Things are looking up for AJ McCarron even as the Bengals added another quarterback.
AJ McCarron is in front of his locker Monday talking about former big-league pitchers Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, and Mark Prior and showing how they have changed the throwing motion that helped bring two national titles to the University of Alabama.
"Did y'all play baseball?" McCarron asks a gaggle of reporters before he goes into his best St. Paul of Mobile, Ala., windup. "You know when you're coming off the mound and you're young and they teach you to rip through? It's the wrong thing to do.
"Because when you rip (down), now that front shoulder is open, your arm is back here and now your arm has to catch up with the rest of your body."
McCarron, last year's fifth-rounder who missed most of last season with shoulder tendinitis, is back in town happy, healthy and emboldened by a stint at Dr. Tom House's quarterback camp at USC.
In fact, now that Terrelle Pryor has signed to become the fourth quarterback on the roster, Paul Brown Stadium has become the House of House with all four checking in with the good doctor at some point this offseason.
McCarron, tipped off to House by starter Andy Dalton, is so fired up by the former big-league pitcher's knowledge of throwing mechanics that he's headed back for another week before the start of training camp in late July. House has worked with not only the top pitchers but also the best quarterbacks and now McCarron is showing the motion that has Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu saying about the ball, "It's getting on you fast and he's accurate."
"Foot strike…foot strike…and hips," McCarron says. "Your hips have to come before everything else. Your shoulder is still here, but your hips are going. I was here, (the shoulder) already open when the ball was still back here and that put so much stress on back of the shoulder because it was two times harder to catch up to everything else."
Now the motion is more compact. The hips crisper, the torque sharper. As long as the hips and ball are pointed in the right place, the throws are more accurate. It's the best deep ball, he says, he's ever thrown.
He said all these things all offseason, but now that he's throwing long to the flight of speedy receivers on his side, Marvin Jones, James Wright, Denarius Moore, and Brandon Tate, it has translated.
Last year, I remember when I first got here, I was underthrowing a lot the first couple of days. I could tell something was wrong," McCarron says. "It's just going out there and throwing the deep ball today and overthrowing a guy like D. Moore by two yards when you're taking a five-step drop and hitching, it just feels good…I missed it. But I've got my arm strength back and it's better than it's ever been.
"You've got to take positives out of it. I felt like since I've been throwing this whole time since we've been up here and starting out throwing to the receivers, I'm really completing a really high percentage of passes. I feel like every throw is in the right spot. I just feel good."
McCarron's comeback is against the backdrop of a suddenly intriguing battle for Dalton's backup job and the No. 3 slot. The No. 2 job figures to be McCarron's to lose and if he does, it figures to go to Pryor, the former Raiders quarterback drafted in the third round to Oakland in 2011 by current Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson
"That's not even in my mindset," said Pryor, who also joins Josh Johnson in the fold. "My mindset is just to fit in where I fit in and work my butt off when I'm called upon, in terms of practice and doing what I'm supposed to do to help Andy out with whatever he needs me to do. That's all I'm here for right now, and to be a great leader off the field to the guys. That's all I can control."
There's a lot more swag backing up Dalton than years before. At least on the college level. There is McCarron with his two rings and there is Pryor with his legendary Ohio State career.
"It's fun to have a bunch of guys working together because you can feel the Mojo of the unit working together," says quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese. "There are four guys out here all going at the same time all working and everybody wants to do it right and that's fun. I think (Pryor's signing) raised everybody's (competitiveness). It's not one or the other. It's everybody's. That's good. It's really good right now."
Pryor felt the cold shoulder in the Kansas City quarterback room, where he was cut last week, but he doesn't sense the same frosty air here.
"I have a little past with Andy from working out with Tom House out in California, so it was easy to slip in and talk to Andy," Pryor says. "Andy's a real comfortable guy, so it's not the same deal."
McCarron also gives Pryor a nod. "He's a good athlete," McCarron says. "He's been in the league a couple years. So it's always good to add somebody to the room that's been through the process and is a competitor within his own and likes to compete. That's good for the room. That's how everybody is. That's the way J.J. is, and A.D. and me. We all like competing. It's making the room better."
McCarron admits he's in his own zone these days and Zampese is watching it.
"He was hurt. When you're hurt, you don't feel good. When you don't feel good, you don't project and a lot of the positives of him are he's able to project to the group," Zampese says. "We've got what we thought we had all along. Each throw means something to him. And it shows on his face every time he doesn't think he did it right."
Last year, when he didn't put on shoulder pads until nearly December, it was all wrong.
"It kind of kills your confidence. It kills your mood coming into this place every day," McCarron says of the injury. "You want to be here but you don't because… I'm not doing anything. I feel worthless and everybody's looking at me that way. So coming in this year knowing I'm back and I'm better than I've ever been and this is my second year being around the guys, and I know their personalities, it just feels great."
Pryor also knows throwing mechanics are the key to his fate. Knowing the offense won him a roster spot this past weekend in rookie minicamp. Now he, McCarron, and Johnson are going to have to spin the ball to sort out the rest.
"From talking to coach Hue he said I had great practices, threw the ball well and got the ball to the right person in terms of progression," Pryor says. "It's like he says, he can go to sleep and he knows where the ball is supposed to go. As long as you can fit in his offense and know exactly where the ball goes because of the coverage, you have a good chance to make the team. So just keep on working at that, keep on looking at progressions, keep on harping to the teammates to think Bengal football all the time. That's all I'm here to do."