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Grudens to call them as they see them

Jay Gruden

As they tell it in Tampa, Jay Gruden, four years younger, scratched an itch one day and Jon called him "Dog Boy," and one of their many fights as a little brothers commenced.

Now 40 years later on Monday Night Football, Jon Gruden figures to be a little more charitable while analyzing Jay's playcalling from the TV booth when the Bengals open their season against the Ravens (7 p.m.-ESPN and Cincinnati's Channel 12) in Baltimore.

"Blood is thick in our family," Jon Gruden said earlier this week, a Super Bowl champion coach in between dissecting tape like some wild combination of Chuckie and John Madden. "I want to see him do well. At the same time I've got to be professional. I've got a job to do and he's got a job to do. It's not as easy for me as it is for others, so I have to concentrate on what I'm doing."

Jay Gruden, the best quarterback ever indoors who came into the sunlight when he authored the greatest rookie quarterback season in NFL history last season in his own rookie year, has the daunting task of calling plays against the Ravens Hall of Fame defense on the road.

"He's my brother and all that stuff. He does have a job to do and if we deserve to be ripped then we deserve to be ripped," Jay said after a practice this week. "If we have false starts and bad snaps and we're elementary and fundamentally unsound, then he's got to bring that up. Hopefully we don't have that happen.

"If I'm looking good for him, that means we're winning the game and that's all that matters. If we win, everybody will be happy. If we lose you guys will be ripping me. I just can't read it. Otherwise I'll turn into a basket case. I'm never going to let you guys get to me or him. Otherwise you're in the wrong profession if you worry about it."

There it is.

Gruden blood is thick and football is the marrow.

Jon says Jay turned down chances to coach in the NFL while he coached on his Buccaneers staff out of loyalty to him and his three boys happy in the Orlando schools, as well as the Arena League. Their father Jim, a long-time college coach, ended his career as an NFL scout. Kathy, their mother, once hid her kidney cancer diagnosis during a weekend Jay could quarterback the University of Louisville and Jon could coach at Southeast Missouri State at ease.

"We do spend a lot of time in the offseason working to get better. We both love football. One way to get better is studying," Jon said of the many sessions with Jay. "Meeting with different people, generating ideas. Stimulate your brain. We certainly have our share of that in the offseason. When the regular season starts I've got my job to do, he has his job to do. We just wish each other luck."

Jay and Jon have it easy. At least on Monday night Jay can call the plays and Jon can make his calls on the calls. But Kathy and Jim have to listen and watch. It's just like when they were playing Little League and Jay let a groundball through his legs with the bases loaded and Jon made him cry but Kathy made him feel better, as Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi wrote so well nine years ago.

Jon may be 49 and Jay may be 45, but they talk to Jon after every game he calls and Jim makes sure he talks to Jay as soon as they can after all his games.

"Just to see how he's doing. I check to see the injuries. Who's hurt, who's not," Jim Gruden said this week. "We always critique Jon's performance on TV ... we're his parents. How do you think we think he does?"

They watch every Monday Night game and every Bengals game. There are Sundays Jim has to go to sports bars to watch the Bengals live, but with the healthy Kathy manning the computer and's replay, they eventually see every snap. That's not always a good thing. Jim has such a hard time watching, he's been known to leave the establishment and drive a few blocks before returning.

"I'll be nervous. I'm always nervous when Jay's coaching," Jim Gruden said. "I don't really get that with Jon, really, because he doesn't have a team. Sure, it's a big night. It's pretty neat both kids are going to be on national TV. I know that's really exciting for their mother."

Blood is thick. Jay and Jon talk two, maybe three times a week. They are supporting each other and picking each other's brains at the same time.

"He never critiques. He always offers ideas. He asks questions himself," Jay said. "He just wants to stay involved in the game. He wants to be a great announcer and know what's going on. Stay updated. The NFL changes every year. Last year the Wildcat got introduced moreso than ever. Different defenses got a little more involved with different blitz schemes. Probably see more this year and next year as opposed to 2008 when he was coaching. He just wants to keep updated with what's going on in the league and how to beat defenses."

But they know there is a line. There are certain boundaries where blood can't flow. The Grudens would like to get together the night before the game and spend some time, but they can probably only manage business. When Bengals public relations director Jack Brennan told Jay Gruden this week that ESPN wanted to get him for their Sunday night production meeting, he playfully rolled his eyes and said, "You mean I have to talk to him again?"

"Right now his loyalties are to Monday Night Football," Jay said. "I don't know if he can hang out with me and talk about what he saw at practice. That's not going to happen. He's more of a professional than that to let that happen. He's got a job to do. I've got a job to do and after the game we'll talk about what happened."

Jim Gruden knows his kids best.

"They're so different, but they're the same guy," Jim said. "They're both very competitive. Jay's just very low key and Jon shows it."

Jay shook his head. He got one of his brother's hilarious messages from Jon this week in the middle of his famous tape-viewing workload.

"He watches everybody. He's a film nut. He's crazy," Jay said. "He sent me a couple of texts today with some pictures. I told him how loud it was last year in Houston and he pulled up a clip. 'It wasn't that loud.' And you could just hear the crowd screaming. It was pretty funny. He just loves football and he loves to stay updated and obviously he's got a passion for the Bengals because we're doing a lot of the things he did in Tampa."

Jon Gruden knows he has to be objective, but he can also be proud of how his brother turned down two interviews for heading coaching jobs this season after Andy Dalton and A.J. Green became the first rookie QB-receiver combo in history with 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 receiving yards.

"Jay beats a little bit of a different drum. He's going to be very calculated where he goes and how he goes about his future," Jon said. "I know that he's very excited about being with the Bengals and I think he should be. They have some young dynamic players.

"So many people chase jobs so fast these days, but there are guys that have a different approach. He wants to continue to improve. He gave his word, his commitment to the Bengals that he'd be there for a while. He wants to see this through. He wants to see if the Bengals can't turn this thing all the way on and not only make the playoffs but advance in the playoffs. ... He wants to have some continuity with guys he works with so he can unleash what he has studied and what they have worked on as a staff and as a football team. I think staying in the same place for three, four, five, six years is a good thing."

They spent seven years together while Jon head-coached the Bucs and Jay, an offensive assistant that talked to him from the booth during games, clearly sees his brother as his mentor. After all, he's running his offense. But that doesn't mean each wants to be wired into the other.

"We have a lot of work to do. I can't sit on the phone all day and ask opinions on how to run stuff," Jay said. "And he's not just watching the Baltimore defense. It's not like we're on the phone watching the third-down reel of the Ravens. We're on different wavelengths from time to time. I'll try to get ideas and I also have a lot of the notes from the years I was in Tampa, and I'll go back and look at those sometimes and come up with ideas, too."

The Grudens' Bucs split with the Ravens, winning a shutout in 2002 on the way to the Super Bowl title and losing a shutout in 2006, so it's not like Jon has some buried treasure.

In the win, quarterback Brad Johnson hit 24 of 31 West Coast passes for 211 yards to lead a 279-yard attack, a veritable goldmine of offense against the stingy Ravens. In the loss—six years to the date of Monday night on Sept. 10, 2006—the Ravens gave the Bucs just 26 yards rushing on 13 carries and they got only 116 more passing in a blanking.

"They've been great for a long time. No one really has the answers for Baltimore. They would have showed us already. They've been very good for a long time," Jay said. "Usually if they do lose it's 20-18 or 16-12, or whatever it is. It's not like anybody scores 50 on them or rushes for 500 yards.

"We probably did as well as anyone up there early in the year. Andy threw for (373) yards. We lost, but that's the thing. Sometimes you have to win ugly and we might win 3-0. I don't care as long as we win the game."

Jon Gruden may not rip in the style the pundits bloodlust, but he isn't going to sugarcoat Monday, either. This week he was already wondering about the improvements the Bengals made on offense, given two starting offensive linemen went down and top two running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bernard Scott took just seven carries in the preseason while Pro Bowl tight end Jermaine Gresham missed the final two games.

"I think the improvements are on paper," Jon Gruden said. "I haven't seen Gresham other than the (second) game. I haven't seen Bernard Scott at all. I haven't seen BenJarvus Green-Ellis since the first preseason game. Their center is out. And they've got two new guards that are starting for the first time.

"I don't have a lot of exposure on them in this system. I would like to have seen Cincinnati at full strength with the young quarterback and the young receiver and how much progress they've made, but you haven't seen a lot of that because of these injuries. It will be interesting to see how they pull it off against Baltimore. That's a tough challenge."

Not exactly a brotherly welcome to Monday night.

"I'm sure he'll be critical. That's his job. We're not going to be perfect," Jay said. "I'll take the criticism like the way I always do. Take it in stride and learn from it and move on. This will be a great challenge for us, whoever is in the booth. "

And good fodder for the next all-Gruden film session, where the Xs and Os and the blood are thick.

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