Spread­ing the wealth

Jack­son knew what he was get­ting into when he took Browns coach­ing job Deeper on of­fense, and at wide­out in par­tic­u­lar, team keeps ev­ery­one in­volved

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - Mike Pre­ston By Jeff Zre­biec

Few peo­ple can un­der­stand bet­ter why Hue Jack­son took the top coach­ing job in Cleve­land than Cincin­nati Ben­gals coach Marvin Lewis.

A year or two be­fore he ar­rived in Cincin­nati in 2003, Lewis was one of the NFL’s top as­sis­tants and his name had sur­faced a lot dur­ing head-coach­ing searches. But some­times he didn’t even get an in­ter­view.

“Back then, [Ravens gen­eral man­ager Ozzie New­some] told me I bet­ter be care­ful, or some­day I could end up be­ing the head coach of the Cincin­nati Ben­gals,” Lewis said. “The op­por­tu­ni­ties to be a sig­nal-caller, a co­or­di­na­tor or a head coach in the NFL are lim­ited for any­body, but even less for mi­nori­ties.

“You just can’t al­ways wait. I felt the same way com­ing into Cincin­nati.”

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Ka­mar Aiken caught 75 passes for 944 yards and was the Ravens’ most pro­duc­tive of­fen­sive player last sea­son. Yet, when the Ravens ran their first of­fen­sive play Sun­day against the Buf­falo Bills, he was on the side­line.

Aiken, though, played most of the Ravens’ special teams snaps against Buf­falo.

“I would much rather play more re­ceiver, but for right now, what the team needs is special teams, so I’ll do special teams,” Aiken said. “I’m fine with it. I’m one of those guys that what­ever you ask me to do, I’m go­ing to do any­way, so it will get done.”

Aiken played 36 of 68 of­fen­sive snaps (53 per­cent) against the Bills; he was on the field for nearly 83 per­cent of the Ravens’ of­fen­sive plays last sea­son. He also logged 16 snaps on special teams Sun­day, two more than he played in the en­tire 2015 sea­son.

His new set of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties is a byprod­uct of the team’s in­creased depth at wide re­ceiver and at the other of­fen­sive skill po­si­tions. Whether it’s

the NFL’s worst jobs, Lewis has guided the Ben­gals to the play­offs in six of the past seven years.

Jack­son, 50, would like to du­pli­cate one of his best friends’ suc­cess.

The Browns haven’t been to the play­offs since 2002 and have had just two win­ning sea­sons since they re-en­tered the NFL in 1999. Since that year, the team has gone through eight head coaches, four since Jimmy Haslam pur­chased the team in Au­gust 2012.

Jack­son, in his first year in Cleve­land, needs to be a mir­a­cle worker as much as a coach. Ac­cord­ing to Lewis, an agree­ment was in place for Jack­son — the Ben­gals of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor the past two sea­sons and an as­sis­tant for two more sea­sons be­fore that — to be­come Cincin­nati’s head coach in two years. Ben­gals pres­i­dent Mike Brown cried when Jack­son told him he was leav­ing for Cleve­land.

“My thought process was that it was the right op­por­tu­nity and the right fit for me,” Jack­son said. “I am truly com­mit­ted to the task at hand with the peo­ple here with Dee and Jimmy Haslam as the own­ers, and Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta and An­drew Berry, some of our ex­ec­u­tives that are truly in­volved in our foot­ball or­ga­ni­za­tion. I feel very good about our process and what we’re try­ing to do.”

Jack­son has been through this be­fore. Af­ter a year as Oakland’s of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor in 2010, he be­came the Raiders’ head coach in 2011. The Raiders fin­ished 8-8, but Jack­son was fired be­cause the team had new own­ers.

“I think, for me, I’ve been a lot more pa­tient,” Jack­son said of what he learned in Oakland. “I un­der­stand that it takes a vil­lage to run an or­ga­ni­za­tion. That it’s not just Hue Jack­son and a cou­ple of other peo­ple. We all have a part in this in or­der to get this or­ga­ni­za­tion where it needs to be — that I don’t have all the an­swers. There are oth­ers that have a ton of in­put in get­ting this right. It’s about be­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive and be­ing a col­lab­o­ra­tive group and work­ing to­gether. It’s been out­stand­ing here so far.”

Lewis ba­si­cally restarted Jack­son’s ca­reer by hir­ing him as a de­fen­sive as­sis­tant in Cincin­nati, and even­tu­ally as the of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor. Lewis, though, no­ticed a dif­fer­ence from the fall­out in Oakland.

Jack­son’s con­fi­dence might have been shaken.

“I think once he came back here he was more com­fort­able,” Lewis said. “He had fam­ily that lived in the area, guys he had coached with like Mike Zim­mer, my­self and Dar­rin Sim­mons.

“Hue has good re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple and play­ers. He can get guys to play hard for him be­cause he likes building those re­la­tion­ships. That’s one of the rea­sons that I think he will suc­ceed.”

Jack­son also likes tin­ker­ing with of­fenses. He has worked with some of the league’s best quar­ter­backs in Joe Flacco, Car­son Palmer and Andy Dal­ton. He is creative in run­ning ev­ery­thing from the wild­cat to un­bal­anced lines to putting of­fen­sive line­men in mo­tion.

Cincin­nati had one of the NFL’s most ex­plo­sive of­fenses un­der Jack­son. When the Ravens travel to Cleve­land on Sun­day for the Browns’ home opener, they will have to pre­pare for al­most any­thing.

“The cir­cus is in town,” Ravens out­side line­backer Ter­rell Suggs said. “We are look­ing at film fromthree or four years agoof all these funky for­ma­tions. We are ex­pect­ing ev­ery­thing. Hue was here, so we have a great deal of re­spect for Hue. This is his home opener. They are com­ing off of an emo­tional loss last week, and they lost their start­ing quar­ter­back. They are go­ing to be ready.”

Suggs’ feel­ing about Jack­son il­lus­trates the type of re­la­tion­ship Jack­son likes to build. While serv­ing as Ravens quar­ter­backs coach in 2008 and 2009, Jack­son and Suggs had con­stant play­ful ver­bal ex­changes. It was as much a part of prac­tice as stretch­ing and con­di­tion­ing.

And Jack­son still has a re­la­tion­ship with Flacco, whose first two years in the league were Jack­son’s two years with the Ravens.

“Hue is great. I have a lot of re­spect for Hue. I had a lot of fun here with him,” Flacco said. “We had a lot of fiery bat­tles be­tween us and a lot of re­ally good times our first two years. I love him.”

Find­ing a quar­ter­back now, though, is a prob­lem for Jack­son. The first big mis­take he made was trad­ing away the No. 2 pick in the draft in­stead of se­lect­ing North Dakota State quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz.

You build around your quar­ter­back; you don’t build your team and then se­lect a quar­ter­back. The Browns signed Robert Grif­fin III, but he in­jured his non-throw­ing shoul­der last week against the Ea­gles and could miss the rest of the sea­son. Cleve­land is left with Josh McCown, who has played well against the Ravens but has also suf­fered in­juries the past two sea­sons.

Who will be the Browns’ next quar­ter­back? Who knows? These are the Browns. They look a lot like an ex­pan­sion team right now.

But those close to Jack­son say he will suc­ceed be­cause he has the right work ethic and learned from John Har­baugh and Lewis, two of the bet­ter coaches in the NFL.

“The first time I ever met Hue he al­most knocked me down try­ing to get to a player,” Lewis said. “He has a great per­son­al­ity and a big heart. He learned a lot from the first time in Oakland and since then he has only gained more ex­pe­ri­ence, worked harder and got­ten bet­ter. He will do well, even in Cleve­land, which was a lot like Cincin­nati.”


Joe Flacco, throw­ing to Ter­rance West, com­pleted passes to 10 play­ers in the reg­u­lar-sea­son opener against the Bills on Sun­day.

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