What does the hiring of Jay Gruden mean for the Bengals offense? What will our "identity" be? It seems relatively clear, given Lewis’s X and O dinner with Brad Childress, his expressed desire to have a power running game, and the hiring of Jay Gruden, that the Bengals are moving towards a West Coast style offense with a stronger emphasis on the run than typical West Coast (Buccaneer style). So looking at the team we have now, what does that mean?
My initial reaction is that this, more than anything else, may explain why Carson Palmer wants out. I know Gruden was hired after Palmer’s demand, but it’s clear that Lewis had an idea of what he wanted for next year long before that. Unfortunately, Palmer’s skill set is best suited to a downfield passing attack with 5-7 step drops to let the routes develop. He’s not a West Coast style QB. The WC passing attack is more about precision and timing and when it’s "not there" buying time with your feet. This is clearly not Palmer’s forte. His strength is reading a defense, making an audible and picking an open spot 15 yards downfield to throw to (more like Peyton Manning). Keep in mind, I’m not making the case that we should dump Palmer, given the situation I think it’s best we keep him-- he’s the best QB we have for the foreseeable future--but I can’t help but feel that we are moving towards a post-Palmer offense and he knows it. (Lefevour and a draft pick for the future?)
What other personnel changes may be necessary? The strength of the West Coast offense is that you have a lot of players on the field who can fill multiple roles (rush, receive, block), therefore making it difficult for the defense to know what’s coming, forcing them to spread out and cover larger portion of the field. Formations with double tights, TEs in the backfield, RBs that can line up in the slot and are just as comfortable catching passes as rushing and FBs that can pick up a blitz and catch are common. WRs tend be quick, rather than fast, and sure handed being able to take a hit after the catch.
I think we are covered at TE. Gersham certainly has the skill set to play in almost any scheme and would make a great WC TE. He can line up anywhere, he can catch, and his blocking is improving. Coffman could work in the scheme and I think Kelly (if he’s back) would do fine. Additionally, the Bengals signed Garret Mills, a FB/TE hybrid with good hands. He would be a good fit assuming he sticks around and Kelly retires. I would not be surprised if the Bengals sign/draft some more TEs/H-backs, particularly if Kelly decides not to return.
At RB, Scott would make a good West Coaster. He can turn the corner, has good hands and can get free in the open field. Benson is less of a good fit but I think still could work. If we want a power running version of the WC, Benson would work as a between the tackles guy and he has decent hands. I question is ability as a blocker/picking up the blitz. We will definitely need another pass catching RB. Leonard or Peerman would both be adequate. Also, a FB (perhaps 2) that can catch is a must. Pressley could fill one of those roles, he’s a good blocker but I’m not sure of his pass catching ability. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bengals draft/sign several FBs in the offseason. Additionally, I suspect the Bengals will go heavy RB/FB (carrying 5 instead of 4) and light at WR (only carrying 5 as opposed to our usual 6).
We have some question marks at WR, given the lack of experience, however, I am willing to "roll the dice" on who we have. All of them could work in the system, but we don’t really know that since we haven’t seen it. Caldwell played the spread in college and can carry the ball on reverses. Shipley will make a good possession receiver in any system. Basically, we are looking at Chad, Jordan, Rome, Andre and a draft pick/possibly Cosby/possibly journeyman. I’m ok with that.
And of course, the line. We need a better one regardless of what offensive style we have. I’d like to see us draft a C/G like Pouncy or Wisnewski to shore up the center of the line. Having some "true guards" rather than converted tackles is more appropriate for the West Coast which often utilizes a moving pocket and quick screens.