I just missed the Bengals at their training camp home in Georgetown, Ky., but I caught up with them on Friday upon their return to Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. The middle of the Bengals locker room was crowded with the temporary stalls that scream summertime and overcrowded rosters. The image always tells a powerful story. A lot of these players won't be here in a couple weeks. Even rookie quarterback Andy Dalton had his belongings in a temporary stall. Call it paying dues. He'll move to a permanent stall soon enough. It might be his only comfort this season.
I asked Jay about taking on his new role with a rookie quarterback, and he emphasized how well Dalton was digesting the verbiage of a complex offense. "He's handling all of the audibles and all of the good things that you have to do as a quarterback," Gruden said. "He's a calm, cool customer right now. We definitely like what we see in his progression." One of the big questions will be how much the Bengals max protect versus how much they turn their weapons loose. "Especially with the exotic blitzes you see on second and long and third down, the problem is when you max protect, you don't get anybody out [on routes] hardly, and if [the defense] plays Cover 2 man or drops eight [defenders], you've got problems," Gruden said. "We have to have a good combination of both."
That Dalton's first two preseason games were against the Detroit Lions -- who unleashed Ndamukong Suh on him -- and the New York Jets will only help him in the long run, Gruden guessed. "Let's see worst-case scenarios for him and prepare and show him what it's going to be like in the regular season," Gruden said. "It's not going to be easy any week, any game that we play. He's going to see some things, take his licks, get up and come back at 'em."
Cincinnati opens the regular season as it should -- against intrastate and division rival Cleveland at Browns Stadium. For the two teams chasing the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North, the game should reveal plenty about their prospects in 2011. None of the Bengals' first five opponents (Browns, Broncos, 49ers, Bills and Jaguars) had a winning record in 2010. Of course, neither did the Bengals. With a rookie quarterback under center, the odds for a playoff season are long. Another losing season appears likely.