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As Gruden exits, offense takes on a new Hue

Posted Jan 9, 2014

With Hue Jackson ascending to offensive coordinator, the Bengals figure to keep the same language of Jay Gruden's playbook. But look for a different script as Jackson attempts to take the heat off embattled quarterback Andy Dalton.


Hue Jackson

Updated: 6 p.m.

With Hue Jackson ascending to offensive coordinator, the Bengals figure to keep the same language of Jay Gruden's playbook. But look for a different script as Jackson attempts to take the heat off embattled quarterback Andy Dalton.

"Hue likes to run the ball, but he'll also find a way to get it in the hands of his playmakers in that division if you can't run the ball," T.J. Houshmandzadeh, one of Jackson's players during his wildly successful run as the Bengals receivers coach in the previous decade, said on Thursday. "I'll bet half my earnings that the offense is going to be better."

Gruden, the only offensive coordinator the Green-Dalton era has ever known, became the head coach of Washington on Thursday morning and Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis didn't blink an eye in elevating one of his longtime confidants to the job. Heading into his 14th NFL season, Jackson, 48, who had served this past season as Lewis's special assistant and running backs coach, took his fourth title under Lewis and his fourth NFL coordinator's job. Ironically, they first worked in Washington together in 2002 when Jackson was the running backs coach and Lewis was the defensive coordinator.

“I am very excited to move forward with Hue,” Lewis said in a news release. “We are blessed to have a staff that allows us to promote from within. It keeps some of the continuity with our offensive team, yet we get new direction and fire from an aggressive and innovative coaching mind. Hue’s expertise in all aspects of football and coaching is very wide.”

Lewis may also soon have to fill the role of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Even while Zimmer huddled with the Titans in Nashville on Thursday, media reports had him emerging as the frontrunner in Minnesota. If the Bengals lose the man who has led them to four top seven defensive rankings in his six seasons, they can only hope the search for successor goes as quickly and as smoothly as the process that anointed Jackson.

“It’s an honor to be Bengals offensive coordinator, and to keep working with Marvin and Mike Brown and the Brown family,” Jackson said in the same news release. “I thank them all for this opportunity. Our goal is to be the best, to be the one team hoisting that trophy when it’s all over, and that’s what I’ll be working for every day.” 

With Gruden moving to a team that already has coaches in place, it appears he's not taking anyone to Washington and that Jackson inherits the current Bengals staff.

"Jay Gruden did a lot of good things for the Bengals," said Houshmandzadeh, who does occasional analysis for NFL Network. "You knew he was going to get another job. It was smart to bring in Hue a couple of years ago and have him there. Good for the Bengals. Good for Marvin. Good for the Brown (family)."

Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the dean of the offense, texted his congrats to Gruden on Thursday morning.

"I'm happy for Jay. That shows you you're doing good things when other teams come and get your guys," said Whitworth, taking a break from a hunting trip back home in Louisiana. "We're still a young offense and this is the only offense the young guys know. So we'll see how we can adapt to the new system."

Tight end Jermaine Gresham is the only skill player that didn't break in under Gruden's system.

"It would be different. It’s been the same offense ever since I’ve been here. Jay’s been here the whole time," quarterback Andy Dalton said on Monday. "I don’t know what it’s going to be. I don’t know, obviously, who would come in. All that stuff is going to take care of itself. I’ve got faith in the guys here; I’ve got faith in the staff. Whatever happens is supposed to happen. God’s got a plan and I’ve got a lot of faith in that." 

A.J. Green, the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, literally shrugged it off and said as he left Monday, "I don't know. I'll let him handle it."

Whitworth says Jackson is going to have no problem getting the attention of his players. Whitworth was a rookie the last year Jackson coached the Bengals receivers in 2006 before becoming the offensive coordinator in Atlanta and Oakland and eventually the head coach of the Raiders for a year. After getting fired by Oakland despite an 8-8 finish, he rejoined the Bengals in 2012 as a secondary assistant before Lewis named him special assistant to the head coach last season to go along with the running backs job.

"It'd hard to believe he's still a position coach after all he's done in the league," Whitworth said. "He's got everyone's respect right away. If it it's not here, it'll be somewhere else because he's proven he belongs in the big time."

Jackson returned to the Bengals after his shocking firing as Raiders head coach following his lone season in 2011 that brought the Raiders within 15 minutes of their first playoff berth in 10 seasons. Houshmandzadeh joined that Oakland team when Jackson urged the Bengals to trade quarterback Carson Palmer to the Raiders in midseason.

"Nobody ever talks about Hue not getting another chance yet as a head coach, but that's unfair what happened in Oakland," Houshmandzadeh said. "The proof is in the pudding. Hue won eight games with that team, got fired, and they brought in a guy that won four games with the same players. And he did it with a quarterback that got there in midseason and without (injured running back) Darren McFadden."

Jackson meets the media with Lewis at 10:30 p.m. Friday at Paul Brown Stadium to talk about how he plans to approach an offense that topped statistical milestones but had trouble, at times, navigating situations, while Dalton suffered a career-high 20 interceptions and two more in the wild card game.

While Gruden helped lead the Baby Bengals to the postseason all three of his years and their first top 10 NFL offensive ranking in six years this past season with a quarterback-driven West Coast offense, Jackson had top 10 rankings in Oakland with a hybrid system culled from a variety of sources ranging from Steve Mariucci to Marty Schottenheimer that he's designed to be quarterback-friendly.

Gruden took a five-year deal in Washington despite taking heat for the Bengals 27-10 home loss to the Chargers in Sunday's wild card game in which Dalton dropped back to pass 36 times in the game's last 21 minutes once the Bengals trailed, 14-10.

"(Jackson) will never throw it 51 times. Never. Only if they're down like Indianapolis was to Kansas City," Houshmandzadeh said of last week's Colts comeback from a 38-10 deficit.

Jackson likes the run game and balance. When he first called plays at Arizona State in the mid-1990s, it was a power run offense and he saw that play out on the pro level when he was with Schottenheimer in Washington at the turn of the century. He's also got grounding in Gruden's West Coast offense, running it when he was Mariucci's coordinator at the University of California and then bringing it to Los Angeles as USC's offensive coordinator.

He was also exposed to Don Coryell's vertical game with former Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski in Cincinnati, as well as former Baltimore offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's power run schemes when Jackson coached Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in his first two seasons in 2008 and 2009 when Flacco led postseason runs.

The experiences culminated in the Raiders finishing 10th in offense in 2010 while racking up 410 points after finishing 31st the year before with half as many points in his first year as the Oakland coordinator, earning him the head coaching job.

How much does Jackson like the run? The Raiders finished second and seventh in rushing under Jackson. The last time the Bengals finished that high in NFL rushing was a Corey Dillon-inspired No. 2 finish in 2000.

"I saw how he worked with Carson and I think he's really going to help Andy," said Houshmandzadeh. "Andy Dalton will get better. He'll have no choice. Andy is a good quarterback. Hue will sit down with him a lot. They'll meet a lot. They'll be joined at the hip. Hue will ask him what he likes and what he doesn't like and start from there.

"I don't know how it was with Jay Gruden, but Andy will be able to go to him about the game plan and say, 'I'm not comfortable with this.' And Hue will say, 'What do you want? What do you want in the first 10 plays? What's your favorite short-yardage play? What's your favorite third-and-six play?'"

Gruden and Jackson have different personalities and philosophies, but both are bright and charismatic. Gruden, whose intensity is laid-back, relies a lot on the quarterback. Jackson, a big proponent of the run game, game, has a fiery style.

"Yeah, they're different but both guys get along well with players," Whitworth said.

Houshmandzadeh says Jackson is going to make sure his playmakers get the ball, but he'll also challenge them much like he that star-studded receiving corps in the last decade of Houshmandzadeh, Chad Johnson and Chris Henry.

"Knowing Hue, he'll challenge A.J. Green to get better. And I think A.J. is the second-best receiver in football. He's unbelievable," Houshmandzadeh said. "He'll challenge A.J. Green to work on what he didn't do well this year. Whatever that may be. A.J. Green will get better. He's going to make A.J. Green practice harder."

Gruden took over a neophyte offense and installed his offense with not only a rookie quarterback, but four rookie wide receivers as Dalton became the first quarterback in NFL history to win nine games and go the playoffs while throwing 20 touchdown passes. While Dalton finished his third season under fire with three turnovers in the playoff game, he also broke the Bengals single-season records with 33 touchdown passes and 4,296 yards while Gruden chalked up the offense's first NFL top 10 finish in six years.

Washington general manager Bruce Allen sang the praises of Gruden long before Thursday. Allen, who was the Bucs chief personnel man in Tampa when Gruden worked for the Buccaneers, heartily endorsed the Gruden hire at the March 2011 NFL spring meeting in New Orleans.

"He's called plays for a dozen years," Allen told Bengals.com. "I think it's nice when a coach has a big-picture view of the game when he has a smaller area of responsibility. He has a good feel of the game. One thing that the Arena League helps coaches with is time management. It helps you with formulating in-game strategy. He understands personnel and how to use it. It's not the same kind of talent, but you evaluate it the same way.

"He's been a head coach and general manager, so he has his own ideas. But he's learned a great deal from Jon (Gruden). I think it's a blend of two good coaching minds. He's got that same fortunate trait as Jon. Jay's going to do whatever he has to do to win, even if it's a game of H-O-R-S-E in the backyard."

 

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