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Changing of the guard

Posted Apr 29, 2011

Updated: 4-30-11 3:25 a.m.

It turned out Friday that Andy Dalton stayed on the board longer than Prince William.

After the empty first round of the NFL Draft Thursday night, he and his fiancée recorded the royal wedding so they could watch it Friday morning in Katy, Texas, before they reimmersed themselves in that other ceremony known as the second round. It only took 13 minutes before Dalton was crowned the new Bengals franchise quarterback when they took him with the third pick of the night, 35th of the draft.

“No, I wasn’t disappointed. I’m happy for all of those other guys that got picked," Dalton said in his conference call with the Cincinnati media. "But God had a plan for me, and Cincinnati was the right spot. It was a long day yesterday, but I’m glad today was quick. I’m just happy to be part of the organization.”

It was a changing of the guard worthy of Buckingham Palace. The Bengals have suddenly gone from a reality TV show to an infomercial. In this darkest of offseasons a giddy draft room emerged with a quarterback-receiver duo in the first two rounds that could define the next decade at Paul Brown Stadium.

"If you had told me two days ago these are the two guys we were going to get, I would have kissed you," said Gruden, two-for-two in his first Bengals draft. "It's exciting. It's good. I want these guys to believe we're going to have an offense that can score anytime anywhere."

But there remains no sign that Bengals president Mike Brown is any closer to trading Carson Palmer even though Dalton is theoretically the quarterback of the future. With Palmer threatening retirement, the future is now and while head coach Marvin Lewis won't give Dalton the starting job without a competition, Gruden believes "he can be a great quarterback in the NFL and he'll get plenty of chances."

When Gruden—kind of jokingly—asked Green who he wanted for a quarterback out of the draft about two hours before the draft, Green didn't blink.

"Andy Dalton," said Green before he went into his news conference.

That's where Green refused to say anything controversial and pronounced he'd be satisfied with no catches if it meant wins. Jokingly asked if he thought Green was really a wide receiver with those words, head coach Marvin Lewis said, "He's a new breed." Later, Green assured an interviewer, "I don't do reality TV shows."

Meanwhile that was juxtaposed against Chad Ochocinco's surly text “Lewis: who’s 60-67-1 all-time, 0-2 in playoffs and only two seasons can’t criticize my thumbs for tweeting. They win 4 me.”

It's not a lock that Palmer and The Ocho are automatically gone. Brown has pretty much chiseled it in stone he's not trading Palmer and with the lockout back, he can't. And with Green a potential long holdout at No. 4 and represented by the tenacious Tom Condon, Brown might keep The Ocho around for insurance.  

Then on Friday came the 6-2, 213-pound Dalton, who eschewed the hype of New York and chose to reflect in Katy, his hometown.

“I wanted to stay here with my family and some of my friends; they’ve supported me through everything," Dalton said. "If I was up in New York, I wouldn’t be able to spend this time with them. That’s really the main reason I made the decision. It was more about them and everything being pretty hectic up there in New York.”

A Texas cactus compared to the 6-5, 230-pound Palmer, the California redwood Dalton blows a little hot while Palmer is long and cool. And what the Bengals offense is going to do and how the quarterback plays is going to be completely different. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden became smitten with Dalton because he felt like Dalton was the best guy in the draft to execute his style of West Coast offense:

Quick release, even quicker mind, and deadly accuracy.

"We can keep everything the same," Gruden said. "All we have to do is make sure we're on the same page. ... I see no flaws."

Dalton gets criticized for his arm strength and 4.9 speed even though he continually moves the chains to win 34 of his 37 starts. Gruden says his ball isn't pretty, "but every throw gets to the right guy." The pocket is going to be more mobile than with Palmer.   

"You have to change the launch point these days," said quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese. "The pass rush is too good, speed on defense is too good. Those days are over. The style of offense today vs. a year ago is different. There's more movement."

Dalton doesn't have Palmer's gun, but Zampese says his arm is fine.

"The nice thing is all style of play and height has won," he said. "It's all underneath the hood and he's got a lot under the hood. He's got things you don't see in the exterior. The more time you spend with him you like him. He's got a real good grasp of himself. He's very mature. He doesn't overreact. He handles things in the right way. He's a pretty even-keeled guy, but he's fiery inside."

Bengaldom gets their first look at Dalton in Saturday's 11:30 a.m. news conference with third-round pick Dontay Moch, an outside linebacker from Arizona. With the lockout back in place after a 15-hour reprieve, it's doubtful they can have much contact with the coaches or even get their playbooks. But they can still do media and marketing appearances as long as they are out of the stadium by the end of the draft, which should be around 5 p.m.

But one of the reasons the Bengals love Dalton is not much bothers him. Not even the responsibility of ascending to the throne in the wake of Palmer's abdication. He started ticking off the names of the Bengals he had watched play before someone stopped him and told him most of them wouldn't be back.

“Right, I know. It seems like a lot of guys might not be around," Dalton said. "But the guys that will be there will get in and have one goal in mind — and that is to win a lot of ball games.

“I feel like I’m a leader. I know how to push guys; I know what it takes to push guys. I’m excited to come in, learn the different personalities of everybody there, get on the same page with everybody, and just get to work.”

Lewis won't give Dalton the job without a competition, but unless Palmer rethinks his position, he's retired and Dalton becomes the first Bengals Opening Day quarterback not Palmer since 2003. Lewis heaved an audible sigh of relief when he sat down in the media room 10 minutes after the pick. Gruden might have been heaving something else. He couldn't bear to look at the board ever since Florida State's Christian Ponder became the fourth quarterback taken in the first 12.

But while the Bengals refused to budge and trade up in what the NFL Network's Charley Casserly called the gutsiest gamble he'd seen in awhile, the fifth quarterback took 23 picks and 21 hours to fall as Gruden said he covered his eyes on every pick.

"If you want to go to Vegas," Casserly told his audience, "buy Mike Brown a first-class ticket and take him with you."

 Dalton won his last 13 starts to win a Rose Bowl, just like Palmer won his last eight at USC to win an Orange Bowl.

"Everybody says that he’s not coming back, but I can’t worry about that," Dalton said. "I just have to come in and learn as much as I can as quickly as I can, and put myself in a position to be successful when I get the opportunity.

“I’d like to think I can come in, learn quickly and show my teammates that they can trust me. I’m ready to get in and start working.”

Gruden says Dalton's biggest challenge is going to be coping with the speed of the NFL, but that his arm is strong enough to survive.

The two moves energized a club that had been wallowing in the bad karma of Palmer's retirement threat. Cincinnati WLW Radio talkmaster Lance McAlister tweeted an e-mail had been sent that five people had called for season tickets in the wake of Dalton's selection.

"That's great," Dalton said. "I can't wait to get there."

"The tide is turning," Zampese said.

Dalton has had nine lives this draft season. He began it pegged as a third- to fourth-rounder heading into February's NFL scouting combine, when Gruden was hoping to steal him in the third round. Then he shot into the first round in a ton of mock drafts in the last 10 days during a stretch the Bengals worked him out privately in Dallas.

But Thursday night Dalton somersaulted out of the first round with the downsides being arm strength and the slow 40-yard dash time. The Bengals didn't pull a trade to go up and get him when they had some chances at the end of the round, but they are confident he has the intangibles, talent and winner's edge to succeed even with the varying evaluations.

Gruden had wanted Dalton so badly that he joked before one workout that he wanted him to throw a couple in the dirt to turn off the other scouts.

"I promise you this," Gruden said. "If you have a guy that wants to be here and is going to compete every day to get better, get himself better, and he's accurate, smart and tough, then he's going to be good."

As Zampese said, "We know what we're getting. We were all over the guy in five visits. Senior Bowl. Combine. Pro Day. Workout in Dallas, and a trip here."

In four seasons at TCU, Dalton had 71 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions while completing nearly 62 percent of his passes. He completed 66 percent this past season with 27 TDs and six picks and Gruden said he was by far the most accurate passer in this class. 

 

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