Bengals expand offense under Dalton
More plays to pick. More route variations for receivers. When he gets into the huddle during training camp, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has many more options at his fingertips nowadays.
It's a lot different than a year ago.
Dalton and the rest of the Bengals were learning a new offense on the run last year during training camp, which was shortened by the NFL's lockout. Cincinnati hired offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and installed his West Coast-style passing game, something that was new to the whole team.
Somehow, they made it work well enough to reach the playoffs as a wild card despite having a rookie quarterback in Dalton and rookie receiver A.J. Green. Both made the Pro Bowl with their unexpectedly strong showings.
They feel like they're actually working out of a playbook this training camp.
''We can put in more stuff,'' Dalton said before practice on Saturday. ''We can all basically do whatever we want with some of the guys.''
It's a quantum leap.
The NFL lockout last summer prevented Gruden from working with the offense to learn his system. The lockout was lifted for one day during the draft in April, so some players were able to get copies of the new offense to share.
Former No. 2 quarterback Jordan Palmer took the lead in teaching the new plays to the offense during voluntary workouts until the lockout ended. Then, there were some crazy days as the Bengals got Dalton ready to start and the rest of the offense up to speed on the slim playbook.
The game plans were as basic as it gets.
''Going into that first preseason game, we'd only practiced for two weeks maybe,'' Dalton said. ''We weren't able to have much in and as much as we wanted. Last year, it wasn't just the rookies. The whole offense was learning the new playbook.
''This year, there's definitely a lot more comfort going in.''
The Bengals finished 20th in the league in offense and got the wild card with a 9-7 mark. They lost to Houston in the first round of the playoffs.
Gruden has used this offseason to install more of his offense and add some bulk to the playbook.
''Quite a bit,'' Gruden said. ''Probably too much. I have always been criticized about having too many plays, but I would rather have too many plays than not enough. But we are going to continue to expand. From a daily, a weekly basis, we are going to add more things.
''But the core is in. Everybody feels very confident about the core plays we have for both the running game and the passing game, the screen game. Now we just have to branch off from there.''
The Bengals would like to get their running backs more involved in the passing game this season. Also, they've got to find a No. 2 receiver to complement Green, who was their only consistent threat last season. And Green is going to have to learn how to handle defenses focused on stopping him every game.
''Toward the end of the season, they started rolling coverage to my side a lot,'' said Green, who led all NFL rookies with 65 catches and 1,057 yards. ''But I'm used to that stuff. Now I just have to be able to execute and not get as frustrated as I did last year about it.''
Green has been impressive during the first two days of training camp, an indication he's not easing off after his Pro Bowl rookie season.
''You just keep marveling at him,'' coach Marvin Lewis said. ''I marvel at him in everything he does. He's a godsend of a person that way. He's just got the right stuff.''
The Dalton-to-Green connection was one of the NFL's best last season. They want to become better on the long completions this year.
Green had 11 catches of 35 yards or more last season, tied with Detroit's Calvin Johnson and the Giants' Victor Cruz for most in the NFL. A lot of those came from Green out-jumping a defender for a pass that Dalton threw up for grabs, knowing the receiver would get it.
Gruden wants Dalton to do a better job of hitting receivers in stride down the sidelines with his long throws.
''He does have to get better on his deep ball,'' Gruden said. ''It's not so much his arm strength. It's his deep ball accuracy. Sometimes he'll just lead the guy out of bounds or maybe too far inside. He's been working on it.
''That is one step he has to take, to be more accurate on his deep balls. Arm strength is not an issue. Accuracy is the issue.''
Dalton and Green worked on their long-range completions in the offseason, trying to get into a rhythm. Green sees a lot of improvement and confidence in the quarterback.
''He's going to be much better,'' Green said. ''You can tell by how he's more in control of the offense and everybody listens to him. This is his team, his offense.''
And there's a lot more to it this time around.
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