With Dalton iffy, Bengals prep

Andy Dalton

Updated: 8:30 p.m.

With Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton seemingly on the shelf at Wednesday's practice (he didn't throw in the first half hour and was rated as limited), the Bengals may very well be trying to do something they haven't done in nearly 22 years.

If they start Bruce Gradkowski Sunday in Denver (4:15 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12), the Bengals will be attempting to win back-to-back games with two different starting quarterbacks for the first time since 1989 when Turk Schonert beat the Chiefs in Kansas City on linebacker Leon White's fourth-quarter fumble return TD on Oct. 1, and Boomer Esiason came back to engineer a win in Pittsburgh on Oct. 8.

Dalton would appear to be questionable at best. When the media was allowed to watch the first 30 minutes Wednesday, he didn't join in the throwing with Gradkowski and practice-squadder Zac Robinson. He was dressed and wearing the helmet he didn't have on the sidelines during the second half in Cleveland, but when he tossed the ball to them he did it left-handed and underhand.

"We need to get Bruce some work. Andy will be limited, and we'll watch and just be careful with him," said head coach Marvin Lewis before practice. "I think the more we allow him to rest, the better he will be for Sunday."

Wednesday's injury report specifically said it was Dalton's right wrist, which seems to be why he's having trouble gripping the ball. There are no indications it's a long-term problem because the Bengals have said they're not bringing in another quarterback, but Dalton says he's day-to-day as he tries to get a grip on his grip. 

"I guess with the wrist injury, that's a big part of it," Dalton said. "There is still a little bit of pain in there, but like I said, it's getting better every day."

In reviewing the tape, Dalton said he thinks Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor hit the wrist as he was falling after throwing a high incompletion to wide receiver A.J. Green on the last Bengals offensive snap of the first half.

"I was really anxious," Dalton said of the scene of his half-time X-ray. "There wasn't a clock in there, and I didn't know if the team was still in the locker room or if we were already on the field. I ended up going out there and the third quarter had already started. I was telling them, 'Just let me get on the sideline, just let me see if I can throw. Who cares what the injury is, just let me go out there and see if I can throw.' "

Dalton said Wednesday he was at the morning walkthrough but he also spent time during the morning and at lunch getting treatment. All he could do was say he's "hopeful."

"I'm going to do everything I can to play. Like I said, we'll evaluate each day," he said. "I've been getting better every day, so we'll see."

Meanwhile, Gradkowski does what he has always done for the past six seasons in which he has started 20 games.


"It's different just from the fact you don't get all the reps in practice and you have to be mentally prepared," he said of coming off the bench. "It takes a little adjusting but it's fun and that's what you have to do. When someone goes down, the next guy has to step up."

That's what Gradkowski did last Sunday when he came off the bench for his sixth career fourth-quarter victory and that's what he may do now when he could make his first Bengals start. A win would make him and Dalton the first two Bengals quarterbacks to get wins in the same season since Carson Palmer (six) and Jon Kitna (two) did it in 2004.

"None of us are surprised," said quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese despite Gradkowski's rocky preseason. "Because that's the confidence we have in Bruce. When it was a real game that means something on your win-loss record, he came through for us in a big way. On the road. A division opponent. All the good things in the end stacked up in his favor."

Gradkowski is already well known in these parts for beating a pair of first-place Bengals teams in 2006 and 2009 quarterbacking the Buccaneers and Raiders, respectively. After he did it for the Bengals this time, he wanted to make sure he gave Bengals president Mike Brown a message.

"It was definitely awesome to be on this side of it and that's the first thing I told Mr. Brown when I came in the locker room," Gradkowski said. "I told him I'm trying to bring that luck, that will, that heart, whatever it takes to win football games. It's great to be on this side of it. There's some great guys in this locker room, it's a team atmosphere and the way our defense played and held us in that game. Offensively the way the line played, the running backs, everyone did a great job that game. The young receivers; it's exciting stuff."

Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was on the Tampa Bay staff that drafted Gradkowski in the sixth round in 2006 and he was on the headsets during that season Gradkowski gave the winless Bucs their first win of the year on an eight-yard touchdown pass with 35 seconds left against the Bengals. Gruden loves what Gradkowski brings to Dalton and the locker room.

"Andy has done a great job so I'm asking him questions and him asking me," Gradkowski said. "Whatever we do to help the team get better that's what we're going to do. It's a tough job for one person and that's off the field with the leadership role and helping the guys with the offense and so forth. It takes a couple guys. We're excited and keep going."

Dalton said Gradkowski even helped him prepare for Wednesday’s news conference.

"He's just kind of talking through things," Dalton said. "I can come on the sideline and he can tell me what he saw compared to what I saw, and it's the same thing I was trying to do when he's in the game. He'd come in and ask me what I saw on certain things and I'd just tell him little things I saw from the sideline. That's one area where we really help each other out."

Gradkowski didn't play against the Broncos during the last two seasons in Oakland and his record as a starter is merely 6-14. But Zampese and the Bengals see more than numbers when they look at him.

"He's got NFL starts and NFL wins under his belt; that's a nice thing to have in your group at any time," Zampese said. "He came in and he was composed and poised. Things didn't work out as well as we had thought early on but he just kept at it. He's a tough guy and has a fighter mentality and it showed as it progressed and his smarts won out as he went."

So does Bengals outside linebacker Thomas Howard, Gradkowski's teammate in Oakland the past two years.

"Bruce is the ultimate in what a professional athlete should be," Howard said. "No matter the situation, no matter all the talk, no matter what's going on around him, he gets himself ready to play and he prepares."

Plus, he's a heck of a teammate, Howard said with a smile.

"He invited me over for dinner tonight and his wife is cooking for me," he said.

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