Bengals News

New Bengals in New Roles Part 2: Rise of the Multi-Faceted Weapon

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As mentioned in the introductory post, we’re going to look at how a couple of Jon Gruden’s former assistant coaches in Philadelphia may be influencing how Jay Gruden’s offense will evolve in Cincinnati.

Can Gruden Summon Voodoo Magic from New Orleans?

Dec 16, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback

Drew Brees

(9) pitches the ball out to running back

Darren Sproles

(43) during second quarter of their game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

With the news that Giovanni Bernard has been lining up at wide receiver, it draws to mind how Jon’s former charge, Sean Payton, uses Darren Sproles in New Orleans. Payton uses Gruden’s West Coast base but spreads it out dramatically, although many of the same concepts ring true.

With Payton as Gruden’s quarterback coach in 1997, their running backs combined for 122 catches, including 48 for Ricky Watters, 48 for Kevin Turner, and 24 for Charlie Garner. In fact, such a deep and varied backfield would be similar to both Payton’s in New Orleans and Gruden’s in Cincinnati.

Payton jump started Drew Brees’ career after Brees drew mixed results in San Diego, under Marty Schottenheimer in an offense dominated by LaDainian Tomlinson. Brees is barely six feet tall and has limited arm strength, so he relies on mechanics and anticipation to excel. Spreading the field out opens up passing lanes wider and, coupled with a great anticipation, somewhat negates limited arm strength.

That alone could help jump-start Andy Dalton’s work in the passing game.

But another parallel is how Bernard could be utilized like Sproles. In the West Coast offense, all roles and route combinations remain the same despite the formation, meaning the same play could be run in a big formation or a spread formation.

With this in mind, this opens up some versatility the Bengals previously lacked, considering Bernard’s skill set. In fact, both Sproles and Bernard are extremely explosive and move well through traffic, and while Sproles checks in at 5’6” and 190 pounds, Bernard tips the scales at 5’8” and 202.

In this play against Green Bay in the 2011 season opener, Sproles is essentially a slot receiver in the backfield. Brees sent the slot receiver in motion and recognized man coverage as the cornerback followed, leaving a linebacker isolated in coverage against tight end Jimmy Graham on the outside.