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Gruden: Full steam ahead

Jay Gruden

Updated: 8:40 p.m.

New Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has a deadline to churn out his new playbook. In case there is no new collective bargaining agreement before March 3, he needs to make sure his players get the offense before the lockout stems all communication with them.

"Full steam ahead," said Gruden after his first Paul Brown Stadium news conference Monday. "We're going to give them a lot. We're going to throw the book at them. That's the way we roll.

"Whatever happens with the CBA happens. We plan on it working out and we'll figure out from there what has to be done."

Gruden says he's going to leave the Carson Palmer question to Bengals president Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis. But he's preparing like Palmer is his quarterback.

"Until I hear something different, we're going to go forward with him as our quarterback. That's the only approach I can take," he said. "Whether that's right or wrong I do not know, but that's the way I'm going about things."

It's been three weeks since Palmer asked about a trade. Gruden is ready to talk to him and he only has 24 days until he's locked out of conversations with players. But he'll go through proper channels.    

"Things were said before I got here and I think they have to take care of those things in-house first and if they need me I'll be glad to talk to him and do what I need to do to try and get him back," Gruden said. "I think that's got to come from upstairs. Those two have to handle it the right way and if they need me and need any assistance at all, I'll be there."

But Gruden isn't planning on calling any players until he installs the new offense with the coaches.   

"I have to teach them what we're going to do," he said. "That's a process. Then once we get the playbook done, then we can start reaching out to players and let them learn terminology as fast as we can. The first step is to get to know my staff, then after that get to know my players."

The system everyone is going to be scrambling to learn is a form of the West Coast offense first handed down from Bengals founder Paul Brown to Bill Walsh. Gruden was hesitant Monday to categorize it because of all the renovations it has undergone since by so many coaches. In a sitdown with he did say there are basic West Coast principles you'll see.

"A lot of quick throws involved in the West Coast offense," Gruden said. "Let the receivers do some work after the catch. The backs, tight ends catch the ball, run upfield and make them miss and do things after the catch. It's very important to have very good receivers and obviously good tight ends and backs that can protect and run routes. Everybody has to play a major role."

His staff is well versed in the West Coast, starting with running backs coach Jim Anderson, the dean of NFL position coaches. Anderson's first 17 of his 28 seasons were spent in Cincinnati's Sam Wyche-Bruce Coslet version of the Coast. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander broke into the NFL under Coslet with the Jets in 1992 and ran it for a decade here and there. Wide receivers coach Mike Sheppard ran the West Coast as the Saints coordinator five years ago. Tight ends coach Jon Hayes played the position with the crown prince of the West Coast, quarterback Joe Montana, in Kansas City (Walsh is the patron saint). Quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese worked in Philadelphia and Green Bay in the late '90s.                

Gruden spent his seven NFL seasons working under one of those West Coast minds that has evolved through those teams and others, brother Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay from 2002-2008.

"My brother learned from (Mike) Holmgren, he learned from (Paul) Hackett, he learned from Walsh, he learned from Bill McKittrick, the line coach at San Francisco for so long," Gruden said. "I've learned from Jon, Jon's added things we've picked up on from other teams that weren't West Coast people. Just change the word and the plays. There are different concepts that come about every year that people have. Whether they're West Coast or East Coast, whatever it is. The base terminology is West Coast, but there are so many different concepts nowadays those concepts have new names."

But he can narrow it down in its breadth. It is diverse. Versatile. For instance, he loves how hard Bengals running back Cedric Benson runs. He calls him a "difference-maker," and admires his ability to block the blitz. But Gruden would like to see Benson run more pass routes.       

"It's diverse. It's multiple. Multiple formations. Multiple personnel groups," Gruden said of his scheme. "It's the ability to do a lot of different things with different people. That's important. Because if you bank your system on two backs and one of your backs goes down, you have to have a one-back offense. If you bank your offense on a two tight-end, three tight-end offense, and one of your tight ends goes down, you've got to be able to adjust. The best part of this system, we'll be easily adaptable to certain situations that come up in the course of the game.

"I think the quarterback likes it because it's very diverse. I've seen a lot of West Coast offenses fail because the quarterback doesn't buy in for whatever reason. And I've seen a lot of West Coast offenses flourish because the quarterback really buys in and takes it to another level."

One of the things that lured head coach Marvin Lewis to Gruden is his track record of the past two years of installing offenses within three hectic weeks, once as a coordinator and once as a head coach. If a CBA drought drags, he may have to do that again. Only this time, in a worst-case scenario it would be installing an NFL offense without the benefit of spring workouts and a truncated training camp.

"No matter if they kept the same offense last year or had a new offense this year, it's going to have to be simplified; I've seen it done," Gruden said. "Obviously at this level there's a lot more to deal with. We'll talk about it as a staff and start as fast as we can. We can only put in as much as the players can handle. If they are pros and go about their business the correct way as far as studying is concerned, they'll have an easy adjustment."

Gruden won't be diverted from his step-by-step plan as evidenced by his stance on the no-huddle offense.

"There's a place for no-huddle, no question about it," he said. "It changes the tempo of the game. How much we're going to use it, I don't know. Get the meat and potatoes of our offense, practice it, and then branch off in other areas like no-huddle and other aspects of the game."

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