Ten years ago Bengals president Mike Brown walked into the Bengals draft room coveting only one player.
He knew his team couldn't take Purdue quarterback Drew Brees with the fourth pick. They not only had second-round grades on him, but they were only two years removed from the Akili Smith snafu and had just signed Jon Kitna. But if he was there at No. 36 … .
Brees almost was. The Chargers took him at the top of the second round at No. 32 and the Bengals ended up with a six-time Pro Bowl receiver in Chad Ochocinco at No. 36.
If this draft 10 years later does indeed mark the end of The Ocho, how fitting. This time dropping to No. 35 was a Brees-like guy in TCU's Andy Dalton. Not Brees, but Brees-like. At a shade under 6-2, Dalton has about an inch and a half on Brees, a Super Bowl MVP and chief engineer of Sean Payton's virtual offense in New Orleans.
Peter King of Sports Illustrated, who was on Dalton early, is amazed by the similarity of the reports ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. had on Brees a decade ago and on Dalton this trip. Brees has got a little more zip on the ball, but … .
Both were supposed to have suspect arms. Both live on feel and anticipation and glare at the defense instead of the rocket's red glare hanging from the shoulder. Brees has got a little more zip on the ball.
Let offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese explain.
"I'm very hopeful and positive; that's the way I look at things," Gruden said. "If I had to pick a guy to compare him to, that's who I would compare him to at an early age. ... That's kind of who he reminds me of. He's not the tallest guy in the world. He doesn't have the most stunning arm strength of anyone in the draft.
"But I see a lot of completions. I see a lot of touchdown drives that he's a part of and I see lot of moxie at the position."
Zampese sees Dalton's strengths as Brees' strengths.
"Smarts, anticipation, feel for the game, touch," Zampese said. "But how long did it take (Brees)? The Chargers let him walk out the door. You never really know. But you like what you've got with this guy. A high character guy that is a tough guy mentally and physically with tremendous intangibles."
They saw Dalton on Saturday in his first trip to Paul Brown Stadium as Carson Palmer's apparent heir. It was a quick-hitter because of the lockout and the coaches couldn't give him a playbook or talk football with him. So now they even know how many bridesmaids are going to be in his July 9 wedding to Jordan Jones in her hometown of Richardson, Tex.
They met as sophomores at TCU and started dating about a year later. A marketing and energy major, Jones is working at a Forth Worth marketing agency.
"My agent set the date," Dalton said because in a non-lockout world that would be the dead time between OTAs and training camp.
They could also see the intangibles at work.
Sharing the podium with third-round pick Dantey Moch, Dalton leaned over to give him a fist bump in honor of Nevada's win over Boise State that boosted TCU's perfect run to the Pro Bowl. Then he gave Moch his phone so he could take a picture of him and Jordan with his No. 14 jersey and kissed her after the flash. Dalton's wide Texas connections had already yielded him the phone number of Bengals wide receiver Jordan Shipley, also getting married this summer, and there were indications that some throwing sessions with one of his new targets would be interspersed with wedding plans.
Asked what is his favorite throw, and Dalton laughed with the easy, edgy confidence of a high plains gunslinger.
"The five-yard hitch they take 75 yards," he said.
He says he proved to the scouts in the past month that he had the arm to lead receivers. Now he admits he has to prove to his teammates he can lead them other places.
"A lot of it has to do with the guys seeing you working really hard. I think that's where you start to get their trust," Dalton said. "Once they know you know what you're doing, it makes it easier for you to be a leader. That's what I'm going to try and do."
Dalton says it's not so much a style, such as leading by yelling and screaming like some of his defensive mates.
"Everybody responds differently," he said. "You have to get to know the personalities of the other guys around you and what they're responding to. You've got to see how they react to different things and understand how to handle them."
Gruden is looking for Dalton to be confident in that department. He's counting on it. He says the 35th pick is worthy of it.
"I think he thinks he should have gone higher, but the second round is privileged area," Gruden said. "It warrants a lot of confidence he has going in here. He should come in here thinking that it's his job to lose and we're going to give him every opportunity to win the job. We'll get him in here and get him to compete and see how it goes."
And they will have to see how he reacts, too.
"How does he handle getting booed, taking shots, adjusting to the speed of the game. All that stuff is going to happen," Gruden said.
A big theme of this QB Quandary Draft has been which of these guys are going to be the coffee guy. The guy that gets in so early, he's the one bringing the coffee. The 5 a.m. guy.
"I'm coming in here prepared to start," Dalton said. "If that means getting in here at 5 a.m., I'll be here at 5 a.m."
He may have been here long before that.
The Bengals are hoping this decade starts with a Brees in the second round.
"If he develops into Drew Brees, obviously we're geniuses," Gruden said.