When the Cincinnati Bengals entered the final quarter of the regular season, it became clear just how deep their roster was.
Adam Jones became a dependable cornerback (who limited the amount of big plays he had given up in the past) when Leon Hall tore his Achilles against the Detroit Lions. Terence Newman suffered an MCL sprain during the final quarter of the season. Dre Kirkpatrick stepped in -- though not with the production of Jones, but first-round talent and growth was showing.
Geno Atkins fell against the Miami Dolphins midway through the season and the team worked through it using creative blitzes and personnel packages. Vincent Rey exploded onto the scene to replace an injured Rey Maualuga. Anthony Collins and Mike Pollak stepped in when Kevin Zeitler and Clint Boling suffered their respective injuries.
This team had a "next man" up philosophy that worked so well, that those injuries didn't cause a significant impact on the team's overall production -- and in some places, they improved. [NOTE: If you're still sour about the playoff loss, know that the team will be just as deep next season with several starters returning, plus a draft and free agency to continue building]
Now the next man up philosophy is applying to the coaching staff.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden departed for Washington this week to become the newest
Dan Synder scapegoat Redskins head coach. Planned perfectly for the eventual promotion of Gruden (following generic interest from the NFL after the 2011 season), Cincinnati planned for the future by implementing their next offensive coordinator signing Hue Jackson, who had recently been fired by the Oakland Raiders.
"The thing to know is that a couple years ago when we had the opportunity to add Hue to the staff here, we didn't really have the fit that some people probably thought, and Hue worked with the defensive coaches in the secondary and special teams, and it was the vision that if this would happen, we would have Hue here, and he have an opportunity, as he had last year to move over when Jim (Anderson) retired, to take this spot," said Lewis on Friday in one of the longest single-sentences in human history. "The idea was that one day this would occur, and that we would be able to keep the continuity of what we were doing and move forward quickly with that. I’m excited for that."
Continuing with the theme of next man up on the coaching staff, Kyle Caskey, who has been on this staff since 2010 as a quality control and assistant offensive line coach, replaced Jackson as the team's running backs coach. He was another development coach on Lewis' staff.
"He’s been here and sat in the room with one of the greatest running backs coaches in the history of the league in Jim Anderson and this last year with Hue Jackson, so he understands and he’ll have a chance to be mentored hands-on by Hue as we go forward," Lewis said of Caskey on Friday via the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Caskey will coach a group that features plenty of potential, from the excitable Giovani Bernard to the short-yardage specialist BenJarvus Green-Ellis. With Hue Jackson declaring a more physical offense this year as the team's offensive coordinator, Caskey's role will have significant importance. As a former assistant offensive line coach and quality control coach (who helps develop game-plans), Caskey's promotion is simply intriguing.
On the defensive side of the ball, linebackers coach Paul Guenther is developing into an eventual defensive coordinator. Guenther, who has been with the Bengals since 2005, was promoted as the team's linebackers coach after holding a collection of roles from assistant special teams coach and as an assistant with the secondary and linebackers.
Guenther is a huge reason for Burfict's development, starting in 2012 when the team needed to replace Thomas Howard who had suffered an ACL tear prior to the second week of the season. He was also the reason that Cincinnati got as much production as they did from Taylor Mays, who was on the roster bubble during training camp as a safety but a productive hybrid when Emmanuel Lamur suffered a season-ending preseason injury.
Now he's generating interest in Washington as the defensive coordinator with Jay Gruden piecing together his coaching staff. It's also believed that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will tag Guenther, if he becomes the head coach for an NFL team this month.
Guenther is signed through 2014, so unless the Bengals allow him out of his contract, Guenther isn't going anywhere. That seems all the more likely if Zimmer leaves. Now Cincinnati has their next defensive coordinator waiting on their staff.
Next man up.