Even though he is playing gracious host to the Bengals offense these days at the University of Cincinnati, it's not the first time Bearcats head coach Butch Jones has visited with a Jay Gruden offense.
Jones has a texting friendship with Jon Gruden, Jay's brother, a man he admiringly calls "a football junkie," and he sees some of the same habits unfolding on his practice field.
"I grew up in the West Coast offense," Jones says. "From what I can see from our offense, the personnel groups are different and the formations are different, but the intermediate and shorter route concepts are pretty similar, along with the quarterback's progressions."
The offense worked there last week Monday through Thursday with the entire team of about 45 strong descending on Nippert Stadium on Wednesday, and the same schedule holds true this week against the backdrop of optimistic labor talks. Jones can't wait for Wednesday. He is impressed with the club's approach, more than anything, citing how the quarterbacks' attempts to lead and the way the receivers finish their routes.
Not to mention the enthusiasm of cornerback Adam Jones.
"Pac keeps it interesting," he says.
"I really enjoyed that vibe when the whole team was here. You could just sense the competition with those guys and they ran a very competitive skelly drill," Jones says of the seven-on-seven coverage work. "I've been very impressed with the attendance and the way they've come out to work and are trying to learn from each other."
Jones is a quarterbacks guru of sorts. He sent one from tiny Central Michigan to the pros and it just so happens that Dan LeFevour is heading into his second season with the Bengals. He's the Other QB, lost behind rookie Andy Dalton and Jordan Palmer, the most experienced of the three and the closest living relative to the mystery surrounding Carson Palmer.
While Dalton is getting his spring housing from left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the mastermind of the offense's voluntary voluntarys, LeFevour is staying with Jones' family. Known as a superb athlete in Mount Pleasant, Mich., LeFevour left as the only player in NCAA major school history with more than 12,000 career passing yards and 2,500 career rushing yards and Jones think Gruden's offense that calls for an active, smart quarterback is a nice fit.
After the Bears took LeFevour in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, they cut him at the end of the preseason believing he was a good prospect that was a project because of the transition from his college spread offense. The Bengals claimed him and in the shuffle of life Jones believes the new offense has worked out well for his old pupil.
"It plays to his strengths with his mobility and accuracy," Jones says. "It's been great to be able to watch Dan and how he's transitioned to the NFL. He's worked extremely hard learning how to work under center. It's all rhythm and timing and he's really improved in those things with his drops and footwork, along with the velocity of his drops."
Jones says it's clear that Dalton is a talent once he gets on the field and starts interacting with his teammates.
"He's a winner and from talking with Gary (Patterson) we know how important he was to what they did at TCU," he says of Dalton's head coach. "The thing that's impressed me about these three quarterbacks is how they're helping each other learning the offense and coaching each other up. They're all talented guys. You can see how important it is for them to get the offense down."
Jones indicated the way LeFevour has adjusted from the spread to under center shows that Dalton will have a similarly positive adjustment.
"There are as many misconceptions out there about the spread as there is about the West Coast," Jones says. "When you get down to it, all offense gets down to pretty much the same routes and schemes."
Learning this version of the Gruden West Coast is all that much tougher locked out from their coaches, but Jones thinks the challenge fosters bonding.
"This is a great way to find and build leadership," he says.
He's already seen it with Whitworth.
"I've enjoyed getting to know him a great deal," Jones says. "His accountability and his leadership has been something to see. I think what they're doing up here is going to give them a good start."
It's also been a mini boon for Jones' program. His players are on break, but Jones still realized the impact over the weekend.
"I was watching SportsCenter and they showed the Bengals working out," Jones says. "And there were the UC paws, so that was good to see. It's a good thing to have the kind of relationship where we can help each other out."