Thoughts on the locker room and the West Coast

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on September 11, 2011 – 7:18 am

CLEVELAND — A few pregame thoughts heading into Sunday’s opener.

Everyone is trying to put a label on this 2011 Bengals locker room without The Ocho and T.O. and it is so easy to say it’s less egocentric, more unselfish, and the chemistry flows like champagne. And without quarterback Carson Palmer, it’s even easier to call them The Young and The Leaderless.

But like all the pundits have already made up their minds on how bad the Bengals are going to be, let’s slow down just a little bit.

One assistant told me on Saturday that while locker room chemistry is extremely important, it takes time to become visible. He wants to see them go through some adversity first.

That’s code for their response to big injuries and tough losses, be it blowouts or of the last-minute variety. Another long-time insider says he’s looking to see how they react “to getting hitting in the mouth. And they will get hit in the mouth.”

That’s going to take a month or so.

And a locker room is like any other workplace. Not everybody agrees on everything. Safety Chris Crocker, one of the team leaders, has always thought the Bengals have had good chemistry since he arrived in the middle of the 2008 season.

“Our locker room has never been an issue. From the outside you think The Ocho was a distraction or whatever. But he was just a good guy that liked to have fun. I don’t think our locker room is any different, it’s just young.”

But another leader, this one on offense in left tackle Andrew Whitworth, thinks the youth has changed the room.

“It’s younger. It’s just a different mindset, different attitude. It brings some life to the locker room and some change,” he said. “There aren’t as many guys that are just playing and thinking we don’t have a chance. We have some young guys that have won and are real good players and they bring some energy. Sometimes you need some new freshness.”

Whitworth says rookie quarterback Andy Dalton isn’t all that different than Palmer when it comes to personality. Both are laid back. Both are quiet. Both talk in the huddle.

And while the offense may be younger (there are just 132 NFL catches at wide receiver and 15 NFL games at tight end), the locker room picked up three seasoned and solid pros in cornerback Nate Clements and linebackers Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard. Plus, guys like Whitworth and defensive linemen Domata Peko and Robert Geathers, already captains of sorts, earned their PhDs in leadership during the lockout. There are some coaches that believe the lockout was a boon for the Bengals in the sense that it forced guys other than the usual leaders—the Crockers and Whitworths and Pekos and Geathers—to step up and police the locker room.

While everyone is scrambling trying to read everything into every clue, Dalton shrugged. Yes, he took the locker Palmer has had since 2006 when Jon Kitna left. The one tucked in a corner, the last locker on the left as players go to the equipment room, practice field and the parking lot.

But Dalton says he wasn’t trying to send a message. It simply came down to a matter of electronics. He pointed to the wall next to the locker.

“That’s why,” Dalton said. “The outlet. It’s in a great spot. It’s easy to charge my phone or plug anything else in … it’s just a locker.”

In the end, his legacy could be that glacial calm that soothes a locker room that was once a tinderbox. But give it some time. Right now, it’s just a locker room.

WEST COAST REUNION: Sunday’s opener marks the return of the Bengals offense to its roots after a 10-year absence. New offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has brought back the version of the West Coast offense he learned under his bother Jon.

What makes it even more intriguing is the Browns are using it in a game between the two teams founded by Paul Brown. And as his son, Bengals president Mike Brown, said this week, it was his father that gave the West Coast its language and numbering system.

It’s an intermarriage of Xs and Os. Jon Gruden broke in at Bill Walsh’s 49ers in the early ‘90s, the former Bengals assistant that created the West Coast in Cincinnati using Paul Brown’s Cleveland offenses of the ‘40s and ’50s as a template in the early days of the Bengals in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

New Browns head coach Pat Shurmur was hired by club president Mike Holmgren, a Walsh disciple that made major adjustments to the West Coast to suit his strong-armed quarterback in Green Bay, Brett Favre, in the ‘90s. While Walsh preferred the shorter passes and working under center, Holmgren put Favre in the shotgun while keeping intact one of the absolute truths of the West Coast of multiple personnel groups.

Now, Jay Gruden says the West Coast has evolved so much that his brother and Holmgren would have a tough time understanding each other’s playbook.

Mike Brown says Walsh used his father’s numbering system, but he credits the future Hall of Fame coach for creating the genesis of the West Coast in 1970. With 1969 AFC Rookie of the Year Greg Cook suffering what turned out to be a career-ending shoulder injury while winning the AFC passing title, Brown says Walsh went to a shorter passing game to suit the arm of journeyman Virgil Carter that next season and the Bengals made the playoffs.

But Brown believes the zenith of the West Coast didn’t come until the ‘90s, when he says 49ers quarterback Steve Young ran it the best of anyone before and after.

And this is where Bengals fans start to mumble a series of unintelligible what-ifs. Before Walsh died a few years ago, he insisted Cook was the best young quarterback he ever saw. In 1984, Brown went to bed thinking he had a deal for Young as the No. 1 pick in the draft only to wake up to find he had signed with something called the Los Angeles Express.

Sunday it all comes full circle for an offense that started in the rust belt and was named after California. And everyone is waiting to see where Dalton falls among Cook, Young and Carter.

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Posted in Hobson's Choice | 10 Comments »

10 Responses to “Thoughts on the locker room and the West Coast”

  1. By bigfootballfan on Sep 11, 2011 | Reply

    Geoff: I don’t understand how the Bengals beating the Browns is stunning or improbable. I think the Bengals will compete next week against the Broncos, and if they win I won’t consider it a suprise. I know it’s fashionable to beat up the Bengals in the media these days, but it’s getting a little tiring, esp. from an old hand like you. I expect better. The Bengals are a better team than the Browns, than a lot of teams. Save for the turnover issues, in preseason the Bengal’s one’s were all over the opponent’s ones. We knew they’ll take care of the turnover issues. I don’t think you’re watching the team. I think you’re reacting to gossip.

  2. By bengalpirate on Sep 12, 2011 | Reply

    WHO DEY!!! Dominant DEFENSE, strong running game, mistake and penalties at a minimum and I think most NFL teams win with this recipe. Even if Cleveland isn’t the Packers playing at Lambeau Field, there are no easy games in the NFL and winning on the road is even harder. We may not win another road game, but here is a toast to all the naysayers predicting doom and gloom for the 2011 Bengals. There aren’t any superstars or reality TV stars in this locker room, but there is, in my opinion, excellent leadership and this is truly a TEAM. In my world, the team almost always wins over superstars and this was a great win for Team Bengals!!! DEFENSE!!! WHO DEY!!!

  3. By bengalpirate on Sep 12, 2011 | Reply

    Hey bigfootballfan. I’m not quite sure why you’re beating up on Geoff, as I’ve re-read this article several times now and I don’t see anything that would lead you to say that Geoff “beat up the Bengals in the media these days, but it’s getting a little tiring, esp. from an old hand like you” Huh!!! I don’t see that at all and I think of Geoff as a journalist stating the facts and leaving the Bengals bashing to others. I think Geoff is like many of us, who are cautiously optimistic about the Bengals’ potential and hoping they can string a few wins together, gain confidence, momentum and hopefully win more games than many folks think they are capable of.

  4. By bengarps on Sep 12, 2011 | Reply

    Why are they always trying to invent the wheel???
    Every time the Bengals move the chains with Benson; coaches change the RB for the next and didn’t work!! I think they broke the rhythm of Benson. Against the Browns, since Brandon Scott goes in, the Bengals were three and out.
    Why? I mean, why??

  5. By mwindle1973 on Sep 12, 2011 | Reply

    @Hobson: Thought I would add, that I’ve read a book about that WCO. It credits more than one person, including Walsh himself, confirming what Mike Brown said. That the WCO nomenclature (as Marvin puts it), or terminology if you will, was created by Brown. Also said that Brown was instrumental in helping Walsh get by certain problematic areas. Basically he helped walsh turn a ser of ideas and plays into a system. The idea for the system and the playbook was Walsh’s, but the organization of the ideas into a workable system was Brown’s work. See the WCO is not just an offensive scheme. It’s a whole philosophy too. That includes ideas about how you prepare and practice. About scripting plays to start the game. Ideas about how you operate the classroom. Doing it in a way that starts simple, then keeps adding layers and elements as the season goes along. Thereby preparing the team to peak at the end of the season. These are all part of the unspoken hallmarks of the WCO. A lot of these concepts were firmly nailed down while Walsh was in Cincy. And it’s completely possible, and very likely that a good number of these ideas were directly absorbed from Brown. That’s the biggest reason he, and Jay Gruden ultimately belong int he enormous coaching tree of Paul Brown.

  6. By mwindle1973 on Sep 12, 2011 | Reply

    Man we have a favorable schedule don’t we? When I look at the next 7 games, I see a winnable game every week. Especially the next 3 weeks. We have Broncos, 49ers, Bills. Bills are in the 2nd year of a rebuild, 49ers in the 1st year of one, and the Broncos just replaced everyone but the owner. Then we have Jacksonville, Indy, Seattle & Tennessee. Not easy teams but definitely franchises in flux just like us. If we want to think playoffs (sounds crazy, but that should be the aim every season). I think we need to go 6-2 or better. And I think if continue to tighten things up that we can. Because the last 8 games are not as easy. Pittsburgh x 2, Ravens x 2, Texans. With the Browns, Cardinals and a road game at St Louis being the only relief. What we don’t want to do is blow games during the first half of the season and put our young team in a position to have to win in the last half. But we have to start by pulling out another win in Denver next week, and no matter how bad Denver is, it seems we have trouble pulling out victories when we go there.

  7. By whodeysteve on Sep 13, 2011 | Reply

    I have to agree with Marvin Lewis. Since our game the only things I’ve heard about the Bengals are “Andy Dalton leaves game with a wrist injury” and “The Bengals stun the Browns.” I just wanted to hear their opinions about how Andy Dalton played, but apparently I’m not going to get too. I mean I don’t have a problem with them talking about the other teams at all, but you would think with such a stunning upset of the Browns they would say more than “Andy Dalton leaves game with a wrist injury.” At least Solomon Wilcots said he thought AJ Green could be as good as Andre Johnson. From what I hear though we’re underdog’s playing the Broncos, even though they’re still trying to boo Kyle Orton straight to the bench. Well all I have to say is hopefully we can have another stunning upset of the Broncos next week. Who Dey!

  8. By bigfootballfan on Sep 14, 2011 | Reply

    Hi bengalpirate (cool name);
    I understand your confusion. I was responding to Geoff’s article written in the bengals news about our win over the Browns. I couldn’t find another way to contact Geoff – so I wrote it here. In other non-sequitor thought – It feels so good to have the team win. These guys are fun to watch. Love the new OC. Love the D. Can’t wait for Dontay M. to start to cycle in. Love seeing the guys we drafted bloom in front of us.

  9. By 2ndboot on Sep 14, 2011 | Reply

    I like the chemistry of this team, but ultimately it comes down to how well they play together on the field. I like where they’re heading and think the sky is the limit with them. As long as the coaches stay focused and coach them the way they’re supposed to be coached this team can go far. The WCO is no longer a mystery in the NFL to the opposing teams. While it’s effective for some it’s ineffective for others and it comes down to the players and coaching staff to bring it all together as one productive team. Mike Zimmer has done a good job building a D-line, but the secondary still seems to be in a haze, but so do many other teams going by week one. Brady throwing for a bajillion yards and Henne doing the same tells me that defenses right at this stage are either understaffed or poorly coached or just not ready for prime time quite yet.

  10. By mwindle1973 on Sep 15, 2011 | Reply

    @bigfootball fan: I think what bengalpirate is trying to say is you are misunderstandings Hobson. He is saying the victory stunned the NFL media pundits who all picked to lose. Not one source picked us to win. I think if you read some other articles he wrote before the game earlier in the week he is agreeing with what you are saying. Hobson thinks the media isn’t looking at the facts and just choosing us to lose for whatever set of reasons. Or that’s my paraphrasing of his position. He’s never said anything in any post or article this whole season to this point any different.

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