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Notes: Gruden confident in Dalton's progress; Manti time; Lewis still wary of strapped Steelers


Andy Dalton

Updated: 3:15 p.m.

INDIANAPOLIS — Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is surprised to hear the debate among the pundits wondering if Andy Dalton is the quarterback that can take the Bengals all the way.

Gruden acknowledged Friday at the NFL scouting combine that Dalton and everyone else on offense has to get better after the Bengals failed to score a touchdown in their two elimination games last season.

But after quarterbacking back-to-back playoff berths and throwing seven more touchdowns with a higher completion percentage than he did his Pro Bowl rookie year, Dalton has Gruden's support like did two years ago during the draft process.

"He may not be in the category of Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers and those guys. Yet," Gruden said. "He's in year two, he's a great guy. He competes his butt off and I know everyone wants perfection from that position. It's a very criticized position. As it should be. I think he's done pretty well for his first two years. We need better.

"He's done some pretty good things. Beat Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh. A critical game for us to get into the playoffs. We didn't light it up on offense. He managed the game well, we punted when we had to punt, the defense played well. He made the play at the end of the game to get us into field position. I think he can be successful."

But Gruden certainly has ideas on what he needs Dalton to improve.

"Statistically he did get better from year one to year two. More touchdowns. Won one more game. It didn't probably seem like it, but he did," Gruden said. "If he continues to progress, get his passing percentage up, maybe get some more creative plays on his own, avoid some sacks. Throw the ball away when he has to. Maybe get a little better on the deep ball, then he will get better … I'm sure he is (the guy)."

But the theme of this offseason contunues. It is going to take more than Dalton to win a Super Bowl.

"I hope (Andrew) Whitworth is the guy that takes us all the way. I hope (Clint) Boiling is and BenJarvus (Green-Ellis) is and A.J. (Green) is," Gruden said. "That's who we have. We're not going to trade anybody or get somebody new. We have to do a good job making sure (Dalton) takes the necessary steps to progress and get better in year three."

Gruden also weighed in on some other topics Friday. He embraces the idea of a change-of-pace runner for Green-Ellis, a hot draft topic for the Bengals, and they're also on the lookout for a backup quarterback with Bruce Gradkowski headed to free agency. And Gruden says he's happy right now with the three guys surrounding two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green: Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones with Andrew Hawkins in the slot.

» "BenJarvus would probably welcome it," Gruden said of a change-up guy. "It takes some carries off of him. Some guys want the ball every single play, but some guys like to get that rest and come out and have that change of pace guy. It would be nice. Cedric Peerman proved he could possibly be that guy. He had some big runs against Oakland and other teams. Maybe he'll step up in that role next year."

But with Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard free agents, Gruden says "you need three or four backs to be effective." And he's not saying one has to be a speed guy.

"You need two good backs you can count on. Like quarterback, you are one heartbeat away from them carrying it every time," Gruden said. "You don't want two little scatback guys, you want two that can carry it between the tackles and one who can carry it on third down. If you think Brian Leonard and B-Scott are both free agents and you can't re-sign either one then that is two holes we have to fill."

» "I like our receiving corps the way it is right now. I love Hawkins in the slot, we've got Mo Sanu back and he's a hell of a player. Marvin Jones is making serious strides. He was doing great and we were going to start him against Pittsburgh and he got hurt. Then he kind of set back, and he came back like gangbusters at the end. We've got some players over there that can compete and play."

MANTI TIME: Embattled Notre Dame inside linebacker Manti Te'o passed his first NFL test at the league's scouting combine Saturday when he emerged from his Barnum and Bailey news conference pretty much unscathed and smooth.

Next on Saturday's schedule were the first of Te'o's 15-minute interviews and the Bengals are believed to be one of those 18 teams. But given that Te'o plays inside linebacker, the Bengals already have a middle backer in Vontaze Burfict, and aren't inclined to take an inside linebacker with the 21st pick, his odds of coming to Cincinnati aren't good.

It was Te'o's first news conference since the story broke last month that his relationship with a terminally ill woman was an online hoax. And the circus was definitely in town. About 200 reporters jockeyed around Te'o, a scene that resident Combine archivist Gil Brandt said drew a third more reporters than Tim Tebow's 2010 extravaganza and more than Maurice Clarett's 2005 meltdown.

"And Clarett was on the front page of The New York Times," Brandt said.

Te'o admitted he was embarrassed, but he said he's tried to move beyond it and show NFL teams that he's trustworthy.

"Teams want to be able to trust their players," Te'o said. "It was definitely embarrassing. It's part of the process. But it will only make me stronger. If I was embarrassed, I wouldn't be standing here."

He said the toughest part of the blizzard of publicity was seeing his last name in the headlines.

"After you die, the only thing that's left is your last name," Te'o said.

He was asked why he waited so long to go public and if he understood why people doubted him.

"It was just a whirlwind of stuff. A 22-year-old, 21-year old at that time, just trying to get your thoughts right. Everybody was just kind of in chaos for a little bit, so you let that chaos die down and wait until everybody's ready to listen," Te'o said.

"From our point of view we wanted everything to come out first and then have my side come out. The way we did I felt worked best for me. I'm very grateful for those who helped me to get through that time. I felt it went as smoothly as it could."

Te'o said Saturday that he had spoken to two teams, the Texans and Packers, but he doesn't know how the incident is going to affect his draft stock.

"They've wanted to hear it from me what the truth was. They haven't really said anything about it affecting me," he said. "Some guys just talk briefly for 30 seconds and the next 14 minutes is all plays and getting down to business. That's how I prefer it to be."

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said he'll need more than 15 minutes.

"I think for me the film starts it but I don't know that I can understand Manti Te'o in 15 minutes," Lewis said earlier in the week. "I can tell you that. I'm going to let what he did on tape speak for him and be his calling card to start off and then we'll work from there."

LEWIS WARY: No surprise here. When Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette approached Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis at the Combine and asked if his team has passed the Steelers in the AFC North, Lewis wasn't buying.

The Bengals may be young and $50 million under the cap and the Steelers may be $12 million over and jettisoning some of their aging playmakers, but Lewis, the native Pittsburgher who broke in with the Steelers, is preparing for two more donnybrooks like all the previous 21 donnybrooks in his 10 seasons he has built the Bengals into a physical AFC North contender.

"I knew what it took to do that. It had to be that type of approach. You can't come in there and Mickey Mouse them, you're not going to finesse them, you got to play physical football," Lewis told Dulac. "You've got to outplay them. Our guys understand that. They know what it takes to win football in our division. If we continue to start there, the rest of the games take care of themselves because we know how tough it is in preparing for and playing the battle on the road in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cleveland, and what it takes to win there."

Lewis alluded to how 49ers Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh retooled his roster even before the salary cap era.

"They had great Hall of Fame players and only one played his last season in San Francisco," Lewis said of quarterback Steve Young. "It just goes to show how difficult that is because you, as a player, still feel like you can play at this level. But the club at times has to, for better or worse, move away from you and move forward. You might take a little dip for a bit but then it's got to move forward.

"Pittsburgh had tremendous players. Mike (Tomlin) and Kevin (Colbert) have done a great job of putting their football team together. I don't feel they'll be any different as they go forward. I know how Mr. Rooney and Art feel about those things. They've just got a great plan."

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