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Action Jackson whirs to defense

Posted May 24, 2012


Hue Jackson

Nowadays if you see Bengals defensive assistant coach Hue Jackson walking around Paul Brown Stadium, there's a chance he might suddenly catch your eye, sink his hips, bend his knees, and take off on you in a vicious backpedal like one of his defensive backs taking on Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green during the first week of voluntaries that ended Thursday.

"C'mon," he may say. "Make a move on me."

Or, you might see him like you did on the first day of voluntaries on Tuesday. Exulting over one of his guys' plays while teasing the receiver with the enthusiasm that makes the Energizer Bunny look downright lethargic.

"Hey A.J. Green," barked a smiling Jackson after Green caught a pass over the middle. "If this was a game, you'd be on your way to Christ Hospital."

For a guy who has been a young man in a hurry with a dead-ahead sprint up the NFL offensive coaching ladder that included the care and feeding of two 1,000-yard receivers in Cincinnati, it's not the most natural of moves. But don't try to get by him, either.

"I told him this when he first came on," says secondary coach Mark Carrier. "I know you're a good coach. It doesn't matter (what). You can coach."

This is one of the reasons why Jackson, the Bengals assistant secondary and special teams coach, is viewed as an elite coach. When it comes to coaching, his glass is always half full. He makes Dr. Phil sound despondent. Here's a guy that six months ago was the keeper of Al Davis's legendary flame as head coach of the Raiders and calling the plays of a top 10 offense who is now making presentations to special teams coach Darrin Simmons on gunner releases while employing defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's technique.

And here he is spewing over a button hook in spring ball.

"From the day I decided to take the job I've been very comfortable. I'm around people I know. I know the head coach extremely well. I have a relationship with the owner. ... (Zimmer and Simmons) are two of the best in this league," Jackson says. "They're proven. They've got skins on the wall. What I mean by that is they've been very successful year in and year out in what they do.

"The fear any coach has is that you don't want to be the weak link on the coaching staff, especially when you're used to being one of the strengths. So even though you're coaching something you've never done before, you want to make sure you're holding up your end of the bargain."

To no one's surprise, the bargain is holding up just fine, thank you. Simmons has watched Jackson's energy become "contagious" on special teams while Zimmer has tapped his head coaching expertise on handling players. This is, after all, the one guy that got the combustible duo of Chad Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh to produce for three straight years.

"He communicates with us. He's down to earth. He gets on our level," says rookie cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. "He's coached receivers and now we're learning the tricks. He's showing us pointers. What receivers like to do. How they like to do it."

Kirkpatrick is as good as any place to start when charting Jackson's circuitous route back to the Bengals on the defensive side of the ball. Cincinnati's six first-round cornerbacks are getting a lot of pub these days, and while some NFL analysts are using them as examples of why the Bengals are the deepest team in the AFC, Jackson makes them pretty deep at coach, too.

"He's obviously well-respected in the coaching ranks," says offensive coordinator Jay Gruden of Jackson. "You don't become a head coach at his age unless you have some serious credentials."

Kirkpatrick arrived via the 17th pick in the draft, a pick that the Raiders traded to the Bengals back in October for quarterback Carson Palmer when Jackson was in his first year as Oakland's head coach and desperately needing a veteran quarterback for the stretch run when Jason Campbell's shoulder ended up in a sling. 

"I don't even want to get into those things," Jackson says. "But one, I never thought I'd be here. And two, I never thought the whole situation that would happen would lead to this. But that's part of pro football. Sometimes you have to expect the unexpected."

Boy, you can say that again.

After being named the Raiders head coach at age 45 in 2011, Jackson brought Oakland within a game of its first division title in nine years despite not having the services of running back Darren McFadden for most of the year, losing his quarterback in midseason, and stabilizing the club following owner Al Davis's death.

Jackson's relationship with Bengals president Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis got the Raiders in the door to talk about dealing Palmer on the brink of the trading deadline and you can believe if it hadn't been for that (and Jackson's bosses signing off on the deal) Palmer probably would still have been property of the Bengals heading into the 2012 draft.

Even though Palmer was coming off the couch, Jackson's former recruit at USC played well enough to make the Raiders the ninth-best offense in the NFL done in by the fourth-worst defense.

So expect the unexpected. Jackson turned out to be the biggest casualty in the wake of Davis's death, fired by a new general manager.

More NFL unexpected? After doubling Oakland's points in 2010 during his first year as offensive coordinator and overseeing Joe Flacco's first two seasons with playoff berths as the Ravens quarterbacks coach, Jackson got exactly one interview for a coordinator's job on the rebound from Oakland.

One.

After the music stopped in the NFL's annual not-what-you-know-but-who-you-know coaching game of musical chairs, the Bengals didn't hesitate approaching Jackson as they filled out their staff. Even with the offensive spots filled.

Jackson admits if it hadn't been for Zimmer, he probably wouldn't have taken it. They were coordinators on Bobby Petrino's ill-fated Atlanta staff and Jackson heavily lobbied Lewis to hire Zimmer in the smoke of one of Petrino's mushroom clouds.

"It's a tremendous opportunity to learn defense; Mike Zimmer is phenomenal," Jackson says. "What he does on a daily basis teaching players, prodding them, getting the most out of them is second to none. I know what he brings to the table. There's a respect level and a relationship there, and I think what I learn can only help me grow as a coach."

Zimmer figures he's getting plenty out of it, too.

"Since he's been a head coach, I've asked him, 'Do you think I was too hard on this guy or that guy?' " Zimmer says. "And we've talked about ways to attack certain alignments and certain protections. It's good because he knows how I coach it and he can tell me how he'd beat it as an offensive coordinator.

"I told him this the other day: The next time he's a head coach, he'll understand defense way better than he did before."

If Jackson has a soul mate in Zimmer, it just so happened he found a career mate in Carrier. They grew up down the road from each other, Jackson in Los Angeles and Carrier in Long Beach. Carrier played at USC, Jackson coached at USC. They were on the same Ravens staff a few years ago.

"I've known Hue a long time," Carrier says. "He's not only a friend, but a guy I can confide in. He wanted to make it clear that he was (the assistant) but I told him that's not the way I see it. We're working together."

Jackson calls it fun, but it doesn't sound like it. He admits the Xs and Os look upside down because "I've been trying to destroy defenses my entire life," so before going on the field with the players he had to learn the technique as taught by Zimmer.

"It’s why Zim is a great coach. He's very detailed and there are many fine points," Jackson says. "It's not just playing football. There's a technique to it and a beauty to it and it's tied in to the defensive call. (And) I'm having to understand the language first. What they call a bunch or a cluster is different than what I called it. I had to wipe that clean and put the new information in my head ... I've shut down the offensive part."

But Jackson knows that's what makes him such a unique DBs coach. "Guys are asking me where receivers are going to be in certain formations and where the quarterback's eyes are going," he says, and six-year cornerback Leon Hall has been impressed after just three meetings.

"He's been in the league for a while. Maybe he wasn't a defensive coach, but he knows defense, that's for sure," Hall says. "You can tell just by the confidence when he's telling you something. He seems very comfortable with our defense already and he has the insight of what the offense is going to do."

Hall knew Jackson coached here and in Oakland, but he had no idea he was Flacco's coach when as a rookie he swept the Bengals in '08 that included his 280-yard, 34-point effort at PBS.

Which is Jackson's point. It’s why he didn't hand out his résumé when he met the players. He knows the first thing an NFL player can smell is phoniness and he knows he has to prove himself on the field.

"If not, I wouldn't have taken the job," he says. "What an NFL pIayer is looking from you is how you can make him better at his position.

"I like being around players and working with them and it's a testament to the players at how all-embracing they've been. There are some very talented young men. Reggie Nelson is out there making calls and Taylor Mays is growing each and every day and you've got all those first-round picks looking to get better. It's a fun environment to be in."

OK, OK. Palmer and the Raiders are here Nov. 25. "Just another game on the schedule," Jackson says. "Maybe I'll feel differently when it gets closer.

"I have tremendous respect for Carson. I think everyone knows that. I've known him since he was a young guy. I don't even want to get into the trade. I just know the player. He's a tremendous player, a tremendous person and he'll help that organization do great things. I've talked to him a few times, but I want those guys to move forward and do what they need to do and I need to move forward and do what I need to do."

Which means infusing his energy policy and Green knows there'll be more coming his way.

"He's always on (the offense and defense). It doesn't matter," Green says.

On the ball Green caught over the middle, Jackson's joke was really a pat on the back for cornerback Terence Newman.

"(Green) didn't see the corner coming off the receiver over there and our guy played it perfectly," Jackson says.

Maybe the Xs and Os aren't so upside down after all.

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