Picking Pro Bowl brains

Andy Dalton

WEST OAHU, HAWAII — Let it be known that The Quarterback Pro Bowl couldn't get off the ground Wednesday until an AFC assistant coach had to yell into the end zone to break up an NFL Network interview with the first rookie quarterback-receiver combo from the same team in this game's history.

"Green and Dalton. We're starting right now," he said. "Right now."

And this game is feeling like a new start for the Bengals. Even though the 31-10 Wild Card loss to the Texans 18 days ago is as fresh as the Texans coaching staff working the four Bengals Pro Bowlers, with cornerback Johnathan Joseph stalking A.J. Green again and Houston center Chris Myers snapping the ball to Dalton.

"For the four of us just to be around these guys that have been to a lot of Pro Bowls, it's great," Dalton said. "It gives us exposure; it gives us something to build off for the future."

At 24, Dalton is the oldest of the Bengals Pro Bowlers, the leader of a nucleus that is slowly but surely finding out about the good things.

Fourth-quarter comebacks. A winning road record. A playoff run. Meet and greets here Over The Water with the game's best players. They've never had to fight the battle of recognition that Willie Anderson and Rich Braham fought for them.

How far have the Bengals come in a year?

Let Dalton tell you, since this is a year to the week of Carson Palmer's Mobile Manifesto at the Senior Bowl with the trade-me or trade-me demand that triggered what now seems like a time travel fantasy.

"A year ago I was in Mobile, Alabama trying to impress scouts and a year later I'm sitting here in Hawaii at the Pro Bowl. I just feel blessed to be where I am," Dalton said.

How far have Dalton and the Bengals come?

A year after he was trying to impress the scouts, an impressed Philip Rivers, a four-time Pro Bowler, is checking out Dalton this week as the Chargers quarterback rounds out a position group that includes starter Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh.

"I enjoy being around quarterbacks in general," Rivers said. "I kind of like to find out what makes them tick. I like to watch guys and see what you can learn from them."

This is Rivers's first look at Dalton after being impressed with him on TV. So he's watching the intangibles.

"I think he's going to be a great player; to me you can tell by just his presence," Rivers said. "Just watching him on tape. It wasn't too big for him right away, obviously. He's got a great presence. It's going to be fun to be around him this week. No, he doesn't say a lot. But he exudes a great confidence. He's a good-looking guy from the standpoint he's a big strong guy that can throw it."

Dalton is also looking to pick brains. And why not?

The Baby Bengals are getting the Hall of Fame treatment this week. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins is getting moved around up front by Richard Seymour and tight end Jermaine Gresham is alternating snaps with Antonio Gates, two Canton locks. Green is with a young receiver group trying to find its niche, including Roethlisberger's duo of Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, and Miami's Brandon Marshall.

But look at quarterback. For the AFC, Roethlisberger is a Canton lock. (Sorry kids, three AFC titles in a span of five seasons with an incredible passer rating and won-loss record) and for the NFC the Saints' Drew Brees and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers are on track, and Cam Newton is coming off a Hall of Fame rookie season.

"Find out how he makes everyone miss," joked Dalton when asked what he's trying to take from Big Ben. "But all these guys are good guys. Everybody is just trying to help everybody else. … A lot of it here, too, is down time and relaxing."

Which is why everybody is wondering why Roethlisberger is here at all. His ankle injury had limited him to all the mobility of a step-ladder in the dying moments of his own Wild Card loss to Denver 17 days ago. Indeed, after Wednesday's practice Roethlisberger shrugged and wondered ever so briefly about the sanity of playing this week and Dalton just may see more time than a No. 3.

"The coaches know," Roethlisberger said. "It's not one of those games where I'm going to have to scramble away from people. Hopefully it's quick and out."

Roethlisberger said he came for a variety of reasons. The honor. The presence of his two receivers.  And the honeymoon he didn't have time to take just before training camp.

"It was an excuse for me to bring the wife out," Roethlisberger said and that's something else he's got in common with the newlywed Dalton. He sees a rivalry cropping up as two AFC North quarterbacks in the death-grip of a division decided by defense and turnovers.

"From the first time we played them, I was a big supporter of his," Roethlisberger said. "We'll have a lot of battles for a long time."

Roethlisberger is going to be checking out Dalton, too, even though this is nothing close to the NFL this week. It's a very expensive game of flag football.

"I can kind of get (an) up close and personal look at what kind of quarterback and person he is," Roethlisberger said. "First and foremost, he's a good person. A great guy, easy to be around. I'll watch him throw, but it's kind of tough. You see the speed of everything (this week). He's a good quarterback. He deserves to be here."

And he is. Here at this Quarterback Pro Bowl, in the strange position of being No. 3 and not having anything of urgency to quarterback.

"I don't know what we're going to do today," Dalton said after practice. "Probably the beach. That's where my wife is probably going to be."

Jordan Dalton is also looking forward to doing some hiking. Someone suggested Diamond Head, but wondered if it is too steep.

Nothing that the Bengals and her husband didn't climb to make it here a year later.

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