Andy Dalton has put himself in the middle of it all this summer.
You look at what Andy Dalton has done in the last 72 hours or so and you wonder what more the franchise quarterback can do in his efforts to go five-for-five and lead the Bengals to their fifth straight playoff appearance.
On Friday night he led one of the most successful first drives of the year in the 13 seasons of the Marvin Lewis Era by completing all three of his passes, one for a TD, against the Giants in a brisk six-play drive that never saw third down.
Then on Sunday afternoon on a day off, for the third time in his five seasons as the Bengals quarterback he orchestrated King for a Day at King's Island. Where, by the way, he wasn't booed. The Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation hosted 250 ill children and their families for lunch and a V.I.P experience at one of the nation's most popular amusement parks.
Then on Monday he commandeered the Bengals' practice with not only his 17 of 21 passing, but also his direct words to center Russell Bodine and the offense after a low snap.
All without throwing an interception. All with a definite edge. All summer he has been asked if he would have been this assertive last year. On Monday Dalton allowed, "It's been a point of emphasis. I definitely think I've grown and people see it."
Forget Monday's 60-yard bomb to wide receiver A.J. Green running down the right sideline or the six completions to tight end Tyler Eifert, or the slants to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu during 11-on-11. It was the "we-got-to-have-the-snap," bark that got the attention of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
If the Bengals reach the Promised Land, will Monday be the turning point? The day Dalton snapped after The Snap?
"I didn't have to say anything. I just sat there and watched," Jackson said after practice. "I wanted to see what everybody was going to do. The quarterback did it. That was very pleasing to me because this is his offense."
When Jackson spoke with Dalton this past offseason, he emphasized working on his leadership as well as his quarterbacking. He felt Dalton was already a good guy and a good teammate. But he needed more from his quarterback. Such as some salt and vinegar to mix with the ginger. And Dalton has responded.
On Monday, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick noticed Dalton talking to the entire offense midway through practice, right after The Snap.
"I saw something today I've never seen and that was him addressing the offense," Kirkpatrick said. "And he addressed them in a professional manner. And he got a great response because he didn't have to address them anymore. Those are the tools that we've been looking for out of him.
"He challenged us too," Kirkpatrick said. "There were too many mistakes, silly mistakes, and it pretty much motivated the defense and the offense. Just off his leadership."
There had been a few drops and a few incompletions before Dalton had his say about halfway through the workout. He could feel the practice slipping away in the middle of two off days, never to be had again in their effort to win in the postseason.
"We've got an off day tomorrow, so (Monday was) an easy day to let get away and not be too focused," Dalton said. "But we're trying to get better. To get to where we want to go, today is a day that can help us. We just weren't as efficient as we wanted to be early on. Just trying to push guys. I was mainly talking to the offense, but obviously (the defense) hears things too. We got on a little roll and it tightens everybody up."
Dalton has barked about the snaps before, but this time the media seemed to have a better view and it appeared to be a bit more demonstrative
"We've had too many of those being an issue. Enough has been said," he said.
Jackson had to take immense satisfaction in the moment. His whole concept of leadership, his and Dalton's, is based on trust.
Cincinnati Bengals host Training Camp practice at Paul Brown Stadium Practice Fields 08/17/2015
"I feel like a coach watching growth in a very important position where it makes a difference to our team," Jackson said. "When a guy misses a route or a guy misses an assignment, I can't be on the field to fix it. That's his job. That's what he's supposed to do. That message, he gets it now. That's what he does and he's grown into that.
"But that's because there's a respect and trust from his teammates and a trust and respect from him. It goes both ways. I think he can demand that from guys now and he has my backing 100 percent… He knows I give him the green light… whether it's changing the play or making sure guys are doing it the way we want it done… He's comfortable with letting guys know when things are unacceptable."
Of course, it all comes down to big wins and Dalton can't do anything about that for another month. But for the past week Dalton has engineered this offense with virtually no turnovers, another Jackson demand.
Here's one reason why Dalton has that respect. About 70 of the 90 players on this roster either got here with Dalton or have come after he has led the Bengals to 40 victories and four straight playoff appearances. That's all they know.
He may get booed at a celebrity softball game in his own city. But when Mike Sando, ESPN.com's quarterback guru, stopped by practice Monday, he wondered how the Bills and Browns were doing.
"What would they give up for Dalton?' Sando asked. "A first-rounder. Maybe more….He's gold if you don't have one."
Sando does a must-read annual poll where he asks GMs and coaches to rate the league's quarterbacks with one being the best and five the worst. Dalton came in this season at 2.9. "Solid," he says, in the third tier with such guys as Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, and Carson Palmer.
"We're so fixated on what these guys aren't. They aren't elite, they aren't this or that. But just to be a starting quarterback in this league and a legitimate one, you're making $15 million a year. He's highly valuable.
"He has to get the play-off monkey off his back," Sando said. "It's a team endeavor. I think they'll get there. This is a stable team. They run it like the Packers. When that happens, I'd like to see if that will give him the juice to be even (more of a leader). There's a pelt on the wall. 'We have a playoff win and I'm a reason for it.' I'd like to see what happens then."
Until then, Dalton has quietly been doing what franchise QBs are supposed to do. Lead his teammates. Complete passes. Be a factor in the community.
On Sunday at King's Island, they broke the 250 into two groups. Each had lunch and spent time with Dalton taking photos and getting autographs before they hit the park. It's good to be King for a Day. Even if you know the crown rests uneasy.
"When I'm out in the community, it's all support. Especially something like that," Dalton said. "People want to come up and take pictures and all that kind of stuff. It's cool. It's fun to have the support of the city."
Until Sept. 13, there's not much more he can do. Jackson likes what he sees and knows what he needs.
"That's his challenge week in and week out," Jackson said. "You have to play as consistent as you can play to the best of your ability and give us a chance to win. That's all I ask. If we do that, great things happen."