As the old adage goes, practice makes perfect and Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is a firm believer of this. Practice is something that will definitely benefit to the Bengals offense heading into the 2012 season as they aim to improve across the board offensively.
Last season the Bengals implemented a new offensive scheme under Gruden. But due to the lockout the Bengals had little time to prepare for the regular season as a whole. Led by two rookies, Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, the Bengals offense was a nice surprise during the 2011 season. And with more practice this offeseason they will look to build upon that success heading into the upcoming season.
With the offense entering their sophomore season under Gruden, he expects the Bengals to expand on offense and that the core of young players on offense are capable of taking their game to the next level as they continue to master the West Coast playbook. Dalton, Green and Jermaine Gresham are three players who are going to be vital for the Bengals heading forward. And they have yet to reach their full potential.
"There are going to be times we have to branch off and open things up and we're going to have to do more. And we can. I really think we can," said Gruden.
This is something that the Bengals will need to do next season. Anything can happen at any moment. Injuries are part of the game and always come at the worst possible moment. The team will have to be able to step up and branch out from the play calling when that happens.
Last season the Bengals experienced this when Jordan Shipley was lost for the season during the second game of the season against the Denver Broncos. After Shipley went down the Bengals had to make some adjustments on the offensive play-calling. Shipley's absence allowed Andrew Hawkins and Ryan Whalen to get their feet wet. Entering next season both of them could play important roles for the Bengals depending on what the front office does this offseason.
Unlike last offseason, the Bengals will have spring practice. This will allow them to continue working out the kinks on offense. For Dalton it's going to be vital for him to prove that his impressive rookie season wasn't a fluke. And with more practice Dalton and company should be able to reach their full potential. Once he was drafted Dalton had his critics and he silenced them with his performance on the field.
"He better get better or he won't be good enough," said Gruden. "You have to be great at that position and we think he can be great. That's why we drafted him where we did and he had a remarkable rookie season, no doubt about it. Knowing the kind of kid he is and how he works, I know he'll get better. That's why I like our offense. All our guys are like that."
The Bengals have a number of players from offense that are slated to hit the open market in less than a month. Cedric Benson, Donald Lee, and Jerome Simpson as well as a number of offensive linemen are set to become free agents. Gruden and the Bengals could have some new faces that will need to get up to speed with the playbook. But unlike last year the Bengals will have time to practice as a unit and coaches will have time to work one-on-one with players.
"The beauty of this offense is that we were in the middle of the pack statistically, but we were in the middle of the pack in both," said Gruden. "We had balance. We want to move up in both categories...." "You have to have the ability to do both."
Realistically the Bengals can't expect the passing game or running attack to carry the team throughout the entire season. It's going to be a group effort from everyone. And this offseason the Bengals will have a great opportunity to continue improving the offensive unit through free agency and the draft. And with extra practice time the Bengals will be able to fine tune the offenses overall game.