CINCINNATI – The Bengals offense will look a little different next season.
That fact was made clear during a Friday morning news conference at Paul Brown Stadium when the new architect of the team’s offense was formally introduced. Hue Jackson said he plans to do things his own way.
"It could look a little different next season," said Jackson, who was named as the replacement for pass-minded Jay Gruden as the Bengals offensive coordinator. “My style will be a little different than what Jay’s was.”
Gruden took the head-coaching position with the Redskins on Thursday.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said Thursday he was “excited” about what Jackson brings to the table.
“I am very excited to move forward with Hue,” Lewis said of Jackson, who has served two separate stints on the Bengals coaching staff. “Hue’s expertise in all aspects of football and coaching is very wide.”
Jackson, whose 13 NFL seasons include a head-coaching assignment and three offensive coordinator postings, is expected to implement a more balanced attack that features the full assortment of weapons the team has on its roster.
Even though he is a former college quarterback, Jackson served as the Bengals' running backs coach last season. His personal play-calling style places a premium on running the ball.
"We have to be able to run the ball and that’s going to be the starting point," he said. “We know we can run the football. We want to run the football."
A shift in strategy might seem puzzling to some given the fact the Bengals had the NFL's 10th-ranked offense in terms of total yards in 2013.
In fact, while the team’s offense sputtered in the playoffs each of the past three years, Gruden helped mold the Bengals into a dynamic West Coast-style offense that featured a plethora of young skill players. Cincinnati improved in points per game during his tenure, going from 18th to 12th to sixth.
Members of the Bengals' offense accounted for seven Pro Bowl selections during Gruden's time in Cincinnati.
If Jackson wants to implement his system and still maintain the level of success Who Dey nation has come to expect, he’s going to rely heavily on running back Giovani Bernard. The second-round pick out of North Carolina is coming off one of the best rookie seasons in franchise history.
As his position coach, Jackson oversaw the development of Bernard, who logged the second-most yards from scrimmage (1,209) in a season by any Bengals player. His eight touchdowns (five rushing, three receiving) were the most by a Cincinnati rookie since 1997.
Bernard - one of five players up for the NFL’s Rookie of the Year Award - and the rest of the stable of Bengals running backs will receive guidance directly from Kyle Caskey in 2014.
On Friday, Caskey was promoted to running backs coach, his first position coach job, after working as assistant offensive line coach and quality control coach last season.
Jackson, Caskey and the rest of the offensive coaches want to improve upon a rushing attack that finished 2013 ranked 18th in the league in yards per game (109.7) and tied for 13th in touchdowns (14).
While the Bengals were known as a passing team, they attempted the eighth most carries in the league (30.1 per game). But they were also one of the NFL's least effective ground attacks, finishing 27th out of 32 teams in yards per carry (3.6).
Jackson needs to find a way to get more big plays out of his running back. The Bengals tied for 30th in carries of 20 yards or longer (five) and were one of only four teams that didn't have a run of longer than 40 yards all season.
Whether or not the team is able to improve in those areas will fall squarely on Jackson’s shoulders, at least if you ask the team's head coach.
"I ask my coordinators to be responsible for all that (takes place) on their side of the ball," Lewis said during the interview session at Paul Brown Stadium. "I tell them, 'It's your responsibility.'"
Part of that success is predicated on how well Jackson utilizes the team’s numerous pass-catchers.
During Friday's interview, he cited the talents of A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert as “obvious” reasons the team will continue to throw the ball downfield.
“We have some very talented players on the outside and we want them to continue to make plays,” he said.
While Gruden is known as a quarterback guru and master of the aerial attack, Jackson has a history of helping to put together elite passing games and turning people into Pro Bowlers.
He coached Chad Johnson and T. J. Houshmandzadeh from 2004-06 while he was the Bengals' wide receivers coach. Jackson also played a role in developing Joe Flacco and Carson Palmer while he was the QB coach for the Ravens and Southern California Trojans, respectively.
Although Jackson's strategy on offense will be important, his ultimate success or failure is likely to be determined by the play of quarterback Andy Dalton. Jackson witnessed some of Dalton's ups and downs firsthand but still believes the 2011 second-round draft pick has the talent to get the Bengals to the next level.
“Andy’s a very good football player. He’s been in the playoffs the past three years, he has tremendous upside,” said Jackson.
While he gave Dalton credit for his individual and team accomplishments, Jackson said his signal-caller needs to pick up his play.
"Everybody has got to play better around Andy but Andy needs to continue to grow, as well,” he said.
Part of that growth will involve Dalton’s decision-making abilities. While he’s show the potential for greatness, Dalton has also displayed a propensity for making questionable choices with the football.
This season, Dalton threw 22 interceptions if you include the two key picks he tossed Sunday in his team’s 27-10 home playoff loss to the San Diego Chargers. He also fumbled twice during that game.
While he did throw 33 touchdowns during the regular season and another in the playoffs (his first playoff TD), he had six multi-interception games including the final two matchups of the season. He threw four interceptions in the regular-season finale against the Ravens.
Jackson believes part of the development on offense will come from better understanding situational football and making quality on-field choices.
“Football is a game of situations,” he said. Jackson said he got a better understanding of that facet of the game while he was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2011.
“(Situational football) is what I learned in Oakland - how to attack those specific situations. In order to be successful you have to be good in those situations.”
Above all, Jackson said he wants to make sure his players approach the game in the correct way.
“I think there’s a way you need to play this game, from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head,” he said. “It’s a mindset.”
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