One of the traditions of Training Camp is that teams are visited at some point by national reporters and/or analysts to get their impressions of the buzz of camp. Yesterday, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports visited Cincinnati and gave some brief observations via Twitter. He's had time to digest some quotes he received and shifted his focus a bit.
Where is he focusing? On second-year offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden. La Canfora was able to get an in-depth interview with Gruden and some the bigger-name players on his offensive unit. It's a pretty candid piece that is a great read. Click the jump to read some of the highlights from the piece.
La Canfora asked Gruden if he was going to open the playbook wide open now that these players are in the second year in the system and he has more trust in second-year quarterback, Andy Dalton.
"We have some new players, so it's not like we're going to go hog wild," Gruden said, in comparing this summer to last. "But it has been nice to have everyone in here. I think every offensive player here now was here for the OTAs, so they have a general understanding of the terminology and the run schemes and the pass concepts. So that's been nice. There are very few mental mistakes as opposed to last year."
The term "mental mistake" is one that strikes fear into any coach, in any sport, at almost any level. Physical errors are prone to happen, as we are all human and slip up from time to time. It's the mental mistakes that kill a team and is usually an indicator of poor coaching and/or having the wrong type of player on one's team. Hearing Gruden say that they've been held at a minimum thus far is great news.
Backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, a Gruden family treasure for their NFL system, talked about the offense's progress made under Gruden in the second year of the system, as well as what kind of a coach he is.
"We can go back and hone all the little details now," said backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who knows the system well -- having played for both Jon and Jay Gruden in Tampa Bay. "And last year, with the lockout and all the new guys here, we couldn't really do that during camp because we had to work on putting everything in."
"They're both (Jon and Jay) intense, they both love the game and they're both very knowledgeable," Gradkowski said. "But Jay is a little more easygoing, a little more laid back, and will let some things go. The guys here love him. Andy and A.J. can just play free. He's a great communicator with the guys. And then when you see him get mad, you know you'd better correct that. He's intense and loves the game of football, but he also jokes around."
Letting the youngsters Dalton and A.J. Green receive free reign can be terrifying, but ultimately it has to be a good thing. With the lack of a true offseason last year, one has to wonder how many times those two improvised last year on the field. Regardless, they're both smart players who have earned Gruden's trust and that should be good enough for any Bengals fan, especially with the results from last season.
2011 Pro Bowlers, Dalton and Jermaine Gresham also chimed in on what kind of a coach Gruden is, as well as their respective relationships with him:
"We have a great relationship," Dalton said. "It's special to be at a place where we have not only a great coach and player relationship, but it's also like a friendship."
Emerging tight end Jermaine Gresham agrees: "[Gruden] let's you play. The only thing he asks you to do is to work hard. That's why you see such an improvement in my play from previous years to last year. I attribute a lot of it to him. Most definitely."
It sounds like a pattern emerging here. The basic premise of that pattern? Gruden is smart, intense, funny and is awesome to play for. As long as the offense continues to progress, the players will continue to be happy in the system.
Head coach Marvin Lewis, still letting the ink dry from his most recent contract extension, talked a bit about the respect he has for his offensive coordinator.
Head coach Marvin Lewis, who signed a two-year extension Tuesday, saw Gruden's ability to absorb ideas firsthand during the lockout. With the coaches unable to work with players, the offensive staff dissected West Coast offenses like Philadelphia, Tampa, Green Bay, plucking certain things, tailoring them to the Bengals' roster. As Lewis puts it, the Bengals inserted "very small portions" of their own offense last year, but that continues to grow through Gruden.
"Jay has a great strength of really seeing the offense through the quarterback's eyes," Lewis said, "and being able to be a visonary in that way, and then go out and coach all 11 guys through how he expects the protections to work, or the run scheme to work to all the skill players. And that's a real gift."
Lastly, Gruden was asked about the possibility of being a "hot" head coaching candidate in 2013 and the possibility of leaving Cincinnati:
It took considerably less contemplation for Gruden to decide to stay with the Bengals, The allure to be a head coach, at this stage of his career, was not nearly as strong as the desire to continue to improve. No doubt, if Gruden continues on this track he will be running an organization -- if the Bengals fulfill their promise then many execs believe Gruden could The "It" guy this offseason, in fact -- but there's still many more plays to call for Dalton and Green before Gruden entertains that possibility.
"And it takes some time, obviously, to get acclimated and see this thing through. We've got some great players and we've made some serious strides. We've got a great group and the bottom line is, I like Cincinnati and the kids like Cincinnati, and if you're happy where you're at, I don't know why it's so important to look elsewhere."
Gruden made the surprisingly wise choice to take a contract extension with the Bengals this offseason instead of jumping to a dumpster fire head coaching gig that is the Jacksonville Jaguars job. Though he sounds happy here, it would be an even bigger surprise if he decides to go that route again after 2012, especially if the offense meets expectations this year. Perhaps that's the biggest reason that the Hue Jackson hire makes sense.
Lastly, La Canfora makes a few subtle observations that are separate from the Gruden interview. Check out these nuggets:
Camp Rumblings: With Lewis signed, the staff is essentially tied up for the next few years. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has interviewed for many head coaching jobs, of course, and as noted Gruden could be coveted, too.
• The search for who becomes the second and third receiver is up for grabs.
• Gruden spoke highly of new running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, especially the ability to get tough yards and hold on to the football.
"He protects it in practice like it's the last play of the Super Bowl," Gruden said.
• Dalton on Green: "I've never been able to throw to a guy who is covered and know he's going to make a play on it," Dalton said.
• Can't remember too many times when the Bengals were openly talking about Super Bowl aspirations, but that's been the chatter around here.
These four bullet points are sure to bring a smile to Bengals fans' faces.