Dalton leads into the wind

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Andy Dalton had his eye on the details in Tuesday's first voluntary practice of the season.

From virtually the minute last season ended Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has been urging quarterback Andy Dalton to expand his role and on Tuesday as he watched Dalton prepare for the first voluntary practice of the spring he didn't have to say a word.

Literally.

"I was doing it all. He's doing it now and that's his job," Jackson said after the workout. "Good demeanor. Different in the sense that he's more mature. He understands. He expects a lot from his guys, he expects a lot from himself. So he's pushing. He talked to them twice before we even came out here. He's taken the lead."

Dalton not only talked Xs and Os, he invited his offense to Monday's annual celebrity waiter dinner for his foundation.

"He's definitely a little more vocal," said tight end Tyler Eifert. "The guys do look up to him. We trust him. He's our leader. Those are the kind of things that we like to see.

"Just the little things. When we're installing plays, speaking up on the little nuances. What to look out for. Adjustments and things like that."

Jackson has had his usual Type A offseason. If this team is to get over the hump, Jackson has told his unit, there must be fire, grit, and leadership in all the right moments. And that includes games. While Dalton spoke, another star Jackson needs to take it to the next level, four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green dove.

Green wouldn't say dirt if he had a mouthful. But during Tuesday he delivered a stirring address full of leadership. On a square out he stretched every inch of his multi-million dollar body parallel to the ground to pluck a Dalton pass from ignominy, hit the ground, and bounced like a LeBron James dribble.

Enough said. The best player on the team going into his contract year and leaving his feet to make a play. Head coach Marvin Lewis may remind him to bottle the enthusiasm, but the message to his mates had to be as clear as his No. 18: if he can do that…

(Green, by the way, hasn't missed a beat. You couldn't cover him Tuesday during the 90-minute, or so, clinic.)

Dalton sounded like he was stretching out, too. He sees it as an evolution more than a transformation.

"It's part of it. It's the next step in the leadership for me,"  Dalton said. "It's not that I haven't been vocal, it's just I'm finding more areas and ways to say things."

Dalton has become the punching bag for the Bengals' 0-4 post-season run since he became the quarterback, but there are others also looking to shed the tag. Even though running back Jeremy Hill has been through only one of those seasons, he feels the frustration and he hears Dalton more than last year.

"The sense of urgency, everyone knows what's at stake," Hill said. "I think even the younger players are stepping up in that leadership role.  I think that all starts with the quarterback. I think Andy is going to do that this year. Obviously everyone knows what's been happening here the last couple of years, so we're going to try everything we can to change that. We just have step up and do it differently this year and hold people accountable and I think that's what we're going to do."

Hill has noticed the difference, although he says Dalton wasn't a wallflower last year. But he is publicly showing more command of the offense.

"I think he's definitely being more vocal this year," Hill said. "In my opinion he was vocal last year, but this year (it's more to do with the little things). Obviously Hue knows exactly what he wants. It's his offense. But at the end of the day he wants his quarterback to be the model of him. Andy's going to do the right thing. He's going to be more vocal and I think that will definitely help our team in the long run."

Seniority demands Dalton's new demeanor. Only three players on offense have been here longer: tackles Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith and running back Cedric Peerman.

"Obviously as a quarterback you have that leadership position from the start, but I played a lot of games, it's year five, I'm not new to this stuff anymore," Dalton said. "I'm not a young guy in this locker room. It's kind of that next phase of my career and where I'm going."

But the turnover has been so gradual it's almost like it has also stayed the same. It is the same offensive system he had as a rookie and his top targets are all homegrown.

"I'm real comfortable. There are a lot of the same guys since I got here," Dalton said. "Obviously we've added some pieces along the way. I think that's one thing on this team. There hasn't been a whole lot of turnover since I've been here. It's nice to have everybody used to the offense, used to what we're doing. Right now we're just trying to fine tune everything and make sure you can be the best you can be."

Dalton looked pretty sharp Tuesday, except when he was throwing into a stiff breeze that would yield a torrential rain storm shortly after practice. It led to one of a few passes he'd like back, a deep post where Green, like he did all day, scalded any cornerback. This time it was Chris Lewis-Harris. Green had to wait on it, though, because the ball knuckled in the wind.

"I left one short on a deep ball to A.J. It was still big completion, but it was against the wind," Dalton said. "I tried to muscle it too much. I didn't let everything kind of flow into it.  I left it a little short, but still made the play."

Dalton walked on to the field with 13 days of intense training at the camp of quarterback guru Dr. Tom House earlier this offseason. It allowed him to go to the toolbox later in practice when he threw a deep dart to wide receiver James Wright down the left sideline.

"I think I know my fixes, I know my corrections if the ball doesn't come out exactly the way I want. That's the big thing," Dalton said. "I've got a really good understanding and feel of how to correct things when it doesn't come out exactly right … You can think too much going against the wind. You try too hard to get it to spin and when you do that it doesn't spin. That one I didn't muscle it."

Wright, covered well by cornerback Adam Jones, should have had it but quite couldn't haul it in.

"It's the first day," Jackson said. "It's not where we want to be, but we don't have to be there yet."

But it sounds like he can find his quarterback by the sound of his voice.

"No turnovers," Jackson said. "That's good for a first day."

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