Jeff Driskel, the Bengals' newest quarterback, finally had time to laugh Monday before his first practice as a Bengal.
Yes, he joked, there might have been a few times in the last year when he had his hand out to Bengals Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth looking for a tip. But they never talked about the league.
"I didn't really try to bother him just because he gets that enough," Driskel said.
It turns out that while Driskel was reviving the Louisiana Tech offense with 27 TD passes in his one season at the Ruston, La., school, he worked at the nearby Squire Creek Country Club, Whitworth's home golf course where he did everything from hauling bags, to setting up the front of the club, to greeting members.
Welcome to the NFL. One minute you can be putting a guy's bag on a golf cart and the next minute he can be protecting your blind side
"Good kid. Respectful," Whitworth said. "I know some guys that mentored him (former NFL quarterbacks Patrick Ramsey and Tim Rattay) and they speak highly of him."
The Bengals thought enough of Driskel that they used their first Opening Week waiver claim in five years to pluck him after the 49ers cut him. But this is nothing new for the Bengals when it comes to backup quarterbacks.
Nine years ago, on the same day, the day after the cut to 53 players, the Bengals traded for the man they oppose this Sunday in New York (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12), Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. They ended up giving the Rams a 2008 seventh-rounder to find Carson Palmer's backup for 2007 and 2008.
They've already got a backup in the talented, playoff-tested Andy Dalton, their best No. 2 since Fitzpatrick. But not for long. If they're going to trade McCarron, they have to replace him first and the process has officially begun with Driskel, a 6-4, 230-pound specimen who they scouted before the 49ers took him in the sixth round.
The beauty of the claim is the Bengals have the roster room and they don't have to give up a draft pick. The question is how long they will keep three QBs on the roster, something they haven't done since the 46-man active roster on game day did away with the emergency quarterback. That depends on injuries and if they think Driskel would be safe on the practice squad.
"We knew what we felt of him before the draft, and we thought he was a young, talented player who has a chance to continue to move upward," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "He can mature and grow, and have an opportunity possibly to become an NFL quarterback. It gives us an opportunity to take a look at him."
Driskel is far from an unknown to the Bengals. Defensive back Josh Shaw was his freshman year roommate at Florida. Before starting quarterback Andy Dalton's senior year at TCU, he was a counselor at a football camp where Driskel attended before his senior year of high school in Florida. And Bill Lazor, the Bengals new quarterbacks coach who has the worked the position in the NFL for the last decade, already has notes on him.
"I am not going to have a coach vs. a player challenge in the 40. I can promise you that," said Lazor of Driskel's 4.5 40-yard dash that led all quarterbacks at the NFL scouting combine.
"I saw him throw at the Senior Bowl practices. I saw him throw at the combine. He's talented. He was one of the top quarterbacks in the country coming out of high school … I know a bunch of coaches who are in San Francisco. I know some coaches who were at Florida. I think I've got a got a pretty good sense of his background. I think he's a talented guy. I think when you watch his senior year of college you see a very productive player who started in as a transfer and had a very productive season. He made some throws on video that were NFL-style throws. Talking to the people at Louisiana Tech, in one year coming in he really fit in well with the team. He showed leadership skills I think the guy's got a bright future. I'm excited to have him."
So it's a work in progress and it has started. Thanks to the internet, where Driskel found out Sunday the Bengals had claimed him, he knows something about them, too.
"Two guys that when they got opportunities, they played well," Driskel said of Dalton and McCarron. "So I look forward to learning from them, learning from coach Lazor and contributing to that quarterback room and doing what I'm asked to do."
Driskel has a few more things on his mind besides what the move means to his long-term future. For one thing, jet lag between San Francisco and Cincinnati.
"I left yesterday afternoon, got in after midnight. Still adjusting to the time change and everything. But like I said, that's part of the deal. I'm just happy to be here," Driskel said. "You can't let something like that frustrate you. There are a lot of other things you can worry about rather than whether or not you got cut or claimed or anything like that."
The 49ers kept three quarterbacks and jettisoned Driskel and he admits he's still adjusting to life in the NFL.
"Just how fast things move. Just in the past day -- I was on the West Coast and now I'm out here and getting ready to learn a playbook and see what the Jets are doing defensively," he said. "So there's definitely a lot on my plate this week."
His last outing as a Niner last week left a bad taste. He had three completions on four throws, but two went to the other guys.
"I was up and down," Driskel said. "Obviously in my last game I didn't play so well. Made a bad throw. Tried to throw a ball out of bounds and didn't get it out of bounds, so turned the ball over. It's tough to make a team turning the ball over, and that's what I did in my last preseason game. But learning experiences. It's something to build on and just move forward."
Driskel was so good in the outfield and as a hitter during high school that the Red Sox drafted him a couple of years later even though he hadn't picked up a bat in college. With Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr., patrolling the pasture in Boston, it looks like he made the right choice.
Whether the Bengals did is another question. Can he meld the physical gifts with all the rest?
"There's a lot to be put together, so it takes time," Lazor said. "We'll test him out pretty soon. We'll see what he needs."