Ken Anderson, the greatest Bengals quarterback of all-time, knew the call was coming in the wake of his old team’s selection of Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron in the fifth round of Saturday’s NFL Draft.
“You got one of my guys. The Bengals got a good player at that spot,” Anderson said. “I thought he’d go in the second or third round. I’m surprised he was still there.”
Anderson worked with McCarron for five weeks preparing him for the rigors of the draft process and came away impressed with his accuracy and his work ethic.
“He doesn’t have a rocket arm, but he makes every throw you want him to make and I think the fact he’s been successful on such a big stage holds up for him,” Anderson said. “I just heard his interview on NFL radio and he’s exactly right. He’s got a great opportunity to go in there and learn under Andy (Dalton).”
Everyone said all the right things Saturday.
In his conference call with the Cincinnati media, McCarron said over and over again that he knows this is Dalton’s team and “I have so much respect for Andy. I’ve watched him a ton, he’s one of the best in the league.”
And offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said what he’s said all along.
“Andy is our quarterback and we’re behind him 100 percent,” Jackson said. “This wasn’t about Andy, this was about our board.”
McCarron, author of two national titles in one of the winningest NCAA careers in history, is probably looking at being the third quarterback. Jackson said
What was left unsaid is that Dalton is heading into his contract year and both sides are talking about an extension. But given the Bengals waited until the fifth round to take a quarterback, it looks to be nothing more than a chance to develop a young backup quarterback. The last Bengals draft pick to serve as the No. 2 quarterback was rookie Carson Palmer when he was the draft’s overall No. 1 pick in 2003.
Everything else is up to McCarron.
“I think I know how to win. I know what it takes to win. I’ve always put in the work to win and I don’t accept anything less,” said McCarron, who was 36-4 as the Crimson Tide’s starter. “I’m sure this organization is the exact same way, that’s why I love where I’m at. I can’t wait to get up there. I feel like you can master your craft that much more at all times.
“Some of the best players in the world in all sports; Peyton Manning, he’s still practicing. He goes and visits some people to better himself. Tiger Woods is the same way. There are so many athletes that are at the top of their game, but they feel like they never are. They can always keep getting better. So whatever coach tells me I need to work on, that’s what I’m going to buy into and I’m going to work my tail off to do it.”
McCarron’s got enough going for him that the Bengals took for the value at No. 164. His battle-tested numbers in the SEC re highly regarded in the Bengals draft room. But as Jackson said, many times quarterbacks don’t get a shot where they learn.
“He’s done it at a very high level and a very good college program. He has a lot going for him. If we can take this talent that he has and channel it, and get it to mesh with what we’re doing and where we’re headed, then I think there’s going to be an opportunity for him as we continue to move on,” Jackson said. “We tell our quarterbacks here, and it’s something I truly believe in, ‘You may not start here, but if you come in and you prepare, and you grow and you learn, you may have to play someplace else in your career.’
“You never know how that’s going to unfold, but what we’re going to do is create an environment where our quarterbacks can become the best that they can be. That’s what we’ve done up to this point, and we’re going to throw him in the mix and see where we can get this young man to.”
Anderson worked with the 6-3, 220-pound McCarron for two weeks at Alabama and three weeks in Jacksonville, Miss., and thought he was easy to work with, offered an excellent work ethic, and his 77 touchdown passes compared to 15 interceptions were hard to miss.
“He doesn’t turn it over,” Anderson said. “Look at his completion percentage (67). He’s got good size for a quarterback. I don’t think he’ll be overwhelmed by the NFL. He’s not a quarterback that’s going to run or 100 yards. He’s got good feet and mobility in the pocket.”
But McCarron reportedly said he thought he’d go middle of the first to top of the second. He was clearly emotional taking Saturday’s call.
“First, let me say that it’s a blessing to be in the NFL. It doesn’t matter if you’re taken No. 1 overall or No. 199, like (New England quarterback Tom) Brady,” McCarron said. “It doesn’t matter when you get picked, just about where you go and making the most of it when you get there. You’ve still got to perform no matter where you get picked, and I’m just excited and blessed about this opportunity. I feel like God has a plan and everything was supposed to happen for a reason. I’m just extremely humbled and thankful that the organization in Cincinnati gave me this opportunity. It’s going to be awesome to learn from Andy. He’s one of the best in the league.”
During the offseason there has been a sort of whispering campaign labeling McCarron as cocky, one scout actually called him delusional, and he didn’t make many friends when he didn’t play in the Senior Bowl in his hometown of Mobile, Ala
But when quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese came back from a private dinner and workout with McCarron, he was steadily impressed with “the intangibles.” Zampese believes quarterback is a position reserved for intangibles and not height, weight, or speed.
“It’s important to him, really important to him. The bar in his mind is set really high,” Zampese said of his biggest intangible. “I know that he felt that this was a long way down the road for him to get picked. He saw himself in a much higher light in regards to how the NFL saw him. He sees himself as a guy that’s a starter, that’s on top of the heap that can do all those things, and I love that about him.”
And McCarron seemed equally comfortable with Zampese.
“(We) just talked about life, really. We went to dinner that night, and I worked out the next day for him. We just sat there and talked, really. We talked about anything that came up. He’s such a good man and knows the game so well. He helped me a lot,” McCarron said. “I’m just really excited to be able to work with him as the QB coach, and like I said, also with
McCarron isn’t going to get into a matchup with the internet, a task where he has plenty of experience on the hot seat in the nation’s most visible program and as the boyfriend of super model Katherine Webb.
“The thing about this whole process is, somebody can come out with something, and somebody runs with it and it’s just like wildfire spreading. I think it’s a little crazy. I was voted captain three years in a row by my teammates,” McCarron said. “I felt like I was respected at all times. People listened to me. Myself and C.J. Mosley always made the team decisions. But somebody can tap on bad information and it hurts you sometimes. I don’t believe those people.
“Everybody has a job and that’s their opinion. I respect that. I just need to figure out what’s the best way I can do to be the best teammate for us in the future. Be a part of the Bengals organization and help us in whatever way I can. I’m just excited and very humble about this whole opportunity. I just can’t wait to get to work; I really can’t. I want to get back to playing football and just put everything to the side.”
“I want to (know) everything about these guys. The good thing is that I know a couple of them already. Dre, Andre and Wallace Gilberry,” McCarron said. “I’m just excited about this moment, but when I come to work, I’ve always kind of went to work with a chip on my shoulder because that’s the thing that pushes me. That’s made me the player I am and I’m going to compete. It’s the way I am, but like I said, I know my role. I’m a rookie on this team and I respect Andy Dalton with everything. He’s the guy and I want to learn everything I can from him to better myself for the future. I’m just looking forward to it.”
Anderson, who went through his own trials and tribulations before his 1981 MVP season, had an impact on McCarron. Yes, he worked with his mechanics and emphasized keeping his right elbow up while “tightening up,” his footwork. But Anderson’s words of advice may outlast the lessons.
“I think coach just always said that you can’t listen to everybody else and you can’t worry what everybody else’s expectations are. You’ve kind of just got to focus on what you can control,” McCarron said. “That’s the weird thing about the draft. It’s really things that you can’t control. God has a plan; whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. I truly believe that. I felt like I did everything that I could while I was at the University of Alabama. One of those rumors gets out there and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m just ready to come to work and be a great teammate for this team. I really am. I can’t tell you how excited I am and thankful I am for this opportunity. I’m just ready to play football.”