Andy Dalton feels like his teammates are still running with him.
Bengals president Mike Brown may be delegating more responsibilities these days around his office. But there's no doubt that his philosophy of developing and keeping franchise quarterbacks as the major linchpin of building a team is still at the heart of the organization.
So as Andy Dalton reported for work Thursday and the first practice of the season, he couldn't help but notice the owner's unabashed endorsement of him earlier in the week. As the buzz about his contract extension reaches a crescendo with the start of camp, Dalton agreed with the notion that Brown's words make him more confident about getting a deal.
"I think so. When the time is right it's going to get done. Until then I am going to keep saying the same thing," said Dalton, who has the contract shrug down pat. "To know I have the support from the top down that is exactly what you want. I was very thankful for that. This is a great place, I love being here. Hopefully I am here for a long time."
Dalton won't see this media crush again until A) he signs his extension or B) Baltimore after the Sept. 7 regular-season opener. But the No. 1 thing that hangs with him is when Brown talked about the high regard of him in the building. It even seemed to contribute to his confidence on Thursday as he met the media for nearly a half-hour.
"Saying that everyone in the organization respects me, I thought that was really good to hear," Dalton said. "That's one thing: you feel that, but to have the owner say that, it really just means a lot. I'm glad he said the things he did."
Brown doesn't make a public show of reaching out to his players. It's a 50-year-old scar from Paul Brown's firing in Cleveland, an event most chalk up to owner Art Modell coming between the head coach and the players. But the former Dartmouth quarterback talks to players from time to time. Especially the quarterback.
"A little bit. There's times we will talk about certain things and other times we will just go about our business," Dalton said. "He's a guy that is pretty easy to talk to. If people don't think that they might have the wrong perception. He's a loyal guy. You know that from not only the players but he way he handles the staff and everybody. I'm glad to be here and glad he's the owner. "
Head coach Marvin Lewis decreed there would be no talk about Dalton's contract this camp, but Dalton took all of Thursday's shots and gently returned serve.
Basically he said, "When the time is right, it's going to happen. That's the biggest thing. Until then, I can't worry about it because there's no reason to. Will it be a relief when it gets done? Yeah, I'm sure because I won't have to keep talking to y'all about it. There will be a relief when it's done but until then, it's not something that I'm stressed about."
This is clearly not the 23-year-old kid that came out of Texas Christian in 2011 and was abruptly handed a franchise at the end of the NFL's lock out and Carson Palmer's walk out. Since then, there has been a Pro Bowl berth, three post-season games, an AFC North title and on this past June 30 a son, Noah Andrew. Dalton is looking and sounding all of his 26 years.
He needs to in order to handle the firestorm of his 0-3 record in the playoffs. But he says his confidence has never wavered and doesn't feel like he has to win back his teammates this training camp before making another run.
"The guys have stuck with me from the time that I've been here. I had to earn their respect at the beginning and now I feel like I have their respect," Dalton said. "(Last year's Wild Card Game) didn't go how we wanted to. I was a big part of the reason why we lost. But other things happened too.
"I'm not having to win anybody back. The guys have had my back from the start, so that's what's good about this team. We've got a lot of guys that have played a lot, that have played together a lot, and we're really looking forward to what we have here and what we can do here."
Not only did Dalton get ripped for his three turnovers against San Diego (two picks and a fumble), but some pundits thought he should have shouldered more responsibility than he did in the wake of the 27-10 loss. He did lump himself in the blame, but that wasn't enough for some.
I didn't really know where it was coming from. I'll be the first guy to say when I did wrong," Dalton said. "Obviously the turnovers were my fault, that's what it comes down to. I didn't think I came across that way but if that's how someone wanted to take it, everybody has the right to their own opinion and they can write whatever they want.
"But I definitely wasn't trying to come across that way because I'll be the first guy to take the blame if something goes wrong."
One of the team leaders came to Dalton's defense Thursday as cornerback Leon Hall provided an assist even before he took the field for the first time in his comeback from Achilles surgery.
"I think we look at him the same we've always looked at him," Hall said. "He's our leader on offense. We believe that he plays well. Obviously there's scrutiny there. He's the quarterback of the team, the face of the team, so that's going to come with the position. But in our opinion, and I can probably speak for most of the guys in this locker room, we wouldn't want to go on this journey with anyone else. Regardless of what everybody else says or how they feel, good or bad about Andy, we love him in this locker room and we're going to go with him win or lose."
On Thursday, from Brown to Hall to Noah Andrew, Dalton definitely had home-field advantage against the critics.
"People can say what they want," Dalton said. "I get to go home to an awesome wife and an unbelievable son."