Last year when I asked Jay Gruden why he turned down opportunities to interview for NFL head coaching jobs after the 2011 season, the Bengals offensive coordinator joked that his reason was sartorial.
“I didn’t have a good coat and tie,” Jay deadpanned at the time.
Clearly clothes are no longer an issue since Gruden interviewed for head coaching positions in Philadelphia, Arizona, San Diego, and Jacksonville in January. And while Jay didn’t get any of the jobs, at least he has a new suit.
“I wore it four times – the same one every time,” Gruden said with a laugh. “It was exciting and flattering that these teams would even think to interview me. It says a lot about our offense and how far we’ve come and Coach Lewis and what people around the league think about what he’s done with his program. It was a great opportunity.
“I knew that it was probably a long-shot. I think that I had good interviews and felt good about the process and if I am ever fortunate enough to have another opportunity, I’ll feel a lot more prepared.”
Now that he’s back for a third season as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator, Gruden is currently working on two things: Studying skill-position players for the upcoming NFL draft, and reviewing tape of the Bengals from last season.
“We’re very involved as coaches in the draft process, but you also have to take the time to look back at what you did offensively and figure out ways to get better,” said Gruden. “You have to see if you had any tendencies over the course of the year that you have to correct, but overall, you’re trying to find out what your players are good at and what you had trouble with and get things fixed that you need to fix. We definitely feel that we have not reached our full potential on offense, and it’s my job as a coordinator to get it out of them.”
With three of the top 53 picks in the draft, the Bengals are obviously in position to boost an offense that ranked 22nd in the NFL in total yards. So what is at the top of Gruden’s wish list?
“We need another playmaker and we need someone who can take the ball 80 yards on a swing pass, or a hand-off, or what have you,” Jay told me. “A little bit of speed. But we’re pretty good everywhere – we need to take our pretty-good players and turn them into great players, and our great players need to be extraordinary. We just have to keep pushing the envelope and making sure that everybody gets better.”
One thing that the Bengals are not looking for is a new starting quarterback. Andy Dalton has started every game in his first two NFL seasons, led the Bengals to back-to-back playoff appearances, and has tossed 47 TD passes in 32 regular season games. But Gruden says that his 25-year-old QB has plenty to work on.
“In the offseason you work on your arm strength, your footwork – basically your fundamentals of football – and obviously he needs to get better with his deep ball accuracy and touch,” Gruden said. “There’s not really one part of his game that he can’t improve upon. Scramble ability, foot quickness, accuracy, deep accuracy, short (accuracy), anticipation – he’s got a long way to go. He’s done some great things for a second-year quarterback, won a lot of games and thrown a lot of touchdown passes, but we feel that he has not come close to his potential and it’s our job to get it out of him.”
Dalton finished his second season with a passer rating of 87.4, but it dropped to 67.0 in his last six games, and Andy struggled in the playoff loss in Houston going 14-for-30 for 127 yards with 0 TD and 1 INT. That led to a surge in the number of people questioning whether Dalton will ever be good enough to lead Cincinnati to a deep playoff run. Gruden says that he isn’t bothered by the criticism of his quarterback.
“It’s the nature of the position and that’s what he signed up to be,” said Gruden. “He’s getting paid a pretty good chunk of change to be a quarterback, and anytime you sign up to be a quarterback, you have to take the good with the bad. One of the biggest strengths that you have to have as a quarterback is being mentally tough. When things don’t get well, people are going to be all over you. They’re going to boo you; they’re going to want you out of town and your coaches out of town. He has to take that criticism and use it as fuel to make himself better. Hopefully he’s doing that. He’s a very competitive person – as I am – and we’re going to do the best that we can to make this franchise something to be proud of.”
After all, a new suit is nice – but it pales in comparison to a Super Bowl ring.
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