Bengals hope YACs catch on

Jermaine Gresham

The concept is Yards After Catch and YAC and is becoming a catchword in Bengaldom.

In the previous Bengals offense, YAC was gravy in a vertical passing game's stew of comeback routes, deep outs, and go patterns. But in the new West Coast scheme revolving around quick routes and even quicker throws, YAC is one of the main recipes in the new playbook that is being built during the down time of the NFL lockout. With big, speedy receivers, new receivers coach James Urban believes the Bengals are built for running away from the competition.

And rookie quarterback Andy Dalton's track record at TCU of delivering the ball in favorable spots for his receivers to YAC is a major reason offensive coordinator Jay Gruden felt he was the best fit for his system among the draft's quarterback prospects. The sense is YAC can't LACK like it did last year. 

"It's long been a staple for this offense," says Urban, who comes from seven seasons in Eagles coach Andy Reid's version of the West Coast. "We don't want to catch tackle. We want to catch run. It will be a big part of what we do. We want to stay up and get as much as you can and when necessary, get down on the big hits."

The Bengals were nowhere near last season's YAC league leaders for a variety of reasons.

For one thing, their two top wide receivers ended the season a combined 70 years old. While Washington's Santana Moss led NFL wide receivers with 449 yards after catch, according to Elias, Terrell Owens finished with 271 and Chad Ochocinco 186, each missing two games to injury. But, for another, the scheme was simply structurally different compared to the West Coast's shorter routes that call for more timing on the run.

Still, the '10 numbers suggest the Bengals have guys that can take advantage of YAC. Rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham led the Bengals with 354 yards of his total 471 coming after the catch, thanks to a variety of screen passes on the perimeter that allowed him to get into space.

Compare that to the same 354 yards Urban watched fleet Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson rack up after his 47 catches gave him 1,056 yards.

"DeSean catches a lot of balls 55 yards downfield, then gets 20 or 30 because he's past the defense," Urban says. "Gresham catches a lot of balls on screens and goes. Jermaine's good. Very athletic."

But Urban and Gruden are also looking at the young wide receivers such as No. 1 pick A.J. Green, Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell. Urban saw Green do plenty of it on Georgia tape.

"He's a big YAC guy," Urban says of the 6-4 Green. "He's so smooth in and out of his breaks. I think he fits it real well. He was very good in college. He can take it and go. He's a smooth athlete. He makes it look easy. He runs through the seam and hits it and it doesn't look quite as explosive as making a guy miss and shake and bake for YAC. He just kind of goes and it looks nice and smooth. He's kind of a one-cut guy. He hits it and goes."

Simpson wowed his way into 2011 plans with an explosive final three games, when 87 of his 277 yards came after his 20 catches. That projects to 291 YAC if he matches The Ocho's 67 catches. The 6-2 Simpson averaged 4.35 YAC on his catches, The Ocho 2.8, Owens 3.8, and Moss 4.8.

The two guys behind Moss in the NFL were 49ers tight end Vernon Davis with 444 YAC and Vikings receiver Percy Harvin at 442. It worked out to 7.9 YAC on Davis' 54 catches and 6.2 for Harvin's 71.

"A lot of our guys have the ability to do that. Jerome and Andre have great speed and we'd like to take advantage of that," Urban says. "(Jordan) Shipley's quickness in and out (of cuts) should be able to get some of that stuff we're looking for and Quan (Cosby) is a punt returner (with similar YAC qualities)."

Simpson clearly had YAC in mind when he had two fumbles in his 12-catch game in the finale in Baltimore.

When Simpson tried to get out of cornerback Chris Carr's leg tackle on a quick throw at the line of scrimmage, the ball flew out of the crook of his arm. On the other fumble, he was off to the races in the middle of the field on a 21-yard slant that suddenly came to a halt when Carr raked it out from behind.

Gruden and Urban preach ball security, but Gruden also liked the instincts he saw on the plays.

"He was excited to play in that game and get his chance and sometimes you get so excited to make a big play you forget the fundamentals and don't protect the ball. He definitely showed athletic ability and everything you want in a receiver," Gruden says. "You just have to put it together. Those reps in the last couple of games really helped him with confidence."

Gruden says one of the best he ever saw at YAC was Owens in his prime and when the 36-year-old signed just before training camp last year the Bengals made sure they edited the playbook to add some of those crossing shallow routes for him. But the timing never had a chance and it is something that is going to be stressed whenever the team gets on the field this season.

"It's mostly the quarterback, but on that shallow cross, you've just got to run through that ball," Urban says. "There are techniques you have to use to get yourself in that position. But when that ball is out in front of you, you run through it. The play is designed to carry the back end—where you're running to—clear here and then run out."

Gruden isn't exactly looking for NFL Films plays. He's merely looking to keep drives alive.

"Your backs should get some YACs. Your tight ends should get some YACs. The great ones do," Gruden says. "The best YAC runs are three yards and just getting enough for the first down. They don't count big in the stat book, but those are huge plays. It's not always a catch on a shallow cross and run for 75 yards for a touchdown or a five-yard little stick route and run 60 yards.

"That's unrealistic. But it's the yards after contact, the positive plays, making somebody miss to get an extra five yards. That's what I look for. That's more realistic in YAC, getting the first down if you have third-and-nine and you throw a five-yard pass because the defense is dropping and you get the extra four to get the first down. You won't lead the league, but you keep your odds alive and win games."

And the Bengals know they are going to have to go downfield at times.

"It depends what the defenses are giving you," Gruden says. "You may not want to run a lot of those short and intermediate routes if you're getting three-man rushes and big guys dropping. You may have to throw the ball down the field a little bit more."

But Gruden clearly wants his receivers to have the mindset that making the catch is only the first part of the job. He doesn't want his guys taking big, unnecessary hits. But he doesn't want anybody laying down, either.

"You come out here on Sundays with these Steelers and these Ravens and these Browns and Ray Lewis is sitting in the middle and people's YACs can close up," Gruden says. "It's a different mentality going in there. Not a lot of receivers like to go in there. It's not for everybody, but we're hoping to find some guys that can do it."

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