Now the ball is in Zac Taylor’s court.
One of the leading reasons he became the Bengals’ 10th head coach back in February is his expertise on the offensive side of the ball with a scheme that scaled the NFL rankings when it came to points and yards. The hire is both a bow to the franchise’s foot print carved out by offensive minds like Paul Brown, Bill Walsh and Sam Wyche, as well as to the current huddle that is waiting for its talent to be tapped with the latest big thing.
“We've got a lot of good voices in the room, a lot of good perspectives,” said Dalton, who got his first look at Taylor’s playbook when the Bengals returned to work Tuesday. “I don't think there's anything that's going to happen that will be like, ‘I've never seen that before,’ ‘I've never been through that before.’ So that's a very positive thing.”
On the first day of what the Bengals hope is an offensive renaissance Dalton said he’s blessed to have three quarterbacks in the room as coaches, starting with Nebraska’s Taylor, UCLA’s Brian Callahan at offensive coordinator and Alex Van Pelt’s nine seasons backing up Jim Kelly and Drew Bledsoe returning to coach quarterbacks. But in the middle of all this QB talk, the left tackle may have had the most interesting take on the new offense when Cordy Glenn said how much liked the “O-line friendly scheme,” introduced Tuesday by Taylor and new line coach Jim Turner.
He had his best years in West Coast schemes crafted by Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson and in the three seasons that he wasn’t in those sets, Ken Zampese and Bill Lazor stirred some of it in the brew. Dalton loves the continuity Taylor brings. He play-booked with Rams head coach Sean McVay after McVay worked under Gruden. And for half a season, Taylor was Lazor’s quarterbacks coach with the Dolphins.
“I think just the little bit that I've been able to talk to Zac about certain things,” said Dalton of the early communication, “because he was with Bill Lazor before. So he understands, 'OK, this is what you called it before,' or even with Jay Gruden, with Sean being there, 'OK, you may have called it this,' and so it's already been able to kind of translate it to exactly how we're going to do it.”
Taylor is trying is use all his connections.
“You take everything into the equation,” Taylor said. “I am familiar with how they communicated here in the past. I’ve communicated a certain way the last couple years. It’s a (marriage) of everything. We are trying to make it our own, we really are. There are a lot of things I’ve been comfortable with and that the players are comfortable with that we want to marry together.”
Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who played for Taylor in Los Angeles and with Dalton in Cincinnati, knows exactly what Glenn means.
“I don’t call it so much ‘O-line friendly,’ but (it counters) what I call, ‘OC arrogance,’ Whitworth said. “You don’t have enough originality for getting the ball down the field, so you’re just going to keep sitting back there in the shot gun? If that’s happening, I can pretty much tell you your quarterback and your team is getting killed because defenses nowadays are built to get after the passer and cover and that’s it.
View the best images of the Bengals scoring touchdowns during the 2018 season.
“That’s why I credit these guys (like Taylor) coming up with creative ways to get the ball downfield. And it keeps your running game alive. In this offense, the running game needs to be efficient and you’ve got a good big back there (Joe Mixon) and, shoot, Gio (Bernard) is good enough to be a No. 1 back, but with another guy he can do so many other things. If you’ve got an efficient running game, this offense is deadly.”
After watching Rams quarterback Jared Goff lead the Rams to the most and second most points in the league in the past two seasons, Whitworth thinks Dalton will enjoy the playbook now being installed.
“It’s a timing and rhythm offense and historically Andy has done well in that style of football,” Whitworth said. “Obviously Zac is going to have his own wrinkles and they’ll have their own deal. But I would think it would be similar to (the Rams) and Andy has done really well with play-action, getting the ball out and getting the ball down the field. I think he’s a guy that can do really well in it.”
Until then, Taylor and Dalton have to take the time to give and take during the art of installation. Working on his third coordinator in the last three calendar years, there isn’t anything Dalton hasn’t seen. No one questions that he’ll end up knowing it like the back of his rehabbed thumb.
“I think you may be doing things similar, you may be running the exact same play, but this is how it's called, or your rules may be different on certain things, your progressions may be different on certain plays,” Dalton said. “So it's just getting as much information as you can. For me I'm trying to get it as quickly as I can so I can learn it as quickly as I can so I can get to the point in other systems I've been in. That's just where we're at right now. I'm going to try to get as much as I can so I can learn it all.”
Which is why Taylor is here and the ball, until May and on-field practices, is in his court and that of his coaches.