2-12-2001 BY GEOFF HOBSON
With each X and every O Bob Bratkowski re-arranges, the Bengals' offense continues to undergo, "a "drastic overhaul."
And the coaching staff hasn't even looked at the running game yet.
Bratkowski, the Bengals' new offensive coordinator, has changed the way the team calls formations, pass plays and has revamped pass protections in a bid to improve the NFL's worst passing offense by getting more receivers into the pattern with simplification.
"These are major changes," Bratkowski said Monday from, where else? his Paul Brown Stadium office.
"It's a brand new offense," Bratkowski said. "Not only is it all those things, but there are some different types of passes and there are different personnel groups. It's a new playbook."
Fewer of those shallow crossing routes. More vertical patterns. More three-receiver sets on first down. More two-back sets on third down. More is less and less is more.
With his family back in Pittsburgh, Bratkowski, the former Steelers receivers coach, has had plenty of time to rewrite the Bengals playbook.
Twelve hours a day this past weekend. Try 14 to 16 hours during the week. He'll try to get away this weekend, but. . .
The Bengals' coaches are slated to start college scouting about March 1, so Bratkowski is getting blitzed by time. He has to get as much done with the offensive staff before then. Throw in next week's five-day NFL scouting combine, and the clock is turning into sand.
Bratkowski can't even think about going to San Diego to see quarterback Akili Smith until March. He'll do some scouting, but not as much as the other coaches because he'll be back here finishing the playbook and working with the quarterbacks.
Clearly, the Bengals' running game doesn't need as much work because Cincinnati is coming off the second best rushing season in the NFL. But, "We're probably going to add some things in the running game."
And, "we should. That's the only way you get better," said running backs coach Jim Anderson, the dean of the Bengals' staff who has been through every nook and cranny of the offenses of Sam Wyche, Dave Shula, and Bruce Coslet the past 17 seasons.
"We've done some of this before, but not much of it and not lately," Anderson said. "The skin is different. The dressing is different. The structure is different, like the langauge. To me, it's exciting. I think we'll be able to create some of the mismatches we used to get."
Offensive line coach Paul Alexander thinks the players will like the scheme because,
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"it has some answers for things that we haven't had or anybody else has had."
But Bratkowski doesn't think the new playbook means his quarterbacks have to get to Cincinnati any sooner than mid or late March. When he heard of Smith's DUI last week, Bratkowski decided to postpone calling him this week.
But his plans to visit Smith some time in March haven't changed.
"I don't want to take the two days to go see him just yet because it's more important we get (the coaches) up to speed with what's going on here," Bratkowski. "We can't waste one second here before the coaches go on the road. I could give Akili a lot of general stuff and some specific right now, but there's time for that when he gets here."
No doubt Bratkowksi will be preaching to his quarterbacks to get rid of the ball in a hurry. Which is even more of a must in his up-tempo game. It's also Smith's most glaring weakness of his first two seasons.
There are more three- and four-receiver sets on first down, but Bratkowksi said a lead blocking fullback is still necessary for a two-back set. So the Clif Groces and Nick Williamses still have a job.
Anderson isn't worried about the running game fitting with Bratkowski's passing schemes.
"You can always make it work," Anderson said. "Here's the thing. Do you want to finish second in rushing and go 4-12? The idea is to win, to put it together and go to the playoffs and I'm excited because this is one of the steps you have to take.
"It's going to take discipline on the part of coaches and players, no question," Anderson said. "But that's good. It's a challenge. It re-charges you. The coaches have to learn, but now we have to step up and be leaders."
One of the reasons head coach Dick LeBeau seemed partial to the low-key Bratkowski in the hiring process was his personality.
Kevin Gilbride is gifted, but volatile. Chris Palmer is exhaustive, but brings opinions of a freshly-fired head coach. Bratkowski has a diplomatic bent suited to oversee a staff that has been pretty much in place for years.
At least for the first two weeks, it seems to be working.
"He's a brilliant guy who is creative," Alexander said. "What I like about him is he's interested in putting it together, and not about a cut-and-dried scheme. He's got his ideas, believe me, but he's also been open and receptive."
But the question is, will his players get open enough to receive?