Bengals run into another old friend in Gruden

For a second week in a row, the Cincinnati Bengals will face one of their former offensive coordinators.

This time, it’s Jay Gruden, as the Bengals square off against him — Sunday in London — for the first time since he left to become the Washington Redskins coach in 2014.

Though the Bengals moved on with Hue Jackson and now Ken Zampese, Gruden’s footprint remains with the offense. He joined Marvin Lewis’ staff in 2011 and was responsible for the early development of then-rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, and thus began the string of five straight playoff appearances.

“I don’t know if there’s been a big change in anything,” Lewis said. “… Jay got it going in making the transition from a poor season before he arrived. We installed things that way with nomenclature, thinking, and philosophies. The other guys have been able to take it and run with it. Jay got Andy (Dalton) off to a tremendous start in the NFL. The offense unfolded through Andy, which was a great credit to how Jay set things up for him.”

When Gruden took the job with the Bengals in 2011, veteran Carson Palmer was the quarterback, and the team had Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens as receivers. Owens went unsigned in free agency, Johnson went to New England and Palmer refused to play until he was eventually traded to Arizona.

Gruden said “that was hard,” but it helped having talented players to turn to. He immediately handed the keys to Dalton, the team’s second-round draft pick that spring, and watched him throw for 3,398 yards and 20 touchdowns with 13 interceptions and progress to a career-high 4,293 yards 33 touchdowns in 2013.

“A big reason why I’m here is because of Jay,” Dalton said. “You can’t take that away from him. I’m fortunate he was here and wanted me. From that, I felt like I grew a lot as a player in the three years I was with him. He allowed me a lot of freedom at the line of scrimmage, allowed me to do a lot of stuff. I said last week (heading into the game against the Browns) that Hue (Jackson) did a lot to get me to where I am, but Jay had a lot to do with that as well.”

While Zampese and Jackson each put their own spin on the offense, Gruden said he takes pride still seeing some of what he started in Cincinnati continue to evolve.

“They did a great job after I left and there’s some carry-over obviously,” Gruden said. “Anytime you have a change at the coordinator position — we had such great success offensively in 2013, I don’t think you’re going to make wholesale changes. I think you’re going to carry over a lot of the terminology, some of the same concepts, but still the coordinator’s going to put his twist on things. I mainly take the most pride in just watching these guys grow and develop as people and players.”

The Bengals went from a 4-12 finish in 2010 to a 9-7 record in Gruden’s first year. They were 11-6 in 2013.

Washington has seen a similar impact under the Ohio native. The Redskins were 3-13 the season before he arrived and by Year 2, they had won the 2015 NFC East division title to earn their first playoff berth since 2007. They enter Sunday’s game 4-3.

“Jay was so appreciative of the opportunity that guys had to play NFL football,” Lewis said. “He was going to take whatever you gave him and make the best of it. … A lot of guys might have sulked about it, but we pressed forward. That was key. That’s what he’s done in Washington. He has that kind of personality, that kind of resilience in his personality.”

Bengals linebacker Vinny Rey remembers Gruden for his passing prowess, but said Gruden’s fast-paced offense has become more balanced in Washington.

It should be a good test for the Bengals.

“I see some similarities to when he was here, but there are so many things you have to prepare for, it’s just like, ‘Read your keys and play fast,’ because they do so many things offensively and they can because they have the weapons and a great offensive line,” Rey said. “It will be a big challenge for us defensively.”

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