Bengals welcome rookies to begin building new foundation

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CINCINNATI (AP) — The Cincinnati Bengals have been close.

The two-time defending AFC North champions played a tight game against the Los Angeles Rams in a losing Super Bowl effort last year. They followed that by losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs by a field goal in this year's AFC title game.

The Bengals hope at least one of their eight picks in this year’s draft will help provide the missing link to the franchise’s first Super Bowl win.

Cincinnati welcomed its latest batch of draft picks and a group of undrafted free agents into the team’s indoor practice facility for the first day of their rookie minicamp Friday as coach Zac Taylor and his staff began building the foundation for this year's squad.

“Your purpose is to be the best football player you can be to help the team,” Taylor said. “All the things off the field that go into that: eat, sleep, spend your time making sure you know the playbook inside and out ... those little discipline things can really make the difference early in a guy’s career. ... That’s one of the things that we try to communicate to these guys.”

Taylor and director of player personnel Duke Tobin prioritized strengthening the team’s pass rush in last month’s draft, selecting former Clemson defensive end Myles Murphy with the 28th overall pick. Cincinnati got its first look Friday at the 6-foot-5, 270-pound edge rusher who figures to help a Bengals defense that finished 29th in team sacks last season with 30.

“I thought he was in good shape for the first day,” Taylor said of the 2022 All-Atlantic Coast Conference defensive lineman. “Again, we’re not out here very long, but I could see a bright-eyed guy that was ready to learn and get after it.”

The Bengals were only on the practice field for about an hour. But Murphy took advantage of the time to go through drills with defensive line coach Marion Hobby.

Murphy donned his new No. 99 jersey, one number higher than the No. 98 he wore while at Clemson. Defensive tackle D.J. Reader, another Clemson product, already wears No. 98 for Cincinnati.

“He said I could get the number for a price,” Murphy said of Reader. “I don’t even want to know what that price is. So I’m going to stick with 99 for now and leave it there.”

Murphy said the key to his development early on will be asking questions. Fourth-round draft pick Charlie Jones echoed that.

“This is a receiver room that I’ve been following just as a fan,” said Jones, who set Purdue’s single-season record for receiving yards (1,361) in 2022 after transferring from Iowa. “It’s a blessing to be here and be in this group. It’s just a perfect opportunity to learn a lot from a lot of the people that have already established themselves.”

One of those people is fellow wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. The 2021 first-round pick led the Bengals in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in each of his first two seasons.

Jones’ locker is next to Chase’s.

“Right now, I’ve just been hanging out with the rookies,” Jones said. “I haven’t really gotten the chance to meet any of the vets in person yet. So I’m definitely looking forward to Monday to start building those relationships."

Quarterback Joe Burrow and the rest of the veterans will join the rookies Monday, when the real bonding and the countdown to the Bengals' season opener Sept. 10 at Cleveland will begin.

“We’ll get a chance to see what we’re going to be about,” Taylor said. "And we’re starting from scratch. We’re starting over with the chemistry, the camaraderie, the scheme. I think that’s what’s exciting as a coach.”

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