CINCINNATI — Great teams have a way about them.
The successful ones have a culture that is usually branded when they win year after year.
This was evident for the last 20 years when Tom Brady won six Super Bowls in New England. “The Patriot Way” was born. Free agents went to Foxboro and played with Brady not because it was an easy paycheck but because every year with Brady was a chance to win a Super Bowl.
Before the Patriots, it was Packers in the 1960s. The Steelers and Cowboys of the 70s had it. The 49ers had it in 80s and early 90s. The Cowboys embraced a certain culture in their three Super Bowls in four years in the early 90s.
That’s what the Bengals have in Joe Burrow and the work the Bengals are doing in free agency speaks to that. The Bengals are now a destination.
They’re rebuilding their weight room, training area and facilities in a multi-million dollar facelift. They know they needed to upgrade their facilities to keep players happy once they get to town.
But, like with any company or corporation, the biggest investment is in the people. And the Bengals have brought in players who have helped build the culture. Players like Mike Hilton now offer incoming players a complete and accurate description of what it’s going to be like in Cincinnati and a detailed description of championship expectations, something Hilton conveyed to Scott in a text over the weekend.
Nick Scott says Mike Hilton let him know exactly what the Bengals family is going to look like pic.twitter.com/0tZMhXDiaG
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) March 21, 2023
“It was just a quick conversation. It wasn’t much of a deep dive. But woke up to a text from Mike Hilton,” new Bengals safety Nick Scott told me. “Basically, he had added me to the defensive backs group chat. In short, basically what he said is, ‘You’ll find out pretty quick that as a group, we love to have fun, we love to joke around, but when it’s time to put those business suits on, we’re all business and we’re all about winning games,’ which I think that’s a perfect balance. That’s what a family is supposed to look like.”
Ironic that Nick Scott brought his wife Holly and their three-month-old son Jackson or “Jack-Jack” to the press conference on Monday after agreeing to a three-year, $12 million deal, with $3 million guaranteed.
“It’s awesome. It’s been a huge blessing,” Scott said of the newest addition to their family. “You hear him over there trying to talk. I’m doing this at this point in my life for my family. I want to just thank the Bengals organization for allowing me to have this opportunity to be able to take care of my wife and my kid and put food on the table and everything like that and everything you dream of.
“I was coming from a place where, really, all I had to do was worry about myself and Holly maybe a little bit, but she’s her own person. Now that you have a kid, you’re so much more aware of everything you do and say. What’s on TV, what he’s listening to. He’s only three months old. He probably can’t understand, but it’s something I’m very cognizant of. It changes my level of perspective.”
The Bengal Way? Family First. Dating back to when Paul Brown hired his former quarterback Sam Wyche as head coach, and then years later told him not to spend every waking hour at the facility and keep things in perspective, family has always been a core Bengal value. Of course, that shouldn’t be surprising when you consider the lineage of the franchise.
As for his new football family, Hilton was just one of many Bengals to welcome Scott to the team.
“Oh man, I can go down a huge list,” Scott added. “I can just say one of the things that makes me feel great already about this organization is the amount of players that have already reached out to me. Tracked my number down, did all that stuff, reached out, congratulated me and expressed their excitement to play ball with me. That just makes me feel welcome, that makes me feel comfortable and it just makes it easy to come in and get to work.
“Joe Burrow just texted me (Sunday). Mike Hilton texted me. Chido (Awuzie) texted me. Michael Thomas. Lot of guys.”
Speaking of Hilton, Bengals safeties coach Nick Scott couldn’t help but see the “chip on shoulder” comparison with another undersized, hard-hitting defensive back.
“It does. It sounds a lot like Mike Hilton,” Livingston said. “I think those guys, you talked about physicality. I think that’s one of the first things that jumps out at you (about) Mike. Those guys will get along just just great. We’ll put it that way.”
The Bengals are really still in the infancy of building a winning culture in Cincinnati. Zac Taylor calls it, “guys who love ball”. Of course, culture doesn’t guarantee winning. And certainly, two years of success is a blip on the radar in the NFL.
But listen to players who come to Cincinnati through free agency and there’s an excitement they exude about how they can’t wait to get to work.
Yes, part of that is unquestionably the Joe Burrow impact. But it’s a lot of the other players who came here in the last three years that have built something exciting.
“He’s a great leader,” Scott added. “There’s murmurs of that and it’s no secret around the league. The type of person Joe Burrow is. So, I wasn’t surprised at all that he reached out because he is a great leader and a lot of guys know him as that.”
After winning the 2021 AFC North title, Burrow said winning a division was the bare minimum. He spoke of a new standard.
Since then, the Bengals have capitalized on a new attitude promoted by the likes of Burrow, Vonn Bell, Jessie Bates III, Sam Hubbard and Tyler Boyd.
Last offseason, it was Ted Karras, Alex Cappa, Hayden Hurst and La’el Collins. All four chose Cincinnati.
This offseason, the Bengals managed to keep linebacker Germaine Pratt and then went out and shocked the world by signing a new franchise left tackle in Orlando Brown Jr. and added Scott to take the place of Vonn Bell.
The Bengals will add more in the coming weeks through free agency, the draft and rookie free agent signings. All the new faces will be walking into a tightly-knit locker room.
It’s assumed that Scott will try to step in and assume many of Vonn Bell’s responsibilities as strong safety. But the bigger deal will be Scott’s aptitude in Lou Anarumo’s defense. How quickly does the 27-year-old out of Penn State assimilate and communicate with the multiple looks and quick changes around him.
“However, Lou wants to do it,” Bengals safeties coach Rob Livingston said. “I think the beauty of Dax’s rookie year was that you played a lot of spots. So you know, he’s seen a lot of different things. I think that helps with with knowing the playbook. I was talking with Lap last week, like it’s one thing to tell somebody like hey, the the dime or the nickel or corner is gonna need help here until they live that spot until they’re like, ‘where it’s like, whoa, where’s my help?’ So, you know, I’m excited for him.
“I think the biggest jump regardless of position is year one to year two. I think too often you look over like what these college kids are coming in, if you play in a bowl game and that’s done let’s say late December, early January, you go somewhere you start training then you go to the combine and then you have a Pro Day. So next thing you know you play a guess we played what we played 23 regular season, so 23 games, plus three weeks, that’s 26 weeks. So they were probably going for a year and some change. So they can finally take a breath (before Year 2) and they can learn, ‘Hey, this is how I study, this is how I eat, this is how I take care of my body.’ So for the guys like Dax, guys like Tycen (Anderson) you know, guys like Cam Taylor-Britt, that year to is where the light should come on. And we kind of go from there.”
“There’s a lot of things. The first thing, first and foremost is communication,” Scott told me. “When you are a safety you have to make sure you are always communicating. That you are giving something to a guy and getting something back. Physicality, playing fast and hard, trusting your instincts, trusting your leverage, stuff like that. Having fun.”
Anarumo is known for not giving the same look twice and changing looks just after the snap, rotating his defensive backs in an amoeba-like cloud to quarterbacks guessing.
“There’s an overarching role of a safety to have eyes all over the place and be a leader on the back end in terms of communication,” Scott added. “So, it might be a few different play calls here and there. I haven’t taken a deep dive into the playbook yet but I am just going to trust what I know about the position and try my best to pick up on whatever coach Rob has for me to get me acclimated to this defense.
“Not necessarily specific calls but I kind of got the idea for the defense. They got the ability to play single-high, split safety, all that stuff. The thing that was most impressive was their ability to really hone in on their opponent and adjust where needed which kind of effects the style of play week in and week out.”
Nick Scott says his two safety role models are Brian Dawkins and Ed Reed. pic.twitter.com/M7n4YgpwqC
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) March 20, 2023
Nick Scott was the starting strong safety for the Rams in Super Bowl LVI against the Bengals. He was in a secondary that included Jalen Ramsey, Darious Williams and Eric Weddle. Scott was more than familiar with the Bengals and their recent success.
“Yeah, I guess you could say that, more so just the success this team has had as a whole, the coaching staff, the organization as whole, you can just see it’s headed in the right direction,” Scott said. “Anytime you get an opportunity to play for a team like that you really kind of want to take that seriously and do what you can to be a part of it.
“That whole game was a blur. I just remember the champagne after and the trophy and all that stuff. It was time, man. Sorry, not to get … I know this kind of a sore subject. It was a great game. It was super competitive. I just remember being out on the field, and it’s not a nervousness that you feel, but you can definitely feel the gravity of each snap. I give tremendous credit to that 2021 Bengals team and that game shook out. It’s a great example of competitiveness and greatness going at it on the biggest stage.”
Safeties coach Rob Livingston is confident that veteran Nick Scott and second-year free safety Dax Hill will mesh well. Livingston again pointed to the ability of the Bengals front office to put the right people together on and off the field.
“This is a people business,” Livingston said. “You have to kind of know the person and know kind of how they operate and all that kind of stuff. I mean, there’s a funny story. So your last training camp was what it was. Dax was the starting free safety and had a really good camp and (Jessie Bates) just shows up a obviously had a phenomenal year is a phenomenal player. We’re playing in Pittsburgh, I think was the first third down the game so we put dime out there. So, Dax was out there. So unfortunately, they converted. So for the first time in his life, he’s got to run off the field, and you can just see like the wheels turning like, okay, it’s first-and-10. Like, no, no, dude, like, you got to come off. Like you’re not out there anymore. So packages were different.
“Little things, and I know that sounds stupid, but like when you go from being a full-time starter your whole life to now you’re a reliever, right? It’s the bottom of the seventh, you’re coming in, there’s two outs and you gotta get a guy out, right? I mean, that’s a different lifestyle for, for people. So, he’ll admit it. I mean, there were some highs, obviously, the play made it into the New Orleans game was phenomenal. Had some other really good plays. And there were some lows. I mean, that is what it is. You’re a rookie. So it’s a good starting point. Selfishly, I’m happy that the highs were good. And the lows were bad. So that Hey, dude, I got a chip on my shoulder and away we go. So I got a lot of stresses and worries in my life. And he’s not one of them. He’s a first round pick for a reason. So I’m super excited.”