CINCINNATI (AP) — Hue Jackson was talking to reporters outside Paul Brown Stadium when quarterback Andy Dalton yelled at him that practice was about to begin.
Just like old times.
The former Bengals offensive coordinator is back in town, though this time dabbling in the other side of the playbook — well, mostly. How that part plays out is an interesting subplot as the Bengals (5-4) make one final push to save their at-risk season.
An unusual coaching arrangement for desperate times.
“It’s a unique situation for a lot of us,” linebacker Preston Brown said.
A 51-14 loss to the Saints — the third straight game in which Cincinnati has given up 500 yards — set things in motion. Head coach Marvin Lewis fired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin on Monday and installed himself in the dual role of coach and coordinator.
He also called his unemployed close friend to see if he was interested in returning for a third stint in Cincinnati as a special assistant on defense. Jackson was fired by the Browns two weeks earlier after winning three games in three seasons.
Jackson was hoping the Bengals would reach out to him.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for me, and I’m just thankful that they said, ‘You come on home,’” Jackson said.
So, now what?
Lewis built his coaching reputation as a defensive coordinator, directing the Ravens defense that won the Super Bowl in the 2000 season. He’s decided to go back to his roots as a coordinator while also functioning as head coach — a challenge that few would undertake.
“There’s a lot,” Lewis said Wednesday.
He spent Tuesday night at home scripting defensive plays. He then led the team meeting on Wednesday morning and presided over the defensive meeting, simplifying things and pulling out a few plays from his past.
“He had a different PowerPoint,” Brown said. “He had a really small font, so it was kind of hard to take notes. But it was cool having him up there. You can tell he was having fun.
“We did a lot of things — old plays he was calling in 2015, ‘14, stuff I haven’t seen yet. So he was bringing back some plays.”
Lewis isn’t sure how it will play out Sunday in Baltimore (4-5), a game the Bengals need to win to stay in the AFC North race. Jackson is providing input for the defensive game plan and will be on the sideline helping Lewis manage the defense, though their game-day roles haven’t been defined.
One thing is clear: Jackson won’t be dabbling in the offense. Not for now, anyway.
Asked if Jackson would do anything with the offense, Lewis said emphatically, “No. Separate from the offense.”
Jackson was the Bengals’ offensive coordinator when Dalton had his best season in 2015. He left to take Cleveland’s head coaching job after the season. His return could create an awkward dynamic on the coaching staff.
Jackson said that offensive coordinator Bill Lazor came to his office at Paul Brown Stadium to greet him. Jackson said he’d be glad to offer an opinion if Lazor asks, but he’s going to be careful not to trespass on other coaches’ areas.
He knows that adding a newcomer midseason can work both ways.
“It can be impactful, but it can also hurt, too,” Jackson said. “And I get that. I just have to play my role, to the best of my ability. I don’t want to do anything to upset anything that they have going on here. But at the same time if I can help, I do want to help.”
A DOZEN INJURED
Seven players were held out of practice because of injuries Wednesday and five more were limited. The defense has been hit particularly hard.
LB Preston Brown (knee), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (concussion), LB Nick Vigil (knee) and DT Adolphus Washington (knee) didn’t practice. LB Vontaze Burfict (hip), CB Darqueze Dennard (shoulder) and LB Vincent Rey (groin) were limited.
WR A.J. Green is out indefinitely with an injured toe. WR John Ross was limited because of a groin injury.
The Bengals and Hamilton Country agreed in principle Wednesday on a plan to add parking and a music venue outside Paul Brown Stadium, and to repair and upgrade the 19-year-old stadium. The Bengals retain the right to build a cover over one of their adjacent practice fields, though they would have to pay for it. The team said there are no immediate plans to cover a field. The Bengals use the University of Cincinnati’s covered field on wintry days.