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'He knows quarterbacks and the passing game as well as anybody you'll find': The Athletic's Paul Dehner details Bengals OC Brian Callahan's head-coaching candidacy


The Broncos continued their head-coaching interviews on Thursday, as George Paton and Co. spoke with Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan.

Callahan, a former Broncos assistant coach, helped the Bengals to a stark offensive improvement in 2021 and has worked with several of the league's best quarterbacks.

To learn more about Callahan and his candidacy for the role, spoke with The Athletic's Paul Dehner.

Aric DiLalla: I saw Brian talk about Peyton Manning and his early years in Denver and how that time shaped him as a coach. What are your takeaways about how those years in Denver have molded him as a football coach?

Paul Dehner: "He talks a lot about Peyton and great quarterback play and understanding the ins and outs of great quarterback play through Peyton's eyes and understanding how much a quarterback can change the dynamic of everything. I go back to when everybody was talking about the Bengals and the [Ja'Marr] Chase vs. [Penei] Sewell debate this past offseason, and Brian and Zac Taylor really worked hand in hand in really reshaping the roster and the culture here. He talked about how really the great offenses, when you look the way Peyton did it, was offensive lines that certainly can be good and be OK, but it's about guys that can win instantly on the outside to take advantage of the ways the best quarterbacks can play. You felt like you had that in Burrow, and he saw that in Manning and a lot of the great quarterbacks, in that the quick processing and ability to have guys that can win on the outside and take advantage of that is the real game-changer in the NFL. That's proven to be true. The way the Bengals' offense and Burrow has kind of ascended this season is kind of on that, because their offensive line is still — they're trying to get it better, but it's still not great. But yet they've been able to work around that with guys like Chase and [Tee] Higgins and [Tyler] Boyd that win quickly on the outside and Burrow's ability to process. It's all really based on the way Manning kind of played and the way he saw them run up however many touchdowns in a season. I think a lot of his style is rooted in working with a guy like Manning on an every-day basis."

AD: What sorts of things has Joe Burrow said about how Brian Callahan's helped him? In a minute, I want to get to Callahan's role in the offense, but specifically with Joe, what has he mentioned about how Brian's helped him?

PD: "With [Bengals head coach] Zac [Taylor] being the … play-caller and you draft a quarterback No. 1 overall, your offensive coordinator is really kind of like your other voice. He served as the direct connection to Burrow. Everything needs to go through the quarterback's eyes. There was a quarterbacks coach, and [Callahan] was kind of a step above that and then an organizer of game plans, red zone. He was a big part of a gutting of the red zone that they did this offseason and a restructuring of things that had a really successful run for a while. There's a lot of game plan stuff that he has done that has worked directly with Joe, and you've kind of seen that play out."

AD: Zac Taylor obviously calls the plays, so what is Brian Callahan's role on this offense both during the week and on game days?

PD: "Zac has mentioned, 'It's like we share the same brain.' I've heard him say that a number of times about Brian, so they're really kind of a hand-in-hand duo. They really kind of have been through everything. Whether during the week, you're talking about if maybe they're working together on talking to the offense. If Zac's away, like he is often working on other stuff with the team, Brian is the one that is the voice that takes over that is running the show. [He also] has specializations, whether it's third-down packages or red-zone stuff or whatever as well. He really is a culture voice, too. That's such a big part of what they've sort of done here, and I think that's a big part of his role."

AD: What about Brian suggests to you that he can be a successful head coach?

PD: "He's got two things that I think are really important, and that played out here to be very important in them turning things around. He knows quarterbacks and the passing game as well as anybody you'll find, and that's huge. You go back and look at the quarterbacks he's worked with: [Peyton] Manning, Stafford, Carr, now Burrow. They've all had great seasons with him working directly with them — ascending seasons too, often, when you're talking about when he was a quarterbacks coach and here. That's one. [Reason number] two is a unique understanding of building a culture and building a locker room. We talked often early in his time here — his and Zac's time here — about how you stay the course through some dark times. They were 6-25-1 the first two years. But there was a real belief between him and Zac specifically about the types of guys and the types of ways to really build that culture and the important part of that is talent is everywhere, but if they can acquire guys that will love football and care about it and love practicing and all that other stuff and can build a camaraderie and a chemistry that can take off. And those are the teams that really make runs. That is what happened here this year, was sticking through that and finally getting a group together when they finally got all their own guys in here that could do that. I think he has a really unique understanding of that kind of culture building … to go along with quarterback play. I don't know that you'll find two more important things for any head coach in this league in this era."

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