CINCINNATI — Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict has felt a difference in the Bengals offense during training camp: It’s leaving a mark.
Intent on running the ball a lot more, Cincinnati has been trying to hone more of an edge to its offense. First-year coordinator Hue Jackson wants it to take the field with an attitude.
Burfict has noticed.
“They’re more physical,” Burfict said. “I’m a little more sore this year.”
That’s what Jackson was hoping that everyone feels.
The Bengals have made it to the playoffs each of the past three seasons on the strength of their defense, which has finished in top seven in the league each of those years. Cincinnati ranked No. 3 overall in yards allowed last season.
The offense has improved in each of quarterback Andy Dalton’s first three seasons, moving up from No. 22 to No. 10 last season. But most of that is linked to the passing game, which gained more prominence as Dalton matured.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden got the head coaching job in Washington after the season. Jackson was promoted to coordinator and made it clear the Bengals would run the ball more — they’ve finished 19th, 18th and 18th in rushing the past three seasons.
He’s been trying to foster a hard-edged attitude on an offense known more for A.J. Green’s acrobatic catches.
“Running the ball is the dirty part of the game,” Jackson said after practice on Tuesday. “It’s not the pretty part. Throwing the ball is the pretty part. So sometimes guys have got to like it rough and our linemen have got to like it that way and the backs like it that way or you can never have that kind of an identity.”
And what exactly is that identity?
“Being very aggressive,” Jackson said.
So far, they’ve done that. There have been several shoving matches during training camp, and no backing down.
“I feel like they feed off of us,” Burfict said. “We bring a little bit of feistiness, and I can tell that they’re bringing it as well. It’s a good competition. If I compete at a certain level, the guy in front of me going is going to do the same thing.
“Hue gives them a lot of confidence. Hue has a little (loud) mouth. He even has Andy talking a little bit now. He’s rubbing off on them.”
Dalton got a six-year contract extension on Monday that shows the team’s commitment to him as a leader. Dalton has gotten the Bengals to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons, only to have some of his worst games while going 0-3 in the postseason.
Jackson thinks that a reliable running game will take some of the pressure off Dalton this season. And Dalton is taking on a more vocal leadership role as part of the offense’s evolution.
“The intangibles, the leadership, how you get other guys to respond to you — it’s all part of it,” Dalton said. “My goal and my job here is to get 10 other guys on the offense to play better around me and to play to their best potential.”
Notes: The Bengals open their preseason on Thursday at Kansas City. Coach Marvin Lewis said on Tuesday that offensive tackles Andrew Whitworth and Andrew Smith, tight end Jermaine Gresham and receiver Marvin Jones are among those who won’t play. All were limited by injury early in camp, setting them back. … Dalton will get a series or two with the starting offense.