New Bengals QB Keith Wenning in his Ravens days.
The Bengals dipped into their 2014 NFL Draft scouting reports Wednesday to find one of those young, developmental quarterbacks that have been few and far between in the Andy Dalton Era.
After working out former Ravens practice squad quarterback Keith Wenning at Paul Brown Stadium they signed him to a roster where he is the fourth quarterback behind Dalton, AJ McCarron, and Josh Johnson. With McCarron, 24, looking like he's got a shot to be the youngest No. 2 in Dalton's five seasons, Wenning, 24, is looking at a practice squad stint with a strong preseason.
The Bengals had the 6-3, 223-pound Wenning on their radar late in last year's draft, when the Ravens took him in the sixth round out of Ball State. Wenning, a two-time captain who came out of a successful prep program at Coldwater High School in Ohio, had high grades when it came to intangibles and his productive college career that saw him throw 92 touchdown passes in 49 games.
Wenning threw passes in two preseason games last year and helped the Ravens to a 22-13 victory over the Saints on eight of 13 passing for 117 yards with no touchdowns and no picks. After completing 10 of 15 passes in the preseason for 140 yards, the Ravens cut him and kept him on the practice squad all year before signing him again after the season. The Ravens cut him back on May 12.
Wenning proved durable and effective at Ball State, where he had a career passer rating of 134.7 while throwing just 42 interceptions. The word is he's got an above average arm with good accuracy and the ability to sit in the pocket.
PIPELINE TO PROS:
Long before Lou Holtz woke up the echoes and lorded over ESPN on Saturdays, he was the head coach at William and Mary and summed up those tough days with "Not enough Williams and too many Marys."
But the small-school mecca in Williamsburg, Va., has turned into a busy pipeline for the NFL these days under the stewardship of head coach Jimmye Laycock, the boss since 1980.
When former Tribe quarterback Mike Potts moved from the Falcons to the Bengals last week to take over Robert Livingston's position scouting the Southeast, it gave Laycock 10 alums either coaching or scouting in the NFL. The tree, of course, is topped off by Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, the guy that brought Potts into his 2008 training camp as an undrafted rookie.
Livingston, a former Tribe safety, moved to the Bengals coaching staff to assist the secondary this spring at about the same time another former William and Mary quarterback, Brent Caprio, hooked on with the Colts scouting department.
"Neither of them had an easy transition into it. They've worked for everything they've got," Laycock said from campus a few days ago as he spoke of Livingston and Potts. "They probably learned a little bit of that here. Nothing was given to them. They had to overcome adversity and keep working and hanging in there."
Both guys bring a varied, interesting background out of William and Mary. After transferring from Western Michigan and fighting through injuries, Livingston graduated in 2010 and then coached at Vanderbilt before coming to Cincinnati in 2012. Potts sat behind a Walter Payton Award winner and rotated with other quarterbacks before Tomlin inked him in Pittsburgh. At the end of that '08 training camp, Potts tried to hook on with some other clubs but ended up playing arena ball before landing in Atlanta as a scouting assistant. In two years he was an area scout and two years later he was in Cincinnati, a place where he'll have more responsibility.
"We were prepared pretty well," Potts said of his college days. "I was pretty well prepared when it came to coverages and adjusting to protections. Obviously the speed of the game in the NFL is different, but I felt like I was able to deal with that level when it came to preparation."
When Potts went to his first Bengals practice last week, he ran into, of all people, his quarterbacks coach in Pittsburgh. All-time Bengals passing leader Ken Anderson was in for a visit and much to Potts' surprise, Anderson recognized him and they re-connected.
"That's about the time I saw the show, 'Top Ten Players Who Should be in the Hall of Fame,' and he was one of them," Potts said. "I learned a lot from him. He was obviously a great player and to be able to get insight from a guy like that as a coach really helped me."
Potts found himself on a team that a few months after that training camp would win the whole thing and while he wasn't there, he thinks the experience helped him in his next profession.
"The big thing about scouting is knowing who's a high-level NFL player, a mid-level player and lower-level player," Potts said. "From the standpoint of speed, body-type, size, and it helps if you've been down there in the huddle on a couple of different levels."
Potts had his one moment in 2006, when his 409 yards at Towson's stadium named after Johnny Unitas is still the third biggest passing day in William and Mary history.
"He was a typical big, tall strong quarterback with a real live arm who didn't have a lot of movement," Laycock said. "Smart guy. If we could protect him, he could get the ball down the field. He could throw it around pretty good."
Well, they're all supposed to be smart at William and Mary. Livingston played like another safety Laycock had, Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.
"Rob was a tough, tough, gutty type of performer. Extremely smart player," Laycock said. "Sean McDermott played like that. He was that kind of player when he was here. Really on top of things all the time."
His isn't the biggest program, but it must be providing enough to get guys to the highest level, as they say. Like Laycock says, small-school guys are born looking for an edge.
"No.1, you've got guys that want to play and compete and maybe they weren't the biggest and maybe they weren't the fastest, but they were willing to work at it," Laycock said. "They couldn't have gone to William and Mary if they weren't smart and we like to think they got a good foundation of football. You couldn't get by totally on ability. You had to learn technique, you had to learn assignments, you had to learn what the opponent was doing. It gives you a good foundation and I think it's proven that as they've moved into the future."
Speaking of the future, now we can keep our eyes on another William and Mary safety. The son of Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes, Miles, is headed to Williamsburg in days to begin his college career. Tomlin was one of those advising him to go. It will be interesting to see if he ends up joining his Dad in the NFL, where, also, nine William and Mary players are on rosters.