It was a football practice with no pads and no tackling. Furthermore, the Bengals starters were watching from the sidelines.
In other words, it wasn’t exactly the perfect cauldron to evaluate a quarterback prospect.
But it was hard to not be at least slightly impressed by Jake Dolegala at the final practice of the Bengals three-day mandatory minicamp in mid-June. The undrafted rookie out of Central Connecticut State was given the opportunity to direct four offensive drives and went 12-for-17 with touchdown passes to Cody Core, Trayveon Williams, and Josh Malone.
“It was great,” Jake told me. “Just having the opportunity to get out there and throw it around a little bit. The guys up front did great and the receivers were flying around. It was a lot of fun.
“A bunch of the older guys came up to me and said, ‘You were slinging it today.’ I appreciate that they’re looking out for me but like I said, it was just fun out there and we’ll see what happens.”
It was Dolegala’s first opportunity to stand out for something other than his 6’7,” 242-pound frame.
“He’s got a good arm,” said Malone. “He was out there throwing the ball with confidence and putting the ball where he wanted to put it. He gave us a chance to make plays and he had a real good – I wouldn’t even say good – he had a great day.”
“That boy looked good,” said Joe Mixon. “I like him. He’s nice.”
Dolegala was a four-year starter at CCSU, setting school records for passing yards (8,129) and TD throws (48). The FCS-level school gave Jake his only scholarship offer after injuring his shoulder in high school.
“It was the third game of my senior season actually,” he said. “I had a bunch of scholarships lined up and ended up throwing a pick and trying to make a tackle and I tore the labrum in my throwing shoulder. That set me back.”
Dolegala is from the Buffalo area and worked out for NFL scouts at the University of Buffalo’s pro day where he threw alongside UB’s Tyree Jackson who attended the NFL’s Scouting Combine and was his team’s MVP at the Senior Bowl. Jackson went undrafted before signing with the Buffalo Bills.
“Standing next to Tyree, the scouts were able to compare a Combine guy to a small school kid,” said Dolegala. “I think that was great for me and benefited me.”
The Bengals and New York Giants brought Dolegala to their facilities for pre-draft visits and Cincinnati signed the 22-year-old as a free agent. His goal is to stick with the team as a backup to Andy Dalton or as a member of the practice squad.
“Just to learn as much as I can about how this whole process works,” said Dolegala. “Obviously with Andy being here I don’t expect by any means to play at all, but just to be a sponge this season is all I’m asking for honestly.”
He’ll likely face more difficult challenges in training camp and in preseason games than what he saw in the final minicamp practice, but Dolegala certainly made a good first impression.
“I thought Jake did a great job,” said head coach Zac Taylor. “That’s why he’s here. It’s always good to see those guys who don’t get a ton of reps get out there and show why they’re in the NFL.”
“It’s a great offense and I think it fits my style of play very well,” said Dolegala. “I’m just super excited to get training camp started and see what the future holds.”