Updated: 2/4/11, 12:25 a.m.
Marvin Lewis wants his offense to take more shots down the field and on Thursday he teamed with Bengals president Mike Brown to throw a bold deep ball when he asked new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to start from scratch with a spanking new system that hopefully lures back the club's franchise quarterback and stands up to a potential lockout.
Some would call it gambling on the river with an untried NFL coordinator, but not Lewis after a deliberative search of the college and pro games. He didn't go for a proven name, but he went with the 43-year-old Gruden's résumé that includes head coaching stints in two different leagues and a seven-year hitch as the right-hand man for one of the offensive minds he values the most. That meets Lewis' requirements for a playcaller that oversees the coordination of every aspect of the game plan in a quarterback-friendly system.
Brown gave Lewis the backing for the sea change despite the specter of offseason workouts reduced by a work stoppage. Because of that, keeping offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski was discussed but not embraced because "we can't worry about what we don't know. If we're waiting around for something bad to happen, I don't think you're moving ahead," Lewis said.
And Lewis believes that Jon Gruden's West Coast offense that produced younger brother Jay is a lure for the disgruntled Carson Palmer.
"It brings him back closer to what he had at USC," said Lewis of his days with Paul Hackett. "Once everything comes together for him, I think it's a done issue. This is professional sports and athletics. Sometimes things happen and that's not necessarily the way they end up being, and people move forward and I think it would be very easy for him to move forward from that standpoint."
In his conference call with the Cincinnati media Thursday, Jay Gruden called the new scheme quarterback-friendly and believes it will energize Palmer, currently a question mark with a trade request. The Bengals hope the West Coast brings the quarterback back from the West Coast.
Gone is the number tree of Bob Bratkowski's receiver routes and the terminology in the running game as Gruden plans to implement the scheme brother Jon learned at the feet of West Coast gurus Walsh, Mike Holmgren and Andy Reid, and used with Jay while they were in Tampa Bay. Bratkowski's book has been replaced by an edition closer to the Sam Wyche-Bruce Coslet chapter that he replaced.
"If you wanted change," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth, "you got it."
Also gone is the staple seven-step drop deep in the pocket by the quarterbacks. Those that remember Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason remember the quick, ryhthm throws out of three- and five-step drops with the emphasis on accuracy, timing and yards after catch. That's designed to keep the quarterback healthy, as well as the play-action bootlegs to keep the pass rush off balance and give him room to see the field.
"We have to do a much better job merging our run and pass game," Lewis said. "Our ability to have quarterback movement, get the ball out of our quarterback's hand, allow the quarterback to play freer, to have fun again. There are certain things that people know that I think are very, very effective offensively and that we'll be an attacking style and stay after it."
Gruden is also confident that Palmer will find the scheme attractive.
"I think he'll welcome the challenge and be open to the change because it will be a major change for him," Gruden said. "He's been in the same system for a long time. The terminology is going to be different. We'll try to take the success the Cincinnati Bengals have had over the years and keep those in place, but for the most part everything is going to be new to him. It will be a challenge but I think he'll enjoy it once he sits down and checks it out.
"I think everybody's positive (about) him coming back. There are obviously issues right now with the quarterback, but I think everyone is hopeful we can get a deal done where he comes back and he plays like Carson can play. He's one of the elite quarterbacks in the league and we have to keep it that way and keep him protected and have fun playing football and I think he will do that and if he wants to come back, we're going to make everything right for him."
The passing tree, which identifies routes by numbers, is now going to be replaced by words. Lewis doesn't think that will hurt the growth of guys like wide receiver Jerome Simpson, who took three years to get comfortable in the old system.
"Every one of my coaches who has been in this system said it's much easier for young guys," Lewis said. "It's conceptual and the young players will have an opportunity to step forward much quicker. You change personnel; you don't necessarily change concepts. And that's how I see defense. The best offensive teams in the NFL, their plays seem plentiful, but they're really not. Their personnel is.
"The quarterback continually has the same reads. Nine out of 10 players continually do the same thing and you change one guy, and it looks completely different. The quarterback can be more efficient with less on his plate."
Lewis is literally looking for coordination. To him, the plays in the run game and pass game weren't integrated coherently during the week into the game plan, so he's looking for Gruden to oversee "every detail." That sounds like Lewis wants more play-action than before and more actions off what look to be real.
Given a lockout could wipe out the spring workouts and/or training camp, Lewis was impressed with how smoothly Gruden implemented his system in three weeks during the past two seasons in the UFL. That may happen again. He says Gruden's work in the run game "is incredible," as well as his teaching of technique at the skill positions.
Which should be good news for running back Cedric Benson, not pleased with Palmer's franchise-high 586 passes. Palmer and Benson couldn't be reached for comment. But Benson had to like Gruden's opening act.
"We have to run the ball between the tackles," Gruden said. "We have to be a physical team up front. We're going to challenge our offensive line to be physical. We're not going to spread out and go no-huddle every down and throw the ball 65 times a game. I intend on pounding the ball and being able to pound the ball."
Like many, Whitworth wasn't sure he had heard of Jay Gruden. But he liked the fact the job went to a first-time NFL coordinator.
"You know he's going to be coming in here ready to prove himself and I think that's exciting," he said. "It's something new and I'm anxious to get it going. That's fun to look forward to something different."
And he liked the commitment to the run.
"I'm smiling from ear-to-ear,"Whitworth said.