The Bengals' loss of Hue Jackson was significant. Cincinnati's former offensive coordinator helped establish one of the league's best ground-and-pound offenses in 2014 and assisted Andy Dalton in breaking out as an MVP-caliber quarterback in 2015, running a pass-dominant aerial attack.
Jackson's loss, as well as the losses of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, will be significant, but the team's loss of Jackson won't be nearly as difficult to adjust to as its losses of a slew of defensive position coaches. Ken Zampese has worked on Cincinnati's staff for over a decade, and he's worked closely with Andy Dalton for five seasons. In 2016, the Bengals' offensive scheme will likely stay fairly similar to what it has resembled in the recent past.
The hole left at quarterbacks coach left after Jackson's departure and Zampese's promotion will be filled by Bill Lazor, an experienced coach who has served under several notable NFL coaches, including Joe Gibbs, Mike Holmgren, Jim Mora, Jr. and Chip Kelly. It was under Lazor that Nick Foles went 8-2, passing for 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions in 2013. Under Lazor, Ryan Tannehill posted career highs in completion percentage, touchdowns and passer rating, while throwing a career low 12 interceptions in 2014.
The coaching turnover on the defensive side of the ball will be far more significant than on offense. Though the Bengals were able to retain defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, nearly all of his former staff members found new jobs elsewhere during the offseason. Here's a look at the turnover within Guenther's coaching staff on defense.
|Defensive Coordinator||Paul Guenther||Paul Guenther|
|Defensive Line||Jay Hayes||Jacob Burney|
|Linebackers||Matt Burke||Jim Haslett|
|Asst. LB/Quality Control||David Lippincott||David Lippincott|
|Defensive Backs||Vance Joseph/Mark Carrier||Kevin Coyle|
|Assistant Defensive Backs||--||Robert Livingston|
|Def. Asst./Quality Control||Marcus Lewis||Marcus Lewis|
The most notable coaching loss was Vance Joseph, who joined the Dolphins as the team's new defensive coordinator. Kevin Coyle, who previously spent 11 years coaching the Bengals secondary and helping young players like Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph develop into Pro Bowl-caliber corners, will be Joseph's replacement. Coyle most recently spent time in Miami, where he helped strong safety Reshad Jones develop into an elite player.
Jim Haslett, who will be replacing Matt Burke, is also a notable addition. Haslett, a former All-Pro linebacker, maintained a 42-38 record over five years as the Saints head coach before his team fell apart in 2005, posting a 3-13 record. He has coached for five NFL teams prior to his arrival in Cincinnati; he was the Steelers' defensive coordinator from 1997-1999.
Though the Bengals made quality signings in their coaching replacements on both sides of the ball, it's hard to expect that a defensive staff with four new position coaches will be able to click right away. Jim Haslett will face a particularly daunting task, as his superstar linebacker Vontaze Burfict won't see the field until Week 4 at the earliest. Kevin Coyle will be tasked with developing young rookies Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, Josh Shaw and William Jackson III into starting-caliber corners. Jacob Burney, meanwhile, will have to find a way to motivate Will Clarke and Margus Hunt to push for snaps and help them develop as edge defenders. It's also worth noting that Burney is replacing Jay Hayes who had been with the Bengals for the entire Marvin Lewis-era and has led an impressive defensive line over that span.
Hue Jackson's presence will be missed, but the impact of the coaching turnover on defense, in my mind, far outweighs the offensive turnover. That's not to say that playing for a new coach might not be able to spark some players who have underachieved in years past, but it also presents the potential that a talented player could take a step back in his development if a position coach changes things up.
The Bengals are going to be fine on both sides of the ball, as years past have evidenced, but don't be surprised if the team doesn't get out to a hot start in 2016. Adjusting to coaching turnover can be difficult for any player; hopefully the Bengals will be able to keep in stride and excel once again in 2016.