Jay Gruden’s offense, as described by coaches who’ve faced him often

Jay Gruden

Jay Gruden stressed a strong running attack, quick quarterback reads and crisp execution in Cincinnati. (Al Behrman/Associated Press)

The question of exactly what Washington’s offense will look in Year 1 of the Jay Gruden era remains a mystery, even to Gruden.

We know the playbook will feature some familiar elements, because the team retained Chris Foerster as offensive line coach, and promoted tight ends coach Sean McVay to offensive coordinator.

Things have yet to completely take shape, however, because as mentioned in this morning’s post on Gruden, Robert Griffin III and the offense, a fair amount of experimentation lies ahead.

But there are some trademarks to a Jay Gruden offense, according to coaches that in the past three seasons faced him regularly as AFC North opponents. Precision, strong fundamentals and quarterback-friendly schemes rank among them.

● Related: The Outsider’s look at how running game might look under Gruden | Passing game

“First off, Jay’s an excellent coach,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said this week in Orlando. “It’s a West Coast offense. I think the Grudens have their own patent on their own version of the West Coast offense because they built it so well. But it’s based on running the ball effectively. They’re very physical up front, and three-step, controlled passing. The ball comes out quickly and it’s really hard to get to the quarterback. It’s based on probably a quick read and the ball’s out quick.

“It’s a lot of the classic West Coast principles,” Harbaugh continued. “And the thing that always strikes me, that I was always impressed with what Jay did in Cincinnati was the fundamentals were so well executed. I mean, they’re really fundamentally sound. You watch them in pregame and every one of their nine-routes is caught 42 yards, 4 yards from the sideline, which is kind of the textbook way of teaching that route. Every single guy caught the ball at that spot, so to me, that’s the sign of a good coach.”

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin agreed with Harbaugh’s assessment.

“I’m not going to speak specifically to his offense because I don’t know what he intends to do in D.C.,” Tomlin said. “But in Cincinnati, he utilized his personnel well. He’s a thoughtful guy, he keeps you off balance. He’s a good, fundamental football coach.”

Part of what makes Gruden an effective offensive coach, his peers say, is the way he views the game, and that is as a quarterback would.

“Jay sees the offense through the eyes of the quarterback, and having played the position, he has a great deal of respect for the position,” said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, Gruden’s boss for three seasons. “He’ll say these guys are the luckiest guys because he would’ve given his right arm – left arm, I guess – to have the opportunity to be an NFL quarterback. So, he really is conscientious of that. He really has things unfold through the eyes of the quarterback.  When you are playing that position, you are able to have the quarterback grow that way, as opposed to someone coming in and saying, ‘We’re going to do all this today,’ and you know that’s more than anybody can handle because it doesn’t stack together that way. You have to build through it, and he’s able to build through the quarterback position.”

While Washington’s offense figures to have some differences from those Gruden ran in Cincinnati, he did say that a lot of things will remain the same.

“We have a base philosophy on offense: Trying to get everybody involved, short passing game, receivers doing a lot of the work after the catch, the good hard, play-action, taking some shots down the field, being very diverse in what we do,” Gruden said.

“But all that depends on what Robert can handle,” Gruden added. “If he can’t handle the terminology, or if he can’t handle a lot of the things, we might have to taper it back or cater to what he likes. If he’s not comfortable with the read-option as much, then we won’t run the read-option. But it’s just trying to get to know each other. I implement a system and we start from the very beginning and we go from there, and we branch off from there, moving forward, either adding more things or figuring out what he likes or what he’s good at. It’s fun.”

Have a football question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesday.

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