We’re still several weeks away from actual football, and it’s all unicorns and rainbows in the NFL.
Every team is full of hope, players who struggled last season are looking like potential Pro Bowl talents and it doesn’t seem like any team is going to lose a game. It is the season of hyperbole.
In this part of the season it is easy to overlook stories that are a little bit outside that box that doesn’t include big name players. The recent comments about assistant offensive line coach Ben Martin are worth noting.
“I like to associate with guys who think outside the box and he’s certainly someone who fits that description,” Zac Taylor told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “He really pushes the envelope in terms of creativity … Ben’s one of the smartest people I’ve been around.”
Taylor also mentions Martin’s experience calling plays as well as having experience coaching tight ends and running backs. Taylor has a pretty hard job all considering; he is replacing Marvin Lewis who was the Bengals head coach for over 16 seasons. The Bengals and Marvin Lewis had practically become synonymous.
Taylor emphasizing someone like Martin’s ability to innovate surely shows he at least has the right mindset. A constant struggle for the Bengals offense over recent seasons has been the ability to be unpredictable.
Many coaches emphasized dictating what would happen by doing what they did so well on offense. The problem with that philosophy is that once you become predictable, you are going to struggle in the NFL.
NFL defensive coordinators are too smart and work too hard for another team to run the same offense every week and allow them to continue to be successful. The only offenses that are able to pull that off are ones that are overflowing with talent, which hasn’t been the Bengals since 2015.
“Innovation in football is about layering concepts,” Martin says. “If a team is doing X, the thinking is what is next. What is Y? But the second I see X, we’re already trying to put together Z. I need to get to Z before (another team) does.”
That is the kind of thing you want to hear from coaches. You don’t want guys who are set in their ways and unwilling to innovate. Look at what happened with the Rams and Chiefs this past season. That doesn’t happen with a coaching staff that isn’t looking for the next great way to attack defenses. It also doesn’t happen as easily when coaches have trouble explaining things.
“Benny’s smart. He jumps off the map at you. He can see things at a different level,” Bengals’ offensive line coach Jim Turner said. “He can see the big picture. He does a great job in a hands-on way. There’s no fluff. I just like people that are simple and explain things simply and he was real good at doing that. If I’m looking for someone to work with me, and anything that comes out of their mouth is complex or any of that business, it‘s not going to work. I want it to be black and white.”
Martin obviously wasn’t a hire that caught many headlines. He has never really been that high up on any coaching totem poll, and his position as the assistant offensive line coach isn’t exactly one many casual fans even know exists. He has spent most of his career at small schools. Ironically though, Martin credits his innovation to that time.
It is easier to innovate when less eyes are looking your way. That is probably why it took so long for some concepts that were so common in college to make their way to the NFL. Every coach is only weeks away from a pink slip if the players they are responsible for aren’t meeting expectations. That doesn’t really promote guys to think outside of the box.
That box is something Taylor always recalls Martin thinking outside of. Taylor and Martin spent time on the same staff at Texas A&M, and he recalls Martin always coming up with these grand schemes of how to change the way the game is played.
It is easy to see why Taylor thought it was important to add Martin to his staff. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if Martin also makes his way up the ladder eventually in Cincinnati due to his ability and efforts to try and stay out of the box.