Sean McVay: taking note of Bengals' blueprint.
PHOENIX - The Bengals' blueprint is hip enough to get hyper-linked by the youngest head coach in the history of the game.
It turns out that many of the principles Sean McVay is taking to the Los Angeles Rams were first preached in Bengaldom, starting with founder Paul Brown and stretching through to its longest tenured coach in Marvin Lewis.
McVay, 31, who very nearly came to work for Lewis six years ago, is a disciple of Washington coach Jay Gruden and their days in the UFL. He watched Gruden leap from the UFL to Cincinnati as the Bengals offensive coordinator in 2011 and guide rookie wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton to an unprecedented three straight play-off berths. No one in history ever began his career winning nine games and throwing 20 touchdown pass like Dalton.
McVay became one of Gruden's natural first hires in 2014 as his offensive coordinator and the Bengals experience was never far from them. For a guy like McVay building with an extremely young offense in Los Angeles led by second-year quarterback Jared Goff and third-year running back Todd Gurley, Gruden's coaching job in that limited lock-out rookie spring and summer of 2011 and how the Bengals are still riding it today resonates with him.
"(Gruden) talks about it all the time because you're a product of your experiences," said McVay this week at the NFL annual meeting. "He goes in there for three years and does an excellent job. That's why he's sitting as the head coach in Washington.
"What was so special is he gets Andy as a rookie and A.J. as a rookie with the first two picks and look what they were able to do as a team," McVay said. "Especially in a lockout … Coach (Mike) Zimmer did such a great job on the defense. I want to say they went 9-7 and went to the playoffs as a Wild Card. (They did.) To be able to do that you have to give a lot of credit to Jay, Marvin, and that entire staff."
When the Rams signed Bengals Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth earlier this month to a three-year deal, McVay went another step and got the offensive captain of that '11 team. What appealed to McVay is the success the Bengals had during Whitworth's 11 seasons and the hope is there is winning by osmosis.
Once they got by the gag at their first face-to-face meeting that the 35-year-old Whitworth is the only player on the team older than McVay ("He didn't give me grief, I gave him grief."), McVay realized how much Whitworth could help his young guys, particularly Goff.
"With the left tackle position and what he'll be able to do for Jared … the mentorship," McVay said. "He's seen what it looks like. You're talking about Carson (Palmer) and Andy. Those are guys that played to an extremely high level. Look at the success they had in Cincinnati when he's been there. I think there's a value in guys that know what it looks like when it's right."
McVay already knew Whitworth's story because Gruden "couldn't say enough about him." Not only that, he knew enough of the Bengals assistants to get the vibe.
"When he talks football, you feel like you're talking to a coach," McVay said. "Talking to the coaches that have been there with him, Jay, Paul Guenther, Ken Zampese, even Marvin talks about what a leader he is. Whether its offense or defense, he has a way of bringing people together. You get around him and he has a presence about himself that's very impressive."
You might even say McVay's Bengals ties go all the way back to the beginning.
He was a freshman wide receiver at Paul Brown's Miami of Ohio when Lewis was in his second season with the Bengals and installed Palmer, like Goff an overall No. 1 pick, as his quarterback. McVay figures since the Gruden brothers are products of the Bill Walsh School of coaching, so is he.
Walsh, the Bengals' de facto offensive coordinator who re-shaped Paul Brown's revolutionary formations of the '50s into the '70s cutting edge West Coast offense, worked with McVay's grandfather to build the 49ers' dynasty of the '80s when John McVay was director of football operations.
Sean McVay, who never met Walsh, revealed this week one of Walsh's books, "The Score Takes Care of Itself," has been a major influence on his brief career. And he kept running into the name of Brown, his fellow Miami of Ohio alum.
"It's funny you should mention that," said the personable, thoughtful McVay, not yet hardened by an NFL season in the big chair. "I read about Paul Brown and his background with Bill in Bill's book. He references Paul quite often and talks about how he was so influential in a lot of Bills core beliefs."
TRADING PLACES: It's all about perspective.
The Bengals were thrilled to basically exchange one-year free-agent contracts at linebacker when they got 26-year-old Kevin Minter from Arizona after they let go 35-year Karlos Dansby, now back with the Cardinals.
The Bengals are looking to get younger and faster on defense. The Cardinals went the other direction. They also re-signed 32-year-old safety Antoine Bethea.
"We were so much better with Karlos and his leadership. Karlos has freaky genetics. He may be OK for four more years," said Cards head coach Bruce Arians this week. "I think everybody had the opinion that we stop-gapped with Antoine and Karlos. But these guys have plenty left. They're extremely bright. Everywhere they've been they've been captain-type leaders. I thought that was the one thing we were missing last year."
The Bengals thought one of the things they were missing last year was speed at linebacker and in Minter they get that as well as a guy comfortable with calling defenses and being able, they believe, to play nickel.
"Kevin turned himself into an every-down linebacker," Arians said. "He's a thumper. He's best as a run-stopper. He did a decent job in pass coverage last year, but a great kid. He's more of a quiet guy. He does all his talking on the field."
CLASS OF '06: Talk about a heck of a draft. The Bengals' top four picks from that year are still playing with Whitworth in L.A., cornerback Johnathan Joseph in Houston; tackle Domata Peko in Denver and Frostee Rucker in Arizona. All but Joseph signed deals this month in free agency.
The Cards re-signed Rucker, a defensive lineman who turns 34 in an 11-season NFL career that began with five years in Cincinnati.
"Frostee is one of those leaders in our locker room you never see, a veteran guy that handles guys on and off the field," Arians said. "He's a core guy you want in your locker room. That dude. We did not want to lose him."
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer got a lot of snaps out of Peko, but didn't make a move this trip.
"Peko is a great kid," Zimmer said this week. "We wouldn't have money to sign a backup nose tackle any way. I love Domata. I wish him the best."
The Bengals are counting on the 2016 draft to yield another productive nose tackle in the fourth round in Andrew Billings.
It was Joseph that began the Bengals' run of first-round corners, five since '06. He and Leon Hall are no longer here, but three are and add Adam Jones from the 2005 draft and that's four first-rounders.