Andy Dalton’s first practice with the Cincinnati Bengals came on a college field on a hot morning with no helmets, uniforms, pads or complete playbooks.
Not the best way for a rookie quarterback to break into the NFL.
More than 40 Bengals players participated in their first voluntary, full-squad workout Wednesday at the University of Cincinnati, where a handful of students took a few minutes to stop and watch the franchise’s next quarterback start to blend in.
With his red hair, he was easy to spot. His arm got some looks, too.
“He’s got a good arm,” receiver Jerome Simpson said. “He’s very smart. I like him.”
The second-round pick from TCU has some daunting days ahead. The Bengals are switching to coordinator Jay Gruden’s new offense, one that has totally different terminology from the old one. Dalton can’t get tutoring from the coaches because of the NFL’s lockout. Practice is limited to a few voluntary sessions in shorts and T-shirts.
“I don’t know,” offensive guard Bobbie Williams said, thinking about the obstacles in the rookie’s way. “I’ll just say: God help the young man. I mean, he’s placed in a challenging position, but you know what? In this profession, you’re always placed in a challenging position. It’s up to you how you (react) to it.”
So far, he seems to be doing fine.
Dalton got to Cincinnati a few days early to start looking for a house. He practiced Monday with the offense at the university while the defense worked out at a suburban soccer facility. They got together on Wednesday, giving Dalton a chance to meet most of the defensive players for the first time.
Also, it was the first time that they worked out without quarterback Carson Palmer, who says he’ll retire if he’s not traded. Palmer was the team’s leader during his seven years as the starter.
Feel strange not having him there?
“Of course, man,” Williams said. “That’s the voice and the face you miss in the crowd. You miss hearing him, you miss his presence. But this game is an ever-changing game. One day we’ll all be retired and there will be a new group of guys in here at some point.”
Palmer’s voice is deeper than Dalton’s, leading to some teasing by his new teammates.
“Andy’s picking up the tempo,” Williams said. “Yesterday we kidded around with him, told him he needs to deepen his voice, get some bass in it. But he seemed to have adjusted pretty good to it.”
Dalton made tight, on-target throws during a relaxed 7-on-7 session, with players being careful not to get hurt. He barely overthrew a long pass to Simpson, who stretched all-out and dived in the end zone but couldn’t quite reach the ball.
That moment was the closest thing to real football.
“Just instinct because I want to catch every ball, show that quarterback that I want to work for him,” Simpson said. “It’s kind of a risk coming out here and diving for a ball, but I just couldn’t help it.”
Dalton is competing with Jordan Palmer, Carson’s younger brother, for the starting job. Both of them are learning a new system. Players got some of the new playbook during the one day that the lockout was lifted in April, and they’re trying to learn it on their own.
“It’s definitely different in terminology,” Palmer said. “I’ve been very impressed with how fast we’re all getting it as a group. We’ve got 30 to 40 plays in. What percentage of the offense that is, I don’t know.”
Dalton spent part of the day getting to know his new defensive teammates.
“I didn’t know very many of them,” Dalton said. “It’s been great just to be around everybody and to see everybody working together.”