LAKE FOREST – Nothing was expected from the Cincinnati Bengals last season. Most believed the AFC North cellar-dwellers, even with Joe Burrow and rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, would finish precisely where they always do.
That didn't happen.
The Bengals bolstered their offensive line and defense in the offseason, and Burrow led an explosive offense that carried the Bengals to a berth in Super Bowl LVI.
Veteran offensive tackle Riley Reiff was there to witness the Bengals' run. Now a member of the Bears, Reiff sees similarities between two young teams entering a season with nothing to lose.
"We had a good group of guys. I mean, I feel we have that here," Reiff said Wednesday about his 2021 experience with the Bengals. "We gelled. Obviously, the coaching staff put us in good situations. It was a fun year, it was something I won't take for granted ever.
"We had a fun time, we worked hard. We didn't talk about the Super Bowl. We just started stacking good practices after good practices. That's what we did. I think we can do that here. Just keep stacking good practices after good practices and good things will happen."
While both the Bengals and Bears are young teams, Cincinnati was further along in its rebuild last season than the Bears, who are on the ground floor. The Bengals had Burrow, Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon, C.J. Uzomah, Jessie Bates III, Trey Hendrickson, and Larry Ogunjobi. The Bengals weren't light on difference-makers.
While the narratives might feel similar, the talent levels are drastically different.
Burrow obviously was the engine for the Bengals' surprise run to the Super Bowl. Anyone who watched Burrow during his injury-shortened rookie season knew he was special. That was apparent early on to Reiff, who sees similar qualities in his new signal-caller, Justin Fields.
"Joe Burrow is an awesome guy. Tough, smart. I see a lot of that in Justin [Fields]," Reiff said. "They just come out to work every day. They are good guys, good humans. They study and they take control of it. Joe really took control of our offense last year, and I see that in Justin so far too. I haven't been here very long but what I have seen of him, I'm impressed so far."
The Bears signed Reiff to a cap-friendly contract Tuesday. The 33-year-old joins an unproven offensive line that still is searching for the right combination in front of Fields.
Reiff should be the Bears' starting left tackle in the first year of an extensive rebuild.
General manager Ryan Poles stripped the roster down to the studs, and the rebuild should begin, in full, next offseason when the Bears have around $100 million in salary-cap space.
The 2022 season is about Fields' development in Year 2 and Matt Eberflus' first-year education as a head coach.
Nothing else is expected.
But nothing was expected of the Bengals, either. Anything can happen. Reiff knows that better than anyone.