CINCINNATI -- One week into his experiment in bringing back Hue Jackson as a special assistant, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said it doesn't really feel like the team's former offensive coordinator ever really left.
There is an added sense of comfort having Jackson -- who spent seven seasons in Cincinnati -- on his sideline to help manage things while Lewis is running the defense and trying to oversee the entire team.
Jackson, who was fired as Cleveland Browns head coach last month, should prove especially valuable this week as the Bengals prepare to host his former team. The Browns (3-6-1) come to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday for the first of two matchups this season.
"I think Hue understands their personnel," Lewis said when asked how much of an asset Jackson will be this week in particular. "He understands part of the way, particularly defensively, how they were putting the plan together. His involvement that way is that he can be an asset to us in some ways."
Jackson has served in various roles with Cincinnati during Lewis' tenure but most recently was offensive coordinator for two years before becoming the Browns head coach in 2016. He went 3-36-1 with Cleveland and was let go along with offensive coordinator Todd Haley after a 33-18 loss at Pittsburgh in Week 8.
In his first interview with media in Cincinnati last week, Jackson said he was hoping he could land a role with the Bengals but had no regrets about leaving in the first place.
"I think the experience in Cleveland was good," Jackson said. "You know, regardless of what the record was, I mean, it was an opportunity and an experience and you can't get those back. I think I'm a better coach for it, you know, having gone through it. But at the same time, you know, nobody wants to have that kind of record. But I'm looking to being here, helping this organization win and getting this organization back to where it needs to be."
The Bengals (5-5), who have lost four of their last five games, need a win Sunday to keep their playoff hopes alive after a Week 11 loss to Baltimore dropped them out of the postseason picture. They currently sit one spot out as the seventh seed in the AFC with the Ravens (5-5) now in as the sixth seed.
Jackson's knowledge of the Browns and familiarity with interim coach Gregg Williams' defense in particular should provide an advantage. Williams was promoted from defensive coordinator and is 1-1 as interim head coach. Cleveland had a bye last week.
"It will be huge," Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah said Monday. "I'm interested to see what their game plan is and what they have lined up for us. I know for him, especially, it will be a big game. It's always a big game, but it's meaningful for him so we're going to ball out for him."
Jackson said it's just nice to be preparing for meaningful games again.
The Browns went 0-16 his first season and 1-15 in 2017, but finally seemed to be turning a corner this year with a 2-2-1 start. Jackson was fired after three straight losses dropped them to 2-5-1.
"I'm very excited to join a team that's in playoff contention, but more so than that, it's the Bengals," Jackson said. "There's probably not many other places I would've went and did this. I needed to be with somebody who I knew, an organization that I know real well and people that I trust."
The former quarterback first joined the Bengals organization as the wide receivers coach in 2004-06, then left for stints as an offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and head coach elsewhere, before returning in 2012 as a secondary assistant and special teams coach until an opportunity with the running backs opened up the following season.
Jackson ran an offense that ranked seventh in scoring (26.2) and 15th in yards in 2015, a 12-4 season in which the Bengals won the AFC North but lost in the first round of the playoffs. The year prior, after Jackson replaced Jay Gruden, Cincinnati went 10-5-1 and ranked 15th in points and yards.
The defense he helped with in 2012 ranked eighth in scoring (20.0 ppg) and sixth in yards (319.7), though much of the personnel has changed since then. During his time as offensive coordinator, he was especially close with quarterback Andy Dalton and also had worked with players like A. J. Green, Giovani Bernard and Uzomah.
"Since he's been here, he knows the feel, the atmosphere around here, he knows a lot of players and he knows a lot more than people think," said wide receiver Tyler Boyd, who was drafted in the second round in 2016 after Jackson had left for Cleveland. "He's the best fit coming in because he's been here and his presence has been felt and he understands this team and how the players work. … He's a huge help in this organization to help strategize for all our division opponents because he's been around a while and he can put in his advice as well."
Though Lewis described Jackson as an advisor of sorts, he also made it clear upon his hiring that Jackson would not be meddling with the offense, despite Jackson's experience on that side of the ball. His role then was to be centered around game preparation and helping with the defense from an offensive viewpoint of how the opponent might be attacking things, according to Lewis.
Players weren't sure if that would change this week, given Jackson's knowledge of the Browns defense.
"It will be interesting to see how our meetings go Wednesday," Uzomah said. "I'm looking forward to seeing what they've got up their sleeves."
An assertive figure by nature with a big personality, Jackson didn't seem to think there were any limitations to how he could help, noting he is here for "whatever this organization needs" and to "help whether it's offensively, defensively or special teams."
That said, he is mindful he can't come in and step on anyone's toes. The offense is still Bill Lazor's to run -- even against Jackson's old team.
"I'm here to help," Jackson said. "I'm not here (to take) anybody's job. I'm here to help and assist. I'm still going to be me, and I think everybody respects that. I'm going to bring energy and have fun and have a good time out at practice and do everything I can. But at the same time, I'm very mindful that I'm a helper here. That's what I am."