,” Boyd said. “I’m here to finish this year out and whatever happens happens. But I know we have a very, very high chance of making the Super Bowl and even winning, and this is where I want to be. Whether I come up with a new deal or not. I got to just go out there and I’m gonna be me.
“I am very appreciative of them still wanting me to be around and knowing that they don’t want to trade me and things like that. But at the end of the day I just gotta help guys get better. I mean, we ain’t gonna be playing ball forever. I might not be here forever. But I mean I’ve always loved this franchise and I’m always going to be a Bengal.”
Those words are much more than lip service. Those words from the most senior Bengal indicate a level of dedication to the ultimate prize he has sought since playing his first snap in 2016.
On the field Tuesday, Boyd – true to his word – looked very much in shape and in tune with Joe Burrow, running his slot routes to perfection, smoothly and without hesitation. He brought a different energy that his teammates could immediately sense.
“I think guys are just excited for me to be around because I bring a lot of juice to this team, and just having my presence felt just amps guys up, just gets guys ready and vice versa,” Boyd said. “This is probably the biggest family that I have. I really don’t have as many friends as I have in this locker room. Just coming around and talking to everybody and just having quality time and just talking football and just having fun doing that.
“It felt great. I’ve been working on conditioning, I feel good out there. I usually come in feeling like maybe I ain’t ready, but I was more than ready in that respect. But it’s still day one. I got my legs under me and just happy to be around the guys again.”
Boyd is precisely the type of player Zac Taylor wanted to build his program around when he came to Cincinnati in 2019. He had seen the rough days but hadn’t quit. He had seen the losses pile up but hadn’t given up hope of the ship charting smoother waters.
“I’ve been through thick and thin, the ups and downs, the terribles, the greats, but just the person I am, I just stay the course,” Boyd told me. “I never look down on myself or my team. However things go, we just want to keep the ball going and just to stay in one lane and just keep getting better and keep fighting and just keep getting to this stage and knowing that I’m on a suitable caliber team.”
Boyd, who’ll turn 30 on Nov. 15, was rewarded for his perseverance in 2019, signing a four-year, $43 million extension in 2019.
“It just just shows how much work and dedication I put into this organization and just trying to build guys and (be) contagious, bring the camaraderie even when we know we ain’t in contention to play or we down or even up,” Boyd added. “I try to keep it baseline so guys could just stay in a great mood when they come into work.”
Of course, Boyd and Taylor fully expect the Bengals to be in contention for the biggest prize that has eluded the franchise in its first 55 seasons. Boyd and Taylor have an understanding of each other. And with other leaders like Sam Hubbard, Ted Karras and DJ Reader around, it’s only smart business to pace the workload in the offseason, stressing equal parts playbook, on-field execution and chemistry.
“Zac takes good care of us. He kind of let’s us come in a little later in OTAs,” Boyd said. “But in previous years, I will come in and would try to get the (workout) I wanted by coming in so early. A few years ago, I’ll feel like I’m not ready yet but that’s what OTAs is for, to get your legs back right, get fundamentally sound, just sort of critique your little things. Just get your body prepared and just get the feeling of playing football again.”
The feeling is mutual with Taylor toward Boyd.
“He’s been about what we want to be about, every step of the way. When this staff came in here in 2019 he’s one of those guys that through thick and thin is always, ‘Whatever you need from me coach.’ He’s always been a great leader in the locker room. He’s always been someone I’ve been able to go to and know that I’m going to get a truthful response back on how things are going. One thing we preach to all of our guys, especially our new guys, is we want guys that are consistent every day they walk into the building. We know what we’re going to expect. TB fits that to a T. He’s the same guy every single day.
“He always has a great attitude and I think that’s a key to building the culture the way we wanted it. The way we want this team is guys like that type of personality. We sent him and Jessie Bates out for the coin toss at Buffalo last year, because I felt like those were two guys that really fit that description aside from Sam Hubard, who was a captain and a number of other guys who had been here for a numer years. Those guys personify what we want to be about.”
Boyd is not concerned about competition from Charlie Jones for snaps in the slot receiver position.
“I just know that TB is very unselfish and he has no ego,” Taylor said. “There’s no one on this team he wouldn’t help and put his arm around and make sure they understand the way that we do things. Even if takes a rep away from him. He’s just the type of guy that just wants the best for this team; just wants to help us win championships, division titles. He’s very unselfish. I think he’s a great mentor to a lot of these young players that we have.”
Boyd is rightfully secure in his spot as the go-to slot receiver for Joe Burrow. And one need only look back to the AFC Championship in Kansas City to know what kind of impact his absence had when he went out after taking a knee to the thigh.
Higgins and Chase were doubled on the outside and it was harder for Burrow to find open targets downfield. Part of the reason for drafting Charlie Jones was to have a playmaker behind Boyd. Trenton Irwin and Trent Taylor certainly filled in admirably throughout the season but the offense was hurt when the Chiefs were able to not really be that concerned about the slot and pay more attention to Higgins and Chase.
“Still, to this day, I feel like if I had played the whole game, I was the key factor,” said Boyd, who caught two passes for 40 yards before leaving with the injury in the first half. With Boyd out, Higgins and Chase were targeted 19 times with just 12 completions, a rate that surely would’ve been higher with Boyd on the field.
Boyd isn’t thinking about 2024 and whether Jones takes his place on the roster. He’s thinking about 2023 and how to help Jones adapt quickly to the Bengals offense, just like he did with Higgins in 2020 and Chase in 2021.
“I’m still leading. I want you to come in and feel like you can continue to do what you’ve been doing in college, you’re gonna be fine. Guys might come in just underestimating themselves, not knowing if they can play or if they are good enough.
“I’m just trying to get them up, just make sure (they know), ‘y’all here for a reason. Y’all might not start but you’re gonna be on this team and players and the coaches you’ve got around you are gonna get you better, 10 times better than what you were.’ And so I think the most important part for them right now is just to take all the criticism and just learn.”
This is what makes Boyd so incredibly important to the makeup of this Bengals team. He understands the urgency of the situation.
“I think the biggest step I think that we talked (about) on offense was just score more points, outscoring (teams),” Boyd said. “We know we have a great defense that even if we don’t get off to a fast start (in games) that we’ve got a defense that can balance that out for us. But I think we want to work on just starting fast every game, jumping out on teams, putting the pressure on them, because we still believe that we have the best offense, the most explosive offense. But it’s easier said than done. We’ve got to go out there and show it. But that’s our main goal, going out there and score 30, 35, 40 a game.”
- Siemian Makes Strides:
Back-up quarterback Trevor Siemian continues to pick up the Bengals offense as the new back-up to Joe Burrow, replacing Brandon Allen, now in San Francisco. The 31-year-old quarterback with experience in Chicago, New Orleans and Denver, was out on the field again on Tuesday with Burrow and Jake Browning, working through the Bengals offense.
“It’s good for him,” Zac Taylor said. “He’s heard these types of play calls. He’s run these routes before. It’s just putting it all together with how we say it and with the personnel that we have, I think, is really the adjustment. I think he’s fit in really well and is doing a good job of getting in there and getting reps. It comes to him very quickly. Again, it’s just more of a terminology aspect and getting used to the personnel that we have.”
- Myles Murphy getting his reps:
The first-round edge out of Clemson continues to impress in drills with Marion Hobby and the rest of the defense.
“I don’t think it hurts to have enough guys that can play up front,” Taylor said. “They can play together as well. You can get to third-down situations and find packages where they’re all (playing). It’s not giving guys a break, necessarily. It’s getting as many on the field as you can. So I think it’s good to have as many guys that can affect the quarterback and play up front as possible.”
- Chido Awuzie progressing:
Chido Awuzie was not spotted at practice on Tuesday. But head coach Zac Taylor said the corner continues to be “right on pace” in his rehab from right ACL surgery last November. The No. 1 corner in the Bengals defense has been around the team this offseason, working out and making progress from the injury sustained last Halloween in Cleveland.
- Irv Smith Jr. picking up and “all in”:
The third starting tight end in as many seasons for the Bengals was taking first-team reps Tuesday, catching passes and running routes “on air” as is required in Phase 2 of offseason workouts and practice. Taylor said Smith is very much picking up the Bengals offense and feeling comfortable with his responsibilities as a starting tight end.
“Very aware. He has an understanding of what we want to do and how we want to use him,” Taylor said. “He’s been all in since he walked in the door here. As we’re getting to know Irv, I think it’s been good to get him on the field. He’s got a good understanding of how we’re planning to utilize him. The next step is just training camp, getting in there and getting to compete against the defense.”
- La’el Collins moving ahead:
Tackle La’el Collins was spotted again on the side, working through his rehab drills with assistant trainer and rehab coordinator Roberto Cardona, using bands and working through agility to work on his left knee and get it back up to full strength. The hope is that Collins could be ready sometime during training camp, as he battles the still absent Jonah Williams and Jackson Carman for the right tackle job. Carman was taking first-team reps as right tackle with left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. in drills with offensive line coach Frank Pollack on Tuesday.
“I think that’s what’s great about the rehab process with all of our guys,” Taylor said. “We have a lot of faith in our department that handles that. Those guys are making the progress that’s needed. I do want to give a shoutout to Roberto. He’s doing just fine. He’s in the trending video on Twitter against LC, one of our trainers. Roberto is doing just great. He’s in great spirits about it and he’s fully healthy right now.”