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Bengals deploy detail


                      Ken Zampese is on the detail this week.

INDIANAPOLIS - A week ago, one of new Bengals offensive coordinator Ken Zampese's coaches sidled up to a bystander and observed, "When you're talking about Kenny, it's one word and it is detailed."

And as one of his former bosses stepped off the podium here at the NFL scouting combine Wednesday, Washington head coach Jay Gruden confirmed it.

"He's the most detailed guy I've ever seen. For my lack of detail, he made up for it," said the happy-go-lucky Gruden with a laugh. "He cleaned it up for me and he did a great job with Andy (Dalton).

"You don't want to make wholesale changes when your quarterback is playing as well as Andy has the last couple of years. He's a big reason for it. I think he's the perfect choice."

In a space of a half-hour Wednesday, the combine showed just how far a Bengals offensive coordinator can go as Gruden and new Browns head coach Hue Jackson met the national media on the combine's first full day.

Zampese was the quarterbacks coach for Gruden from 2011-2013 when the pair scouted and developed Dalton into a rookie playoff quarterback and later an AFC North champ before Gruden became Washington's head coach. When Jackson replaced him, Zampese stayed on as Jackson oversaw one of the Bengals' most prolific offenses in their history. Last year the pair directed Dalton to an MVP-type season before it ended in the 13th game with a broken throwing thumb but the AFC passing title.

Gruden did it with a deluge of Xs and Os that matched his bubbly personality. Jackson did it with a red-hot intensity that fired up those Xs and Os. Zampese does it with under-the-radar laser detail.

"That's going from one extreme to the other. From me to Hue to Kenny.  There are three different personalities there," Gruden said. "I think he'll find his way. I think the players have a lot of respect for him. He finally got this opportunity and he deserves it. I think the players see that and recognize that."

While Jackson delivered a five-minute opening statement Thursday in what he called the start of the 2016 season for the lights, Zampese conducted an interview in an empty convention center hallway between weigh-in sessions. For Zampese, the message is clear. In this league you can skin a cat a number of ways.

 "I've taken a lot from those guys. The most important thing I've taken from them, in my mind, is be who you are," Zampese said of Gruden and Jackson. "And whatever that is, is enough. And there is a reason why you got a chance to have the opportunity. Go do it the way you see it and be who you are. That's how I saw both guys do their thing. I think that's how you've got to do it."

 One of the reasons Zampese thinks he's clicked with Dalton is because they share the same demeanor. Understated but competitive.

"We're both driven and hungry. That's probably the most important thing. It's not the style; it's more the hunger and drive. It's the fight in the dog," Zampese said. "There's a high level of trust. I know myself I value his style, I understand his style. I love him and his wife.  We just have a terrific relationship. That allows you to get the most out of guys when you have a real good bond with guys."

Counting Mike Zimmer, that's three head coaches off the last three Bengals' staffs.


"That says a lot about Coach (Marvin) Lewis. He's a great football coach," Gruden said. And obviously (Bengals president) Mike Brown knows how to run an organization. It's a great situation out there and they've done it the right way. Every (starter) on their offensive team has been drafted. That's very successful and consistent and consistent is what we're looking for."

Zampese's first of 19 combines as a coordinator finds the club possibly looking for another starter in the draft with wide receiver Marvin Jones 12 days away from free agency. In the first chance to deliver his state of the offense, Zampese says they're looking at every spot even though they're set everywhere else.

Including, it seems, at right tackle, where Andre Smith is also a free agent. But waiting in the wings is Cedric Ogbuehi, last year's No. 1 pick who has been groomed as a left tackle. But he flashed so much athleticism late in the season after recovering from a torn ACL that the Bengals think he's their next special player and that could have right tackle written all over it.  

"He can probably do anything he wants to do. He's very talented, very coachable," Zampese said. "He's young and hungry and talented. The future is bright for him.  He can do about anything he feels like. "

It would have to be right tackle because Zampese made it clear Wednesday that Pro Bowl left guard Andrew Whitworth isn't moving inside.

"Whit is a Pro Bowl left tackle. That's what he is," he said of the 34-year-old vet. "We are not in a hurry to talk about his future. His future is active and over there on the left. That's his future."

It sounds like wide receiver James Wright is moving well enough that Zampese is banking on him to come back from the micro fracture knee surgery that wiped out all last season. As a rookie, Wright had just begun to emerge as a third-down receiver with some big first-down catches before ending his season with the knee injury in the 14-13 win in Tampa on Nov. 30, 2014.

"In my mind, he's a big part of what we're going to do," Zampese said. "That guy can run forever, he's tough as nails and he says nothing. He just goes and works and I love him for that. He's got a great attitude and a great work ethic, and it shows every day. Those are the kind of guys we want to bring in our building. He has so many things that we value, and I just can't wait to get him healthy and out there and running. I'm real excited about him."

But if Wright is a question mark, so is slot receiver Mario Alford, last year's seventh-rounder who played just five snaps as a rookie and had one catch.

"We have to have a spring out of him where when we watch him play it says, 'I know exactly what I'm doing. I'm going a million miles an hour and I'm fearless. And I catch everything around me,'" Zampese said. "For him, I'm really looking forward to seeing him make a big jump in his play speed, play after play.

"And the consistency of technique, the consistency of the hands. And he's certainly got a good amount of skill to do all that. I can't wait to visit with him to do all that and to see where his mind's at and just to get to know him a little bit more so I can help push him in directions that he hadn't been able to push himself at the moment."

It's a dicey spot with both Jones and slot receiver Mohamed Sanu looking at free agency and Sanu indicating he's going to a club where he'll get more chances. Take away Jones, Sanu and Pro Bowler A.J. Green, the two catches by Brandon Tate and Alford's one for 15 yards were the only other catches logged by a wide receiver last year. Third running back Rex Burkhead (10 catches) and fullback Ryan Hewitt (eight) were more productive, although Tate did have a 55-yard TD catch.

But Zampese's biggest challenge may be boosting the career of running back Jeremy Hill. Hill suffered the most infamous fumble in Bengals history in last month's Wild Card Game with 1:32 left and the Bengals about to put away a 16-15 victory that turned into an 18-16 loss.

 Zampese has talked to Hill twice since and says he's using the play as motivation.

"The only thing that is important right now is the response. That's it," Zampese said. "The past is over there, you can only win today and things will handle themselves. It's what's the response is today. Jeremy will be responding in the right way and there's no doubt about it. (Position) coach (Kyle) Caskey is on it. I'm on it. And Jeremy is on it, most importantly. He doesn't want to let anybody down."

Plus, Hill's Rookie-of-the-Year-type season in 2014 with 5.1 yards per carry slid to 3.6 in '15. It sounds like Zampese is going to give him a helping of his signature detail.

"I want consistency. Same thing I want from everyone else," Zampese said. "A high level of attitude, speed, technique and consistency. Do it over and over again. Of course for that position because it touches the ball, ball security. like a wideout would be, like a quarterback would be in his decision-making on the way down. Like anything else. We need consistency out of him, like the quarterbacks, receiver, like we do the centers, all those guys. Nothing different. We need the same from all of them."

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