CINCINNATI — Hue Jackson has been here before. Being the man in charge of an NFL offense isn’t anything new for Jackson, although he is the new man in charge of the Bengals offense this season.
He’s got a good group to work with; a young quarterback who is trying to show he can lead his team to the next level, an All-Pro wide receiver and a dynamic running back who is a highlight waiting to happen every time he touches the football. It’s an enviable position Jackson finds himself in since taking over the job that became vacant when Jay Gruden accepted the head coaching position in Washington this past January.
Gruden was very successful in his three seasons as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator. Jackson isn’t overhauling what has worked but there are some adjustments he’s making. Talk to an offensive player and inevitably the word ‘tempo’ becomes a part of the conversation. What that term actually means has been hard to define but the players have noticed it.
"Hue is full of energy," said right guard Kevin Zeitler. "Not that Jay wasn’t. I think Jay was great and I love Jay. I wish him luck in Washington but I’d say OTAs are a little different just in terms of the attitude. It’s the mindset. It’s tough to explain but it’s different when you’re in there. You can just tell."
This is more than just going faster. Speed is great but being out of control causes wrecks.
"What we want to do is just continue to take the lulls out of practice and if we continue to work that way great things can happen," said Jackson Wednesday after the Bengals finished up the second day of their three-day mini-camp at Paul Brown Stadium. "This is just the way that I think the game has to be played. It’s a competitive game with competitive people. It’s a rough game and you’ve got to be willing to grind that way. You’ve got to fight through the hard times and don’t get too high in the good times.
"This is just practice right now and we’re trying to get better with our fundamentals and our techniques but there is confidence that is being built, or non-confidence. That’s a fine line you have to ride through."
The Bengals scored 430 points last season, an average of 26.9 points a game and tied for the sixth-most in the NFL. It’s the third-highest scoring output by a Bengals team, surpassed only by the 448 points the 1988 AFC championship Bengals totaled and the 441 points scored by the 1985 team. Seven of the 54 touchdowns the Bengals scored last season were directly produced by the defense or special teams and turnovers were the ultimate downfall for the offense.
The Bengals lost the ball 30 times last regular season and then another four times in the 27-10 home playoff loss against San Diego. Quarterback Andy Dalton threw two interceptions and lost a fumble on three consecutive possessions in the second half of that game.
Jackson hasn’t dwelled on that performance. There has been talk about the Bengals not asking so much of Dalton this season but that is in terms of throwing the ball 40-plus times a game (the Bengals were 2-5 in games in which they has 40 or more pass attempts last season). In many ways, Jackson is going to ask more of Dalton.
Dalton is the person in control of the speed and the tempo of the offense.
"He told me he wants to get the play in so he can start talking trash to the defense and not have to worry about it," said Dalton. "The rest of it is on me getting guys lined up and everything. And that’s how it should be. In a game-time situation, the quarterback is the one on the field getting guys lined up and everything if it’s not right. So he tries to create that atmosphere in practice.
"It’s making sure guys are lined up how you want them to, how we’re doing our motions, guys are going full-speed. With all that, it helps with the timing. They want to do everything quick. We want to do everything quick, too. We want our drops to be quick. We want to get back and be ready to go. And so the emphasis is on tempo this whole offseason."
Jackson was the running backs coach last season. The year before he was an assistant for the defensive backs and special teams, a position created for him after he had been fired as Oakland’s head coach following just one season. Jackson and head coach Marvin Lewis have a long history together, including Jackson being the Bengals’ wide receivers coach from 2004-06.
Jackson was a perfect fit to step into the OC role when Gruden left for Washington.
"I’ve been around them and watched these guys grow," said Jackson. "Jay did a great job with the group and now here it is and I’m in charge. You take those pieces and you mold them a little bit better and see if we can get to where we want to go.
"I think we have a lot of guys who have the ability to be great but you have to work at it. You have to work at it every day. It’s a challenge to do it but I think we’ve got guys who are capable. It’s all about prodding, pushing and pulling. That’s what leaders do. That’s my role."