Skip to main content

The Conversation: New Bengals OC Dan Pitcher Talks Joe Burrow, Rookies, And A 'We're Going To Be Who We Are' Playbook

Offensive Coordinator Dan Pitcher during training at the Kettering Health Practice Field on Wednesday, May 8, 2024 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Offensive Coordinator Dan Pitcher during training at the Kettering Health Practice Field on Wednesday, May 8, 2024 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

After Dan Pitcher finished his first spring as Bengals offensive coordinator and ninth with the team, he added a conversation with senior writer Geoff Hobson to his call sheet.

They talked about how quarterback Joe Burrow looked in his first action since wrist surgery, Pitcher's thoughts on his top two drafted rookies, right tackle Amarius Mims and wide receiver Jermaine Burton, and just how much the playbook has changed. If at all.

The conversation:

GH: First things first. How did Joe look this spring?

DP: Good. Listen, any time you're working back from something that keeps you out for an extended period, there's going to be a period of time where it doesn't. I thought he looked good. I'm sure if you asked him, there are probably things where he's like, 'Ah, I've got to work through this, I've got to work through that.' That's just normal.

Anyone who's ever missed time due to an injury and comes back knows that's the case. I'm very happy with what I saw from him in the spring and where he's at, both mentally and physically, and I know he's going to put the work in over the next four or five weeks. He'll be in a great place when we start training camp, so I'm happy with where he's at.

GH: Have you been dreaming about having a full training camp with him?

DP: Obviously, we want that to be the case. I don't even think about it. He's going to be here. We're going to have a great camp. We're going to develop into the offense that we need to be and we're going to hit the ground running week one, and that's the only thing I think about.

GH: It's been said this is the biggest change in the playbook since Burrow has been here.

DP: I don't know that's an accurate assessment. We are a flexible and adaptable offense that has always had the ability to reach into different parts of that offense, depending on who the people are that we have and who are the people that we're playing against. In the spring, you're not really worried about who you're playing against, you're worried about yourself and worried about putting your players in great position to show what they can do.

Certainly, we have made some small tweaks and we've maybe emphasized some areas that may have been less emphasized in the immediate past. But I don't look at it at all as if there's some radical change to what we're doing. I mean, this is the same offense. It's the same aggressive, calculated mentality that we've always had. We've just got to decide and figure out what the 2024 Bengals offense looks like, based on the guys that we have, and I think we're getting close to that, and I feel really good about it.

GH: To me, the most accurate thing to say is, this is the biggest change in personnel at the skill positions since Joe's been here. You don't have Tyler Boyd in the slot. You don't have Joe Mixon in the backfield.

DP: That's fair. Anytime two guys walk out of the building who have just the sheer number of snaps that those two guys have had, yeah, things are going to look different when you remove two players like that. That's just natural.

How do those two voids get filled? Who are the people that step into those voids and, based on who those people are, we're always going to tailor what we do to our people. So yeah, some things will look a little bit different. A lot of the stuff will look exactly like it's looked because it's been good. We have a great quarterback. We still have two high-end No. 1 outside receivers. We're going to be who we are and then we're going to make small adjustments here and there.

GH: Burrow indicated he thought you guys might be more varied in personnel groupings. Do think you'll have fewer 11 (three-receiver sets) and more 12 (two tight ends)?

DP: I think we'll line up, again, broken record, how ever we need to line up to win that week. Our tight-end room is a room that I'm very excited about. And I think they had an excellent spring. Tanner (Hudson), Mike (Gesicki), and Drew (Sample) obviously are the three experienced guys in the room. All of whom feel very comfortable in their own skin, know who they are, know how to play the game. They wouldn't stick around in the league for six, seven years a piece if that wasn't the case, and they all have very good football ahead of them. I'm excited about that room.

Does that mean we'll play more 12 than we've played in the past? Maybe. It may depend a lot on how the receiver room comes along. We're also very excited about the guys in that room. Even the guys not named Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. It's going to be a great camp. Guys are going to get opportunities to show what they can do. We'll compete and we'll mix and match and we'll find roles for everybody that deserves to have a role. How that shakes out, remains to be seen.

GH: Do you attack the slot by committee?

DP: Sure. I think we have six guys that we can put in there in any way shape or form that all do certain things in there well. That's our job now as coaches to put them in position to do things they do well and figure out how that works on a week-to-week basis. But yeah, I think there's a chance to see a number of different players in there.

GH: Some of them aren't receivers. Gesicki and Tanner can go in there.

DP: Absolutely. Those two guys are talented pass catchers and the thing that really stuck out this spring about those two players is how smart they both are, how they see the field and how they just have excellent feel. And that's anybody who's studied the game understands that's a key component to being a productive player in the slot because of all the moving pieces and all the bodies around you. You have to have excellent feel and both those guys have that.

GH: I would imagine a running back like Chase Brown can also do it.

DP: The slot is not like one thing. There are 50 things that guys do in the slot. Player X might be good at half of them. And player X might be good at a third of them. And so how do you formation it to get them there and ask them to do the things they're good at without tipping your hand to the defense? That's the challenge. I think we'll be able to do that and I think we'll do a really good job of it.

GH: Do you think rookie wide receiver Jermaine Burton can play in the slot?

DP: Sure. Again, there's no guy who is the perfect slot, mold him out of clay, does every single thing great in there. We'll have different people in there doing different things and all the guys you mentioned, absolutely have a chance to factor in that.

GH: The running backs are obviously different for Burrow and I was talking to one of them, Zack Moss, and he got the sense from the coaches that you guys have been emphasizing more variety of runs than maybe you've had in the past. Maybe to suit what you've got there with him and Chase Brown?

DP: It sounds like a broken record answer, but it's impossible to sit here and plot, 'We're going to run this run X amount of times, we're going to run this run X amount of times, we're going run this one X amount of times. So much of it is contextual. It's based on opponent, it's based on game situation, it's based on all those things.

What is true is that we do have plenty of variability within our run scheme. (Run game coordinator) Frank (Pollack) does an excellent job this time of year honing in on what are the core principles that we want to adhere to schematically. And then how do we complement those things and then once we get into the season, what are the specific things that we need to do to beat our opponent. Within that view, our run game can take shape in a number of different areas. We certainly have two or three things that we know we have to be good at, and we will be good at and then we'll play off of it.

I think we're in a really good position from a personnel standpoint with Chase and Zack and then guys like Tray (Trayveon Williams) and Chris (Evans), who have been here a long time, to be able to do what we need to do. A lot of touches left the building when Joe Mixon left. That's a fact and Joe Mixon did a lot of excellent things here. But we're confident in the guys we have and we think we're going to be able to do some really good things.

GH: Zack Moss strikes me as a young Samaje Perine. Reliable in an all-around game and when he gets a 12-yard hole, he gets 12 yards.

DP: I think Zack brings a lot of the positive things that we felt about Samaje. Very similar qualities to what Zack brings to the table. They're professionals. They know what's required of them. They know how to conduct themselves day in and day out. They're reliable, trustworthy people and players. And so those guys are the kind of guys that help you get to where you want to go. Help you to win championships because you can count on them. I agree with that assessment about Zack. I think he's going to be a physical runner who's difficult to tackle. He's going to be able to do a number of different things for us in protection, in the pass game, and as a runner. Very happy we have him.

GH: What did you think of Burton?

DP: Very talented. Some of the surest hands, ball skills that I've seen. A young player who really attacks the football violently, but then plucks it softly. If that makes any sense. Excellent body control, change of direction. Like all rookies, I think he's going through the process of figuring out what's going to be required of him at this level, and then specifically within our offense to be a productive player. Very happy with his approach, his attitude.

I see him putting the work in and he'll only get better at that. The longer he's around a great coach in Troy Walters and great players like Ja'Marr and Tee, and other veterans who have been in that room. Trenton Irwin. Guys who know what it looks like. Happy with what we've seen from him this spring. I think he's got a ton of growth ahead of him. But I think he's approaching it in such a way that he's going to get to where we need him to be. And how fast he gets there, a lot of that is going to be on him. But very encouraged.

GH: Is there anything that surprised you about him after drafting him?

DP: We did a ton of work. We watched him a lot together. Individually. We had him in the building. We spent time with him. We spent time with him at the combine. We Zoomed with him. I feel like we had a pretty good sense of who the person was walking into our building and I think we are obviously comfortable with that to select him. And he's been good. He really has. He's got a long way to go. But from what we've seen, it's promising.

GH: Will you change how much more you go under center?

DP: I'm giving you the same broken record answer that I've given you the whole time. It's impossible to predict. Totally context dependent.

First of all, there are certain situations where you just would never go under center. In a known passing down, it doesn't make any sense to go under center. Because you're artificially shallowing the drop depth and the ability to get the ball out, and you're creating more artificial push by starting the down five yards closer to it. When you know and everybody in the building knows that 98% of the time in this specific situation you're throwing the ball, that makes no sense to go under center.

Now, when you're talking about mixed downs when there's an equal threat of run and pass, there's a million factors that come into play. How hard of a run sell can you get from under center versus a shotgun when you're talking about play-action pass? How much of that trade-off is worth the fact that the quarterback has to turn his back to the defense and miss some time to evaluate and see what's happening in front of them? That's anytime you play-action fake from under center, and that's an element of it.

Everything costs you something. We figure out, what are we willing to pay? Are we going to get a good return on the investment? And we go from there. And the answers to that question change week to week, they change quarter to quarter, they change drive to drive. I can't say with certainty yes or no to that question, but it's going to be a part of our offense.

GH: Left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. wants to call the jumbo package "Overload." There are some big people over there, Pitch.

DP: We do have big people. That's a true statement.

GH: What do you like about one of those big people, first-round pick Amarius Mims?

DP: Day to day approach. Just his demeanor. Positive, good energy, coachable. None of the red flags that would suggest to you that he's not going to have the success that his physical skill set indicates he should have. That's exciting. Agan, just like talking about Jermaine. A rookie with a ton of development ahead of him. A lot has been thrown at him. And he's responded well. Really like the person. I think we added a quality human to our organization along with a guy who's going to develop into a heck of a football player. He's a fun guy to be around. He likes coming to work every day. That's fun.