Jay Gruden enters his third season as the Cincinnati Bengals‘ offensive coordinator with a wide color palette. Exactly what he gets to paint will largely depend on third-year NFL starting quarterback Andy Dalton, who despite playing behind arguably the best pass-blocking line in the league, has yet to consistently look more than mediocre.
While Dalton’s resume is already better than most second-round quarterbacks who’ve played in this league, his performance up to this point has to make Gruden at least somewhat anxious entering the 2013 campaign. In fact, it’s a season that could play a deciding role in whether Dalton’s long-term prospects as a starter and Gruden’s prospects in joining the head-coaching ranks along with brother Jay.
Possessing a starting quarterback with one of the NFL’s weaker arms is not typically viewed as a gift to an offensive coordinator. However, what Gruden has in Dalton — and the many weapons Cincy has added around him — is a chance to show the type of scheme creativity that could boost his head-coaching resume dramatically.
Two key elements added through the 2013 draft in particular are tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round and running back Giovani Bernard in the third. Along with A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham and Andrew Hawkins already on roster, Gruden can better maximize this offense’s potential by connecting Dalton with more short routes to YAC-friendly targets.
Gruden seems particularly high on Bernard’s ability to produce offense out of the backfield.
“He’s got great hands and makes people miss on the second level,” Gruden said, via Cincinnati.com. “Andy (Dalton) needs some of those short passes that turn into 25-yard gains. It’s a lot easier on a quarterback. Instead of grinding out every first down with the exception of throwing one deep to A.J. every now and then, we need some guys to get better running after the catch and breaking tackles after contact.”