<
>

Bengals' 'Squad' shows it can be ready at moment's notice

play
Brooke Pryor and Ben Baby discuss the rookies with the biggest impact (2:32)

Brooke Pryor and Ben Baby discuss the rookies with the biggest impact on the Steelers and the Bengals through the first half of the season. Video by Brooke Pryor (2:32)

CINCINNATI -- The voice was unmistakable.

Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Fred Johnson's low-pitched drawl boomed throughout the locker room as the team celebrated its 31-20 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Week 8. Johnson was one of a few backups thrust into key roles because of injuries.

When Johnson made it back to his teammates inside Paul Brown Stadium, he let out a loud and elongated sound of victory.

"BOOOOOOOMB SQUAAAAAD," Johnson screamed, doing his best impression of rapper Waka Flocka Flame.

Johnson is the loudest member of the "Bomb Squad," the unofficial nickname for the Bengals' scout-team offense. Johnson, Billy Price and Hakeem Adeniji were all Bomb Squad members who started against the Titans because of injuries.

Not only was rookie quarterback Joe Burrow not sacked for the first time this season, the trio of reserves helped the Bengals earn their first win over a team with a winning record since 2018. The victory underscored the importance of preparation and readiness and how chemistry can carry over from the practice field.

"To go out there and just execute and make sure that we kept Joe clean, it's just a very special moment for the Bomb Squad, to make sure guys are representing out there," Price said.

The origin of the moniker happened sometime during the 2019 season. During a practice, the scout team offense was asked to dial up some big plays to help a first-team defense that was struggling to stop such plays during games. Backup quarterback Ryan Finley, a rookie, started to connect on those long balls.

"All of a sudden, it was like, 'Oh, we're dropping bombs,'" Price said.

Price, the Bengals' 2018 first-round pick who is now the primary backup center, was part of the trio of linemen elevated to starting roles after the Bengals (2-5-1) suffered injuries across the line in Week 7 this season. The situation became even bleaker hours before Cincinnati faced the Titans when starting left guard Michael Jordan was ruled out with an illness.

Right guard Alex Redmond was the only starting offensive lineman from the previous week. Adeniji, a seventh-round draft pick in April, played left tackle and Johnson slotted in at right tackle.

In college at Kansas, Adeniji primarily played on the left side of the line. When he arrived in Cincinnati, he said the communication across the entire Bomb Squad helped him make the transition to the NFL.

"No matter your talent level, you have to be on the same page, because it takes 11 guys being on the same page to properly execute a play," Adeniji said. "Scout team, first team, it's important to all be on the same page as far as technique and what we're trying to do with the play."

That synergy paid off against the Titans. The offensive line's win rates for pass-blocking and run-blocking, which are ESPN metrics powered by NFL Next Gen Stats, were lower than their yearly numbers. However, they did enough to keep Burrow and the offense rolling, and they earned praise after the victory.

"We were in a unique circumstance with four new guys in there on the line," Burrow said. "They played great, but we had to help them. We got the ball out fast, ran the ball efficiently and did what we needed to do."

Even though the elevated roles were temporary as players get healthy before Sunday's game at the 8-0 Pittsburgh Steelers (4:25 p.m. ET, FOX), it underscored the importance of the scout team and how vital everyone in an organization is to achieving success.

Almost every week, the Bomb Squad's primary duties occur during closed practices as they work on sharpening Cincinnati's first-team defense and try to replicate the upcoming opponent. Defensive assistant Gerald Chatman gives the linemen their duties while quality control coach Jordan Kovacs instructs the skill players.

More than anything, the Bomb Squad is a mindset that was embodied in the Bengals' win over the Titans. Coach Zac Taylor said the offensive line's performance was a message to backups and others on the team about the value of preparation.

"You always gotta stay ready in this league," Taylor said. "Because you never know when it's your time to shine, and you've got to take advantage of it."

In Cincinnati, that goes both ways. When you're running with the first-team offense during a practice, the expectations are very clear.

"It doesn't matter who it is," Price said. "If you're stepping in the scout team huddle, you're part of Bomb Squad and we get after it."