Callahan Talks Joe Burrow, The West Coast Offense And Concepts


Before summer vacation, re-convened with offensive coordinator Brian Callahan to talk a little ball. Callahan is so good at it, you just roll the ball out there and he expounds on scouting offenses other than LSU, putting Joe Burrow under center at times, the benefits of playing in a Sean Payton scheme and how he just wants Burrow to be himself while hoping other teams watch the Bengals and end up saying, 'Man, I want Joe Burrow, that's what I want."

GH: How much of the offense did you put in with him in mind with plays or packages from LSU?

BC: I wouldn't put a percentage on it. But we've had a lot of conversations about a lot of football over the last handful of weeks. A lot that stuff has been from his time at LSU, a lot of that has been us talking to him about things we do. We've done a really good job, I think, of finding all avenues that we can to move the ball. We're never going to be boxed in one way or the other. If something works better, then we'll do that.

I think what's kind of great about Zac's background and mine is we come from a pretty similar place. The Sean Payton West Coast offense. (The Saints) do some good things and we've studied some other teams across the league. LSU wasn't the only team we watched.

We kind of studied trends and numerous teams that are doing good things on offense. Third down and red zone. See what teams are doing. See what they're doing well and why and if you can incorporate them, you do that. I think we've done a good job studying around the league that can help us. We studied a lot of things from LSU. Obviously if the quarterback is comfortable, everyone is comfortable.

GH: I would imagine you asked Burrow what kind of plays he likes and put them in.

BC: Sometimes you take things out, too. The hard part for Joe is he doesn't have the physical reps, so he doesn't really know. If something is new to him, he may not know how he feels about it because he hasn't repped it yet against certain looks. He may come back and say, 'I'm not high on this play.' OK, neither are we.

GH: So maybe there is just as much new stuff from, say the Niners and the Chiefs, as there is from LSU?

BC: Those are all the teams you're watching. You always watch the teams that were the most successful. You try to figure out what it was. Was it how they built their roster? Was it what they did on defense? How they played on offense? We spent some time watching some of the wrinkles in the 49ers run game because that's an offshoot of the system Zac ran. It's a version of Sean McVay. Sean was with (49ers head coach) Kyle Shanahan. We've all kind of been around these guys. We study all the teams across the league.

GH: So, it's just not going to be Burrow/LSU? There are going to be elements of other offenses in this year's playbook?

BC: The most important part of the whole process is taking a really hard look at yourself and really get down in the details why something was good and why something was bad. If it was good, how do we continue to do it well? What else can we add to it to make it more dynamic? The things we didn't do well, why didn't we do well? Are they salvageable? Are they things we're good at or should we bother with our time?

You spend lot of time doing that, and then you come to the ultimate realization, what do our players do best? What situations did they thrive in? How do we just do that more? And that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to find all the things that our guys do great.

GH: The beauty of the Super Bowl between the Chiefs and Niners is that you had two West Coast offenses that had different strengths.

BC: Both of those teams did a great job highlighting their talent. They are two guys that come from a background that is relatively similar. You can sit in an installation meeting in San Francisco and an install meeting in Kansas City and there are going to be things that sound familiar. But how they deploy those things with their talent is what makes them different.

The Chiefs have an incredible young quarterback that can do a lot of things, but he functions best out of the shot gun. And they've got some receivers with real threatening speed down field and they've got a guy that can get it to them … They're definitely going to throw the ball better than they run it. San Francisco is the opposite. Great run game, great scheme. They have great misdirection and do a lot of unique things in their play-action game, screen game. And they played great defense on top of it. Their philosophies probably are pretty similar, but they did a great job deploying their scheme with the players they had.

That's our goal, too. You look around and you have a healthy A.J. Green, you have Tee Higgins, you have John Ross and you have Tyler Boyd. You have Auden Tate, you have C.J. Uzomah and you have Gio (Bernard) and Joe (Mixon). What TB does well isn't what Tyreek Hill does well. They're different types of players. We have to find out what works for us. That's our ultimate goal. Give our guys the best chance to go win matchups and be great in situations they know they can be great. We looked different than the Rams last year because we're a different team with different types of players and we'll look different than LSU because we have different types of players even though they might have concepts that are similar.

GH: Joe, obviously, doesn't have the style of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes or 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. I'm not sure who his NFL comp is.

BC: We'll find out who he is. At the end of the day it sounds kind of Coachish, but if we can get the best version of him, that's all that matters. I want guys to look at us and go, 'Man, I want Joe Burrow, that's what I want.' That's why I don't like to compare them. All these players are so different. It's our job to find things he does well enough, show case that and it's the job of the guys around to help him by doing what they do best. I want Joe Burrow to be himself. Do what he does best and be himself authentically as a person and I think you'll get all that from him.

GH: He's best in the shotgun, right?

BC: He was under center in 2018 at LSU quite a bit, so it's not a guess for us to see what he might look like. If you ask 32 NFL quarterbacks, I bet all 32 of them would tell you they're more comfortable in the gun. It's just a natural thing. But there's a time and place you have to be under center in the NFL.

GH: So, he will be under center some of the time?

BC: Yeah. If all of a sudden we've determined we can be all kinds of dynamic without ever going under center, no one is ever going to be opposed to that. But there is a time and place in the NFL where things have to evolve under center. You have to play-action under center. Those are part of playing NFL football.

How much and to what degree we do it remains to be seen. But there is a place for those things and it is part of a little bit of the core of what we believe in offensively, too, on the early downs. The ability to make everything married together and look the same from the run game, the pass game, the play-actions and screens. That's part of our philosophy. That won't change. But we'll evolve as we see how guys perform.

GH: How much did you get installed via Zoom this spring?

BC: There are probably a couple of things that were (left) outstanding. I'd say with the quarterbacks we got through just about everything. But with the whole offense, there may have been a couple of things situationally we didn't quite get to just because of the time constraints. End of game situations. Not minor things, but things you can get covered pretty easily in the fall when we get back together.

If you want to put a number on it, probably 95 to 99 percent of whatever we're going to have in.

GH: How does that stack up to other years and other teams at this point?

BC: It's just about right. It's such a strange thing not to have practice and not have a library of things to look through. Usually what happens at the end of the spring and the next couple of weeks, I go back and watch all of the stuff from the spring by concept. Watch what was good and what was bad and step away from it. I miss that evaluation process. That's unique. But as far as covering information, it's about normal. I think we had a chance to get into a lot more detail on things that normally we wouldn't have had time during OTAs. That was beneficial that we had time to dig down on the minute detail of things. The weird part for me is not having anything to go back and watch any reps.

GH: You can't evaluate Joe Burrow. You can't evaluate anybody, right?

BC: You can evaluate his personality, his work ethic, his confidence. But we haven't evaluated anything physically. It's a historic offseason in that regard with a rookie quarterback having no actual reps from the time he got drafted until the time the season starts. It's going to be a challenge for us.

GH: You already had vetted Burrow nearly every day during the draft process. I would imagine you may have even had a little bit of the offense in by the time you drafted him.

BC: Because the offseason got changed, we had the ability to meet with prospects. You kind of filter in some of your teaching in that process because you get to see how they learn. We hadn't finalized anything yet and he had no official word from anybody, but we use the teaching of our offense to see how he learned and what he learned.

So when he heard it again it wasn't necessarily new. I don't think we directly were installing our offense, but we used it as a vehicle to speed along our evaluation to see what he learned and what he learned well and what things we had more questions on. Yeah, in a sense some of the stuff he probably heard before we put in the first install of the off-season program.

GH: Even though you had vetted him in March and April, was there anything that surprised you in May and June?

BC: I wouldn't say anything that surprised us. He's been what we thought he was going to be through this process. He's put a lot of work in. He's worked really, really hard. You can hear how guys work. And you never really know what that means, but when you see somebody come in and attack the offseason the way he's attacked it, all it does is confirm all the things you thought, but you get to see it with your own eyes.

You're not hearing it through second-hand sources. You get to see him evolve, grow, adapt and work. His mindset and his attention are not surprising to me but the thing I've enjoyed most is confirming all the things we had heard about him.