ICYMI: New Bengals in New Roles Part 1: What it Means for Gruden’s Offense

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Dec 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; New Orleans Saints running back

Darren Sproles

(43) runs the ball during the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Jon Gruden Era in Philadelphia

That integration of Chip-Kelly-esque spread elements to a West Coast offense is on full display in New Orleans under Sean Payton. Payton, like Jay, played multiple season in the Arena Football League, but Payton did manage to play for the Bears during the players’ strike in the late 80s.

Although Payton is regarded as a product of the Bill Parcells coaching tree, his first position of real importance was as quarterbacks coach under Jon Gruden in Philadelphia. The head coach of the staff was Ray Rhodes, former defensive coordinator under Walsh, and that atmosphere is likely why Payton uses traditional West Coast terminology and route combinations, despite the more wide-open nature of Payton’s system.

Also a coach under Jon in Philadelphia? Bill Musgrave, the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive coordinator. Musgrave also runs a heavily-Gruden-influenced offense which, in 2012, was more of a tight-formation, power offense.

But, in 2011, Musgrave utilized Percy Harvin in a dual-threat role which saw him grab 87 catches for 967 yards and 6 TDs, in addition to 52 carries for 345 yards and 2 TDs.

When we look at Jon’s Philadelphia connections, we will compare how Darren Sproles’ role in Payton’s offense could be similar to Bernard’s role in Cincinnati’s, and how a Percy Harvin role could suit both Bernard and Andrew Hawkins. We’ll also talk about how a more spread-out offense benefitting a quarterback with questions regarding both his height and arm strength could benefit a Bengals’ quarterback lacking in height and arm strength.

Jun 11, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach

Jim Harbaugh

throws a pass during minicamp at San Francisco 49ers training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Other Innovation-Infused West Coast Offenses

Although I was referring to Dalton previously, Kenny Anderson was another Bengals quarterback who excelled despite questions about his height and arm. Although Walsh laid the foundations for the offense that made the first No. 14 great, Lindy Infante coordinated the offense under Forrest Gregg that reached the Super Bowl, only to lose to Walsh’s 49ers.

Years later, Infante coached the best years out of Jim Harbaugh, running an offense similar to Jon’s and the other early-generation West Coast offense caretakers. When Harbaugh arrived at San Francisco, he brought an offense similar to Walsh’s, Hackett’s and Gruden’s and inherited a quarterback similar to both himself and Dalton: Alex Smith.

As Harbaugh integrated elements of the diamond pistol formation, he developed a role for Delanie Walker that was neither tight end nor fullback nor wide receiver. That H-back role sounds very similar to the versatile roles that Washington’s Niles Paul, Logan Paulsen and Fred Davis adopted in 2012.

Mike Shanahan may not have coached directly under Walsh in San Francisco, but during his heyday in Denver he leaned as heavily on his running game as any old-school Walsh disciple. But, with his personnel this season he found himself mixing the pistol, spread, West Coast, and even elements of the Sid Luckman wing-T offense.