Jerome Simpson couldn't wait for Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to churn out the entire new playbook, so he changed his flight home from the Super Bowl to Cincinnati and got some coming attractions for his efforts this week.
"I'm not going to give it all away," said Simpson after his first session, which he characterized as an informal meeting with receivers coach Mike Sheppard. "The only thing I'm going to give away is it's going to be wide open. We're going to use the personnel and the talent we have. I can see it already and we haven't run a play yet. It's getting set up that we're going to use everybody on this team at every position. From tight ends to wide receivers to running backs."
Simpson displaying his unique brand of pre-Ocho enthusiasm is one of the few constants for the Bengals this offseason. The Carson Palmer Saga, or this week's episode known as "House," hangs over everything. Indications are the Bengals are taking Palmer's trade-or-retire threat that emanated apparently from people close to him quite seriously. But they also seem to be sticking by president Mike Brown's adamant declaration of last month that they have no plans to trade him or accept trade proposals. And with no CBA in place, they can't do either starting March 4. Plus, they continue to hope he'll be here as the centerpiece of the new offense.
So does Simpson.
"He's my quarterback. He's my bro. I'll support him and I hope he's our quarterback this year," said Simpson, who still plans to go to California at some point and throw with Palmer. "Everyone wants to throw with Carson. He's one of the elite quarterbacks and I'm going to take advantage of that."
One coaching situation is brewing with assistant secondary coach Louie Cioffi interviewing in Arizona for the secondary job and an announcement could come as soon as Monday with Cioffi seemingly the leading candidate. The Bengals would then be looking for a guy on defense to replace Cioffi's computer wizardry with the game plan as well as assist secondary coach Kevin Coyle.
Meanwhile, Gruden may not know who his quarterback is, but he knows what he wants to run and it looks like he has started with the passing game with the running game to follow next week. When he arrived for work this past Monday, Gruden said he wanted to get the book in his players' hands before a potential March 4 lockout, when all communication between players and teams ceases.
With the Bengals coaching staff headed to the NFL scouting combine Feb. 23, he no doubt would like to get a good portion of it done by then. Simpson liked the looks of what he says is already in a small binder.
"I just got it and, shoot, I was in there less than 40 minutes and I was catching on to it. It's simple, but it's still complex. It's not a kindergarten playbook," he said.
There is concern that a new system is going to cause problems for young receivers like Simpson and rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham and rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley. It took Simpson three seasons to get used to offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski's scheme, but when he did and he got the chance to play in it the last three games, he wowed.
In the win over the Chargers, his second NFL start, Simpson racked up his first 100-yard game (124) and his first two touchdowns. The next week in the finale in Baltimore, he did it again (123) on 12 catches that marked the second-most receptions in club history. Another TD was the Bengals only score. With every indication wide receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens aren't coming back, Simpson is a very big piece of what has suddenly become a roster puzzle. Those could be only indications and maybe The Ocho will be back. But him tweeting playing for about five different teams, including the Bengals, his status is murky at best.
Simpson is confident his tutorial sessions the last few seasons with offensive assistant Dave Lippincott are helping him pick up this system.
"I know if I keep my same regimen with learning, I'll be fine," Simpson said. "I'm catching on with this offense already. That's what excites me because it's easy and the way that I've been learning, I'm just going to go out and execute. With Shep and Dave to help me out and staying on my pattern of learning, it comes easy to me now."
Gruden runs a version of the West Coast scheme, which uses words to call pass plays instead of the route running number tree. The one drawback would seem to be that when a play was called in the tree system, every receivers' numbered route was part of the play call. In a lot of versions of the West Coast, the call is for the primary receiver, so the other receivers have to know what they're doing on that play. The upside, it would seem, is that the West Coast routes are pretty standard, while in the number tree there are different versions of each.
But there are different West Coast styles and this is going to have its own stamp. But however it turns out, most West Coast aficionados seem to think receivers won't have problems making a drastic switch. Simpson won't give up the kind of routes Gruden is drawing up, but the M.O. is quick passes that take advantage of yards after catch in the middle of the field. That should help guys with the speed of Simpson and wide receiver Andre Caldwell, as well as the jukes of Gresham.
Simpson says Gruden hasn't mentioned the last two games to him, which is fine. He's starting from scratch.
"(Gruden) is easy to talk to," Simpson said. "I like the fire in him. I love that. I want to build off last year and win a lot more games. It's been in my mind to get this offense in my head. Being at the Super Bowl got me going. I want to be in that position. That's where I want to represent my team and family and make the city of Cincinnati proud."
Simpson likes Gruden's fire because it matches the flame inside him. Once he heard the Bengals were getting a new system, he said he couldn't think of much else. He said he walked out of that first meeting with Sheppard sweating a little bit with excitement.
"I'm ready," he said. "I can't wait to get out there."
Simpson has plans to work out at the API complex in Arizona starting in mid-March, where he says he'll get the full complement of workouts in the gym and on the field catching balls and running routes. Until then he's throwing the ball around with his brother in North Carolina.
"And I'm running to keep my wind up," he said. "I hate feeling out of shape."
Now he's got some reading, too.