Last year, Andy Dalton became the fifth rookie in NFL history to throw for more than 3000 yards in a season and tossed a pair of touchdown passes in the Pro Bowl. He’s the only rookie quarterback to lead his team to at least eight wins and throw as many as 20 TD passes.
Not too shabby.
But since late May when a producer for NFL Films questioned Dalton’s upside due to “arm strength limitations,” it seems that nearly every story about the Bengals starting quarterback has included the same rationale.
“I think one person said it so everybody decided to hop on the bandwagon,” Dalton told me. “I didn’t seem to have very many issues with it last year and nobody said much about it. Now everybody wants to comment on it. They can say whatever they want – it’s not going to affect me.”
“If there was a question about him coming out of college it was probably his arm strength and that’s why he didn’t get drafted in front of the quarterbacks that got drafted, but the way I see it, his arm is plenty strong enough,” said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. “I’ve seen some of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL play, and his arm is a lot stronger than theirs. I’m not even concerned about that. Whoever is writing that and saying that doesn’t understand the position.”
“Peyton Manning doesn’t have the strongest arm, but he’s probably one of the best quarterbacks that ever played,” said A.J. Green. “Andy’s accurate, he has his timing down, and he has great ball placement.”
Prior to Cincinnati choosing him with the 35th overall pick in last year’s draft, Gruden made the case that Dalton should be the number one quarterback on the Bengals draft board – ahead of the four QBs that were selected before him: Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder.
“Jay said that I’ve looked at them all and he’s the best one for me and what I do,” said Bengals president Mike Brown. “Being me I said, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ But we were fortunate that we came up with him at the top of the second round and I’m glad that we did.”
“I just thought that the way that his mindset was, his toughness, and his credentials coming in here with a record of 42-7 at TCU, that he could come in and play right away,” said Gruden. “Now, it’s a matter of how much will he improve? I think everybody knows that he could do some of the things that he did last year; now what he has to do is take that next step and become one of the top quarterbacks.”
Despite limited offseason training due to last year’s lockout, Dalton completed 58% of his passes as a rookie with 20 TD and 13 INT for a QB rating of 80.4. Now with a year of experience under his belt and a normal schedule of OTAs and minicamp, Andy sounds confident as he begins his second training camp.
“Last year I was trying to learn an offense, trying to meet new people, and trying to figure out where I was going,” said Dalton. “Now I have a good understanding of everything and I’m really comfortable out there.”
“He’s going to be much better,” said Green. “He’s more in control of the offense and everybody listens to him. This is his team and his offense.”
“Things will surprise him less,” said Brown. “He’ll find guys quicker and easier. He’ll just feel more confident and I think it will reflect in his play.”
“He’s the type of guy that’s going to get better and the more he sees, the better he gets,” said Gruden. “He was thrown into the fire last year and hopefully he learned from everything that he saw. I think he has a good basis of understanding of how fast the game is and the different blitzes and coverages that he’ll see.”
And there’s one other thing that could help Dalton improve in his second season – all of those stories about his arm strength.
“Maybe it fuels him a little bit,” said Gruden. “I think his deep ball accuracy has to get better – not so much his arm strength but his accuracy. He did throw some balls out of bounds or maybe threw some with the wrong trajectory so I think he can work on that. But I don’t think it’s strength; I think it’s timing and accuracy.”
Gruden has certainly been right about his quarterback before.
“He as much as anyone is responsible for us going after Andy Dalton,” said Brown. “I don’t know anyone that doesn’t think he was on target there.”
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