The Cincinnati Bengals are dealing with a reluctant celebrity. Quarterback Andy Dalton has raised the eyebrows of fans and the attention of defensive coordinators. Dalton made the NFL Network’s Top 100 list, for the first time in his six-year career. Dalton is backing his No. 35 ranking and threatening to break it this season. He’s looking sharp in minicamp. What are the early reports? He’s better than people think.
Dalton continues to mature, under the watchful eyes of head coach Marvin Lewis. Ken Zampese will be Dalton’s third coordinator since he’s been the Bengals signal-caller. Regardless of the offensive messenger, Lewis is witnessing the evolution of a leader and competitor. He sees no early problems with the connection between Dalton and Zampese.
Lewis gave Dalton a glowing review, via Cincinnati Bengals.
“Our quarterback continues to blossom with his own leadership and his personality. Kenny provides a new space for him to continue to do that.”
During mandatory minicamp, the Red Rifle picked up where he left off last year. He’s commanding the offense, making audibles and causing havoc for the defense. It’s only practice and things aren’t going full speed. But, the early reports are encouraging. If the Bengals are going to make another run at the AFC North crown, they’ll need Dalton’s rifle to be locked and loaded.
Dalton’s passes are crisp. His arm strength is phenomenal. At least that’s the word from Brandon LaFell. The wide receiver didn’t realize the throwing power in Dalton’s arm until he experienced it up close and very personal. LaFell ran a deep post and lost the ball. He figured he had outrun the pass from his quarterback. He threw up his hands and hoped for the best.
“I found the ball late, and I just put my hands up and it dropped right there,” LaFell recalled.
“I thought he was a pretty good quarterback. I didn’t think he was this good. But I’m glad he is, and I’m glad to be here to play with him.”
“I mean you just see his maturation over the years,” Allen offered, via Cincy Jungle.
“From him changing the play calls, looking off defenders, manipulating the safeties, and I think that’s what he’s evolved to over the years and now the coaches are putting more on his shoulders and he’s taking it like ‘I want it, let’s go.’”
Coming from a defensive player, that’s a huge endorsement. Allen sees Dalton twice a year, playing in the AFC North. He’s been able to witness the growth first hand.
The most important part of the Dalton-Zampese puzzle is the coach. He feels an instant bond with his signal-caller, since they’ve been attached since 2011. That instantly makes the communication easier. They’ve been together for a while.
Zampese has recognized Dalton as a fighter. He knows that the man implementing his playbook will be capable of delivering results.
Dalton posted career numbers last season. He was marching towards MVP honors, before a Week 14 injury. He broke his thumb and was effectively done. If not for that setback, Dalton might have beat out Carolina’s Cam Newton for the top recognition. Dalton’s low interception total was similar to Tom Brady‘s mark. But LaFell sees something even greater in Dalton.
“Everybody respects him just like everybody respects Brady,” LaFell beamed.
“How Brady demands the best out of everybody and Andy is doing the same thing. Both of those guys are smart guys. Both get the offense in the right play. They always get the ball to the right person at the right time. It’s two different offenses, but both of those guys are winners.”
In the eyes of Coach Lewis, Zampese and LaFell, Dalton is ready for prime time. He has become the leader the Bengals needed. Now, the rest of the NFL has to take note.
[Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images]