In his presser earlier today, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis confirmed that rookie QB Andy Dalton will get his first taste of the NFL Friday night, leading the Bengals’ first-string offense against the Detroit Lions’ first-string defense. What can we expect? What might constitute "success?" Well, if history is any guide, the answers are "not a lot" and "maybe a field goal." Initial preseason outings for new Bengals quarterbacks have generally been uninspiring affairs.
For example, back in 2004, Carson Palmer was set to take the helm as the new starting quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals, despite a surprising 8-8 finish engineered by journeyman Jon Kitna the year before. In the preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bengals got the ball first and drove from their own 27 across midfield, largely on the strength of RB Rudi Johnson’s legs. Palmer attempted four passes on the drive, completing two. Unfortunately, the second completion was to Tampa Bay CB Ronde Barber.
On the first play of the next Bengals drive, Palmer hit WR Kelley Washington for 42 yards, giving the team a first down on the edge of field goal range. Of course, Palmer was promptly sacked for an eight-year loss on the next play. After another incompletion, Palmer hooked up with the guy then known as Chad Johnson for a 22-yard pickup on 3rd-and-18. Then the drive stalled and the Bengals settled for a 36-yard Shayne Graham field goal.
Palmer got the ball one last time in the second quarter, but that two-play drive consisted of a one-yard pass to RB Chris Perry that was nullified by an illegal formation penalty followed by a one-yard Perry run that ended in a lost fumble. Carson would end the day 3 of 8 for 74 yards, one interception and no TDs.
3-8-74-0-1. And that was after a full camp and preseason in 2003, a full season of practices and watching from the sideline, and a full offseason program.
Exen experience isn't proof against a rough first preseason game. In 2002, the new kid on the (concrete) block was Gus Frerotte. Despite Kitna having salvaged a couple games’ worth of hope out of the nightmare 2001 season, management saw fit to turn training camp into a "three-headed hydra" QB battle between Kitna, Frerotte and emerging megabust Akili Smith. Each one would draw a preseason start with the first team in order to help determine who would get the regular season nod.
Frerotte got to start the second preseason outing against the Indianapolis Colts. The Bengals began with good field position – their own 43 – and dink ‘n’ dunked their way to the Indianapolis 36 with a combination of short passes and short runs, the longest single gain being a 10-yard lob from Frerotte to TE Matt Schobel. However, a run for no gain by Rudi, a false start by G Mike Goff and a 3-yard pass to Chad left the Bengals stuck with a 4th and 9 at the Indy 35. Deciding against the long field goal attempt, Cincinnati elected to go for it – and watched as Frerotte’s pass intended for Chad was picked off by Nick Harper and run back 77 yards for a Colts touchdown.
Frerotte got two more tries, but both drives ended in punts. Overall, he finished the game 6 of 10 for 54 yards, one interception and no TDs.
And back in 2001, it was Kitna’s turn to take the wheel in the wake of the Smith train wreck. Kitna got to face off against Chicago to open the preseason, and stayed in the game into the third quarter. His drives would go: punt, punt, Brandon Bennett fumble, punt, FG, end of half, punt. Kitna’s numbers for the game were 8 of 18 for 65 yards and no TDs, but at least he didn’t throw a pick.
In short, if you’re a Dalton Doubter, you’re almost certainly going to get plenty to point to and complain about Friday night. It’s a virtual certainty that he and the offense as a whole will struggle mightily to achieve as much as two first downs in a row, never mind a touchdown. Expect penalties on false starts and botched formations. Interceptions? To me it’s not a question of "if" but "how many?" Fumbles? See "interceptions." And so on.
The thing for everyone to remember is, this is all normal. This is how starting over looks. So keep your Gradkowski powder dry and give the kid a chance to show us some improvement. As Dennis Janson says, there is the odd chance this could be fun. Probably not, but I’m sure everyone will forgive me if I cherish the delusion for a few more days.