Updated: 4 p.m.
Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden welcomed a refugee from the defensive side of the ball Wednesday when head coach Marvin Lewis named former Raiders head coach Hue Jackson as running backs coach and special assistant to the head coach.
"We welcome him to our side. He's coached some good players in his day. He brings some unique perspective to the running game," Gruden said. "The more ideas, the merrier. We'll try to get some things we can sink our teeth into and move forward."
As the head man in Oakland for the 2011 season and three stops as an NFL offensive coordinator, Jackson has the rep as an idea guy. Lewis has been close with him ever since they worked together with the Redskins, where Jackson broke into the NFL as the running backs coach, and Lewis indicated Wednesday with the special assistant title that he's got enormous confidence in his colleague's ability to not only help spice up an offense that fell from 20th to 22nd last season, but also help him from an administrative standpoint.
It's Jackson's third appearance as a Bengals assistant. He had one of the more successful runs by a position coach in club history when he guided the volatile wide receiver tandem of Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh to big numbers from 2004-2006 and he returned last year on the defensive side of the ball as an assistant secondary and special teams coach after his stunning dismissal as the head coach in Oakland.
And he looks to be arriving at an opportune time with the Bengals probably seeking a complement to BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the backfield and holding three of the first 54 picks in the draft.
"What he brings is the passion of the game, his ability to get his players to play at the highest level of their ability, and to have an input offensively," Lewis said. "The exciting thing for Jay is what Hue brings to it with his wealth of experience as an offensive playcaller, an offensive coordinator, a head coach and he has that perspective that Jay Gruden also has and that's helpful."
Lewis, quite simply, is looking to score more points and he thinks this is going to help. The title as well as his résumé gives Jackson a forum. In Wednesday's news release announcing the hire Lewis said, "This is all about us getting better as an offensive team. It was a tremendous development for our staff that we were able to get Hue last year, and now I'm excited to expand his role."
The Bengals have qualified for the last two playoffs averaging 23 points per game. In the last two Super Bowl tournaments in which they've been knocked out right away, winning teams have averaged 33. Since the Carson Palmer-Chad Johnson-Rudi Johnson heyday ended in 2007, the offense has struggled to find consistency. Since 2008 the best the Bengals have been ranked is 20th overall, and the running game that was ranked ninth in 2009 has gone from 27th in 2010 to 19th in 2011 to 18th last season.
Jackson, 47, brings to the running back position solid rushing numbers. When he became offensive coordinator for the Raiders in 2010, he took them from 31st overall in the NFL rankings to 10th with a running game that finished second despite a passing game ranked 23rd.
When that led to his promotion to head coach the next season, Jackson knew he had to jack up the passing game and swung the trade for Palmer. The running game stayed solid and finished seventh even though running back Darren McFadden missed more games (nine) than he played and Palmer got the passing game to 11th, but Oakland missed the playoffs by a game at 8-8 and Jackson got fired.
"It's a mindset, but Jay will set that tempo for the offensive football team and whatever he needs me to do to assist him that way," Jackson said. "There is no question that I think being able to run the ball is the nuts and bolts of any football team. We have to make sure whatever runs that he wants have to be oiled up and ready. Whether it be the running back or the offensive line, the wide receiver, we all play a part in that."
Gruden is confident that his young unit is going to get better as it goes. When the Bengals lined up for the 19-13 loss in the Wild Card playoff in Houston, five of the starters were in their first or second seasons.
"We've got good core concepts here and a good talented team that's only going to get better," Gruden said. "We feel very positive about the future on our side of the ball from the players' standpoint. It's not about the coaches, it's about the players and I think our guys are gaining more confidence and momentum with more experience they get."
Jackson has yet to talk to any of the running backs ("I'm going to let me and they digest it," he said), but he had praise for Green-Ellis's work this past season when he set career highs with 1,094 yards and 278 carries.
Jackson is used to being around production. As the quarterbacks coach for the Ravens from 2008-09, he is one of those prominently credited in reigning Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco's rise. As Flacco's position coach in his first two seasons, Jackson saw him win three playoff games.
"People in football know what kind of offensive mind Hue brings to a staff," Lewis said in the release, "so he's going to be great with our running backs. And I'm going to take better advantage of his expertise in all aspects of football and coaching, which is very wide. He will help me be more effective in a number of ways."
Playing under Jackson for three seasons, Johnson averaged 93 catches, 1,358 yards and 8.3 touchdowns per year and made the Pro Bowl each season. In 2006 before leaving the Bengals to become offensive coordinator in Atlanta, Jackson coached the first 1,000-yard receiving duo in a Bengals history when Houshmandzadeh added 1,081 yards.
Lewis also thinks Jackson can help him with the big picture after Jackson brought the Raiders to the brink of the 2011 playoffs as the head man. In the seven previous seasons before Jackson helped the Raiders go 8-8 in 2010 as coordinator, the Raiders were 29-83.
"When Hue came back last year, he looked at things so much differently after having been a head coach for a season; he's a great resource that way," Lewis said. "His experience and wealth of knowledge enables him to have a different perspective.
'' 'What do you think about this or that?' As you go through the season things come up. You're asking yourself, 'Should we do it this way? Should we do it that way?' Timing. How the club comes together. The perspective of keeping players, cutting players, waiving players, adding players. It's all a different perspective he has and it's a good one."
Jackson had to smile when asked what exactly a "special assistant to the head coach" does. Besides giving him some sway on the staff, it mechanically probably won't be much different than what he did this season, and that was talking things through as a sounding board.
"I'm sure Marvin can find a lot of things for me to do, just knowing him," Jackson said. "There are things that a head coach sometimes just gets overwhelmed with and he's done it well for 10 years. So hopefully whatever it is he needs from me he knows that he can lean on me that way. Having sat in that chair there are a lot of things you sometimes don't want to do.
"We've talked so many times about things that happen. Games and situations and all those things. I think he probably feels there's a role for me to help him in some of those things as we move forward."
Jackson also talked about succeeding Jim Anderson, the club's running backs coach since 1984 and the longest-tenured assistant in the league with one club.
"He's one of the best ever, so I have to do whatever I can to keep that same standard," Jackson said. "Obviously following him there's some pressure with that."
Gruden thinks Jackson's versatility and experience is a good start.
"J.A. is a very detailed oriented coach and he knew the position as well as anybody in football," Gruden said. "He took a lot of pride in what he did. Ball security. Footwork. All the dimensions a running back needs to understand and J.A. broke it down.
"He's a tough guy to replace. But when you've got a guy like Coach Jackson that has the perspective of coaching receivers, quarterbacks, running backs, it will be a great benefit for our offense, no doubt."