Dalton going deep in community


Andy Dalton

The scuttlebutt from practice this week amid all the hullabaloo about Andy Dalton's arm strength is that on a play-action drop in 11-on-11, he threw a frozen rope 57 yards in the air down the middle and put it on the No. 1 of wide receiver A.J. Green's No. 18 in stride for a touchdown inches above the arms of the defender.

More newsworthy for the Bengals, who were already convinced Dalton has plenty of arm strength, is that the guy running stride-for-stride with Green was that 230-pound safety named Taylor Mays. A good match. He's not supposed to be able to cover like Dalton isn't supposed to be able to throw deep.

"He's done a really good job this spring; it's fun to see," Dalton said Friday. "He came in (during) man coverage the other day. He's definitely doing all the right things."

So, it seems, is Dalton as he begins his long-ball campaign in the community this month by introducing he and his wife to Cincinnati, a debut blitzed last year by the lockout.

The talk of arm strength and routes was part of the easy banter on Friday as Dalton and 19 other Bengals participated in The Gridiron Challenge at Paul Brown Stadium, a flag football fundraiser for The Athletes United Foundation that is one of former Bengals kicker Doug Pelfrey's local good-works efforts.

With defensive tackle Domata Peko as the face of the group this season, 100 lockers are going to be set up across Greater Cincinnati during the next year to collect about a million items for children and their families.

"It comes with it," said Dalton, who responded when Peko asked. "When I've been going to these (charity) events, I've been taking notes. 'I like this.' Or, 'I wouldn't do that.' We're excited to get it going."

The result of the notes can be seen a week from Sunday during Celebrity Waiter Night at Jeff Ruby's in downtown Cincinnati, the first fundraiser for the Jordan and Andy Dalton Foundation that has been created to offer opportunities as well as support and resources to needy children and families when it comes to special needs, medical issues, or just plan finances.

One of Dalton's many ideas: Shut down something like Kings Island for a morning or a day for families with disabilities or for underprivileged families.

"You see all the people that come out for Marvin's event; it's unbelievable," Dalton said of last month's Marvin Lewis Golf Classic, the Tri-State's Cadillac of charity fundraisers. "We can make an impact."

Dalton and his family have thought that for a long time. A guitar player in the praise band, Dalton spent a good part of his youth involved in his Houston church. It's a bond he has with Peko, a minister's son and another praise band veteran with a guitar.

Peko is having a busy June himself. On Saturday he's speaking to a group of Special Olympians at Ignition Sports in Blue Ash, Ohio.

"Domata is one of the best guys we've ever worked with anywhere," Pelfrey said. "And you can see what his teammates think of him. It was one of his jobs to get these guys and look at the turnout. It's a unique event. It's not a golf scramble and the guys like to play in it."

The Bengals are the quarterbacks for each team, which makes a donation to play and gets to pick the players in a draft held the night before at another fundraiser. Someone must have found out rookie receiver Mohamed Sanu quarterbacked the Jersey all-stars over New York in his last high school game because he was the fourth pick behind Dalton, Dalton's backup Bruce Gradkowski and practice squad QB Zac Robinson.

"How could you not make Andy Dalton the No. 1 pick?" asked Mark Weingarten, who works in marketing for CSM Bakery and turned into Dalton's go-to guy.

He is clearly The People's Choice, too. Rookies like Sanu and middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict—and even veterans like Peko—could sit under the tent and wait for their games while Dalton greeted a steady stream of autograph seekers and picture takers.

But then, Dalton is becoming like the Bengals. What he did so quickly in his lockout year, making the Pro Bowl while quarterbacking a team to the playoffs with 20 TD passes, had never been done before and the lightning strike just seems to be settling in six months later.

Bengals tickets are becoming hot again with the club's biggest season ticket sales since Carson Palmer came off his first Pro Bowl six years ago. And Dalton, the next franchise QB, is just as hot.

"Hey Andy, you keep this up, you're going to make me a Bengals fan," said a man as Dalton walked by, smiled, and made a Who Dey-like claw with his hand.

"Yeah, I can definitely see that," said Dalton a few minutes later of the buzz suddenly engulfing his team as he munched on a slice of pizza.

"Everybody I've talked to around town is so excited. The attitude and feel of the city is so different now than it was before. It's great."

There were a few plays Friday you would have thought this was the Oct. 21 NBC game against the Steelers. On a few of his TD passes, Dalton offered what is becoming the familiar fist-pump wave. He also set a pick to help Weingarten run the clock in the first half of his game against left tackle Andrew Whitworth's team.

After watching former Bengals backup quarterback Jordan Palmer win two of these tournament trophies and then display them in his locker, Whitworth is convinced of two things: The competitive juices can't be staved off even in flag football, and quarterbacks shouldn't be allowed in this event.

After Dalton edged the side-arming Whitworth ("I'm Bernie Kosar," he said) by a TD, Whitworth wondered to the winners, "Can we do a pass-protection drill now so I can beat your butt? I would hope our quarterback could beat his left tackle in a seven-on-seven drill."

Whitworth was envious of Weingarten, a short speedster who was athletic enough that he was calling him "Wes Welker." If you can believe this, it turns out that Weingarten, like Dalton, is 24 and comes from Houston.

"We went to rival high schools and graduated in 2006," Weingarten said. "He went to Katy and I went to Bellaire. When we were sophomores, we played baseball in a state tournament game."  

"Yeah, I didn't pitch that day," Dalton said, "but he said he pinch ran."

Weingarten had a blast starting the night before.

"It's a childhood dream," he said. "Growing up, kids dream about playing in the NFL. And the kids that don't (make it) dream about catching balls from Andy Dalton. He was great last night at the reception. He donated some shoes and signed jerseys. And today he came out here and he told us he wants to win. He's saying, 'Let's move it in front of them. They're playing Cover 2 and we're going to throw it into the zones.' He's really fun to play with."

Dalton had to shake his head. Not exactly the Steelers as he patted the ball without a rush.

"It's easy," he said, "when they give you seven seconds."

Dalton has done the hard part. He's won them over. If you can believe it, it also turns out that Weingarten has reddish hair. Asked how many people were calling him Wes Welker, he said, "No one really. They're calling me 'Andy Dalton.' "

The long ball is going long term.

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