Andy Dalton jokes that he can now hold his head up and boss around the mere rookies that invaded the Bengals’ locker room this past week for a rookie minicamp. He, of course, is joking. It’s not his style to boss anyone around — more likely he’s showing his new teammates the ropes.
But the point stands — he is no longer a rookie, nor is his main target, A.J. Green. Not only does a year in the NFL give them credibility in the locker room, but Pro Bowl selections make sure everyone knows their spot in the hierarchy of the Cincinnati Bengals organization.
“I think getting that rookie year over with, guys know what they’re going to get out of me, they know what to expect,” Dalton said May 14 before a voluntary team workout. “I have a little more say because I have some experience now.”
He also has expectations. It’s become cliché to use the Spiderman line that with great power becomes great responsibility. But it does, and in the NFL with a promising start comes expectations of a more promising future.
Last season, nothing was expected of the Bengals and they had a built-in excuse for another Bengal-like season of mediocrity — gone was the Golden Boy Carson Palmer, and Chad Ochocinco danced his way out of town. There was hope for the future, just little for the present. And that’s where Dalton and Green came in. Taken in the second and first rounds, respectively, of the draft, there were high hopes for the future. Both came in and delivered immediately.
Dalton became the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to eight or more victories, throw 20 or more touchdowns and lead his team to the playoffs. He was also the first rookie QB not selected in the first round to start all 16 games, much less lead them to the playoffs. In addition, he was just the fifth rookie to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season, joining Peyton Manning, Cam Newton (a rookie himself in 2011), Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford.
Such statistics and company bring respect, something Dalton had to earn during his first year in stripes.
“He’s walking around and he knows he’s that guy,” Green said. “He’s the leader of this team and he can walk around like he knows what’s going on, what he’s looking for and what he’s getting himself into.”
What he’s into now is the hope he can lead the Bengals to their first playoff victory since Green was in diapers. To that end, the team added some offensive help in the form of veteran running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, as well as drafting Green’s former teammate at Georgia, tight end Orson Charles, and Rutgers receiver Mohamed Sanu. And don’t forget the return of slot receiver Jordan Shipley, who missed almost all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered during the second game of the season.
Shipley watched from the sideline as his teammates developed. He also watched as opposing defensive coordinators tried to contain the explosive Green and allocated extra men to covering him. That opened up room for second-year tight end Jermaine Gresham, who also earned a Pro Bowl bid for his efforts last season. With Shipley, the physical Sanu and a pair of dangerous tight ends, there are no excuses for Dalton.
“They’re going to make this a lot better team,” Dalton said. “I’m excited for what we’ve got ahead of us.”
THINKING OUT LOUD
I wouldn’t be shocked if Scott Rolen never returned from the disabled list and retired. When he went on the DL this past weekend, he said he felt he was hurting the team and that’s something he didn’t want to do. At this point, he’s 37 and his body looks 37 in a game of younger players. Rolen has a very keen awareness of himself and his abilities, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he just hung it up rather than hurt his team further. As for his replacement, it would seem Todd Frazier has the chance of his lifetime. When asked if Frazier would get the bulk of the playing time in Rolen’s absence, Dusty Baker said, “that depends on Frazier.” So, who is the long-term solution? Again, that may depend on Frazier. But keep an eye on Sycamore graduate Kevin Youkilis, who might be Wally Pipp’d by rookie Will Middlebrooks in Boston. Youkilis has said the only team he’d want to play for other than Boston is his hometown Reds. If healthy, he’d also be the natural fit as a right-handed bat to hit fourth between Joey Votto and Jay Bruce.