Despite calling it “basketball in shorts” and repeatedly mentioning how far away the team is from putting on pads and playing meaningful games, Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was having a hard time throttling down his excitement on the first day of minicamp Tuesday.
“It’s still a work in progress,” the team’s first-year coordinator said. “We’ve got a ways to go, but you can see the potential. The group has done everything that I have asked them to do. This just gives us an opportunity to get to training camp and then really find out what we are. I think the guys are excited about what we are building.”
Jackson, who has been an offensive coordinator in Washington, Atlanta and Oakland as well as a head coach for one season with the Raiders, has a smashmouth mentality with a sprinter’s urgency. Everything is physical and fast.
But especially fast.
Even when the pace of practice pace looks hurried, Jackson is hollering “Faster, faster. Let’s go.”
His up-tempo style will put more of a burden on the defense and more responsibility on the shoulders of quarterback Andy Dalton.
“He told me he wants to get the play in so he can start talking trash to the defense and not have to worry about,” Dalton said. “The rest of it is on me, getting guys lined up and everything. And that’s how it should be. In a game-time situation, the quarterback is the one on the field getting guys lined up and everything if it’s not right. So Hue tries to create that atmosphere in practice.”
Jackson has preached a turbo tempo since taking over for Jay Gruden on Jan. 9, but it still caught a few players – specifically the offensive line – off guard.
“I don’t think they really believed me until they came out to the practice field,” Jackson said. “That’s where the rubber meets the road. They have taken the challenge. I’ll still tell you we don’t got fast enough yet, but they know that. We have to get in great shape to play way we need to play. We are just going to keep working at it until we get there. We’ve got to get there fast.”
And as for the defense?
“They are mad at me,” Jackson said. “They told me I am scripting them and all this stuff. It’s fun. It’s competition.”
Nowhere is the competition stiffer than in the backfield, where rookie second-round pick Jeremy Hill has joined BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard in the battle for carries.
With Rex Burkhead and Cedric Peerman also in the mix and valuable on special teams as well, it appears Green-Ellis could be the odd man out when it comes time to cut down the roster.
But Jackson, perhaps for the first time this spring, said “not so fast.”
“Benny shouldn’t worry about a count,” Jackson said. “And I’m not worried about a count. He should worry about competing. I will always stand on the table for Benny. Benny’s a good person and he’s a good player.
“This is the way it should be,” Jackson added. “We should always bring people into this organization to challenge other people, regardless of who it is. Then the cream rises to the top. Again, we have a lot more practices before we get ready to play a game. So I’m excited about what the upside is, but I know we’ve got to go get there. We’ve got to keep chasing it every day to get there.”