After 2020 voluntary workouts proved to be a unique experience during a pandemic, the 2021 voluntary workouts are back to, for a lack of a better word, normal. The coaches and training staff are having discussions in person rather than over Zoom, and the players are returning to the field to practice as a team.
“Last year, as you all know, we’re sitting just like we’re doing right now, and we’re teaching football and it’s over Zoom, and I love Zoom, but I’m done with Zoom,” said Matt Nagy. “So for everybody to be out here just getting individual drills, and working on the grass, and building relationships, being able to be face to face, take these masks off eventually, and just be able to talk to each other and build relationships, that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Andy Dalton, who has already been named the week one starter, has proven himself a valuable mentor for rookie Justin Fields.
“I’ve had a lot of different conversations with everybody here. I knew there was a possibility of it, and when it happened, it is what it is. Justin’s a great guy, I’ve gotten to know him over the last couple of weeks, and he’s going to make the quarterback room better,” said Andy Dalton. “Right now for him, it’s all new, his first time getting an NFL offense, so I’m trying to give him any advice that I can on certain things. Certain plays, or what I do with my eyes on certain things. Just the different things that come with experience. Obviously, going into year eleven I’ve had a lot of ball, I think for me I’m just trying to help him out as much as I can.”
If Fields is a good listener, he has a lot of experience to learn from. Dalton is entering his eleventh season and has had nothing but praise for his coaches. “It’s been great being back with Bill [Lazor]. And that’s a big reason I wanted to be here was because of Bill,” Dalton said. “Just the experience we’ve had together. It’s been fun to see Matt install the plays, and just to hear the way that that he’s talking about every read we have and every progression. This is what we’re calling this is why we’re doing it, and just his teaching. That’s what this time of year is for, is teaching.”
Matt’s done a great job, all these coaches are doing an awesome job of getting everybody be on the same page, make sure they’re not thinking so much while we’re out there, and teaching why we’re doing certain things. That’s been great. We just gotta take advantage of this time of year.”-Andy Dalton
“He’s done a really good job of just trying to digest everything that we’re teaching this offense in particular right now,” said Matt Nagy about Fields. “You know the one thing you learn when you get with Justin is you realize that he does everything really well in a group setting. He listens, he observes Andy, Nick, coach Flip, Bill Lazor, myself when we’re in there. But also too I think you talk to these coaches and myself as well included, when you’re able to have one-on-one individual conversations with him and sometimes those settings are a little easier and you can be a little bit more specific with him. You really see him open up.”
One of the things we’re trying to do right now is create as much competition as we can, really at every position. I think you all see it, and you saw it too with some of the draft picks this year. But having that competition is just gonna make us better.”– Matt Nagy about positional battles on the team
The quarterbacks aren’t the only players to receive acclaim from their head coach. Linebacker Roquan Smith received particular praise from Nagy in the same press conference. “The way that he has grown, into the player and person, to me is just super special. They don’t make many players like Roquan Smith. I’ll just tell you that right now. They just don’t. And we are so lucky to have him as one of the main leaders of this defense. And for him to come in here every day, and just do his thing, and just run around and fly around and help teach these younger guys, that’s really neat,” said Nagy.
We can only control what we control with who’s here because of being voluntary. So the guys that are here, what an awesome opportunity for them to be able to come in here, and get great valuable reps.”– Matt Nagy
Nagy hasn’t only praised his players’ work ethic on the field, but also the chemistry between them and his coaching staff. “Sean [Desai] and this defensive coaching staff have hit the ground running. I love the way they act with each other, with the players, and I just think you see it and feel it even with the young guys that we have out there, but what a great opportunity for those who are there.”
What Juan [Castillo] is doing right now is making sure that all these guys understand that we’re doing it for one cause and that’s to be the best o-line. Not the best o-linemen, but the best group together as one.”– Matt Nagy on the offensive line
If their goal is as an offensive line is to be the best group together, the chemisty is already nailed down. “Just to give you a little story, I have to shrare this with you,” Nagy said.
“I haven’t seen this a whole lot, but a few days ago I was in my office and I was looking out before practice and before the walk through. And I looked out onto the practice field, and as guys are walking across from one field to the next, I see about sixteen linemen standing right outside of my window, and they’re not moving. I was like ‘what are these guys doing?’ They’re not moving, they’re not going anywhere, and all of a sudden I see a guy trickle out from the door to come with them and walk over to the walkthrough. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen that. You got seventeen or eighteen linemen that are doing this as one. They’re not leaving their guy behind. They all go over and they do everything together. And so when they’re in the weight room lifting together, whne they’re walking over when it’s post-practice, I’ve never seen that ever. And that to me is special.”
Tight end Cole Kmet is looking forward to his second year as a pro. “I think one, being it’s a long season coming up, with a seventeenth game, it’s a long season and you gotta be able to prepare for that,” said Kmet. “Last year after thankgiving I’m usually done, back in college and high school, you’re done with football. But you still got a month and a half left, and even more. Knowing how to take care of your body is big. And things in terms of film, and having a feel for the game is something that I’m feeling right now in practice, I’m feeling more confident out there. Between recognizing coverages and fronts, those are things I’ve noticed that I gotta be on top of this year going into year two.”