One of the things that many people attribute to the potential success for the Bengals in 2012 is that second-year stars Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will have the benefit of a full offseason to work on things and digest a more diverse playbook. The lockout last year really handcuffed the rookies in their development, as they had limited time to work together. It looked pretty scary in the preseason, but Dalton and company overcame the shortened offseason and performed well.
Now the fear of a "Sophomore Slump" has been creeping into Bengals' fans minds and the hopes are that Dalton won't be complacent and rest his laurels on his 2011 Pro Bowl campaign. According to Bengals.com Editor, Geoff Hobson, we can be relieved to know that Dalton not only looks sharp this spring, but is working hard to better his game.
First, Dalton has been hitting the weights a bit more this offseason and has increased his playing weight by almost ten pounds.
If you guess his draft day weight of 217 pounds, you'd be wrong.
"Nope," he might say triumphantly. "Try 224.6."
Most of the new thickness is through his chest and shoulders after Dalton went home following the Wild Card loss in Houston trying to figure out how to quarterback his team deeper into the NFL hunt. After the 16-game pounding and the 24-hour flu bug before the playoff game shriveled him to 208 pounds, he felt like he needed to get stronger in the weight room.
But while he lived with the weights he also watched tape of his rookie struggles with the long ball and he knew he needed to make putting more meat on his deep passes one of his off-season priorities.
Now, some may cringe at that because usually added weight leads to a decrease in mobility. It's that mobility that made Dalton so effective last year and helped make the Bengals one of the top team's in sacks allowed. But, that doesn't seem to be something to worry about, as some of that added bulk is also being added to his legs. All in all, this is part of an effort on Dalton's part to be a better deep ball passer.
If there were two things you could knock Dalton for last season, it was that inaccuracy on his deep ball and a penchant for slow starts. It's these two things that Dalton is looking to improve on in 2012:
"We're going to start faster this year," Dalton said this week. "There were game where I stunk in the first half. I'm not going to have those games."
Under the watchful eye of quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, the Bengals' maven of mechanics, Dalton is reportedly going long better and easier than he did last year. Zampese, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, no one, has questions about his arm strength. For Dalton, the long ball starts with the legs, not the arm.
In the games that have already begun, which are merely pitch-and-catch with his receivers, Dalton has reportedly looked sharp. His fast ball seems to have more zip to some. Gruden isn't sure about all that but says he looks stronger and in one throwing session this week word was he hit all but one deep "Go," route with the only incompletion a drop
Remember the lack of arm strength as a knock on Dalton coming out of college? It didn't seem to be an issue with his short and intermediate routes last year, as he had plenty of zip. Well, it appears he has even more now and his long ball should benefit from the increased practices, weights and attention to the details of the route. It should pay off.
Finally, if you're still worried about Dalton becoming complacent, take a look at these quotes that reflect his competitiveness and work ethic:
"When I threw my Go ball, I wasn’t very good last year," Dalton said. "I know there were sometimes I was rushing my drop because I felt like I had to get back quicker than I really had to. I thought there was going to be pressure when there wasn't really going to be pressure. Little things mentally. I knew what was going on, but I'd go back quicker and when I did I'd step on my back foot. The ball wasn't where I wanted it to be.
"I'd rush the top of the drop," he said of the last two or three steps in the five-step drop. "I'm not hitting that fifth step, hitching up, and getting it out. It’s a hit the fifth step, kind of have to gather, and then hitch, and then try to throw it, so the timing is off."My focus has been more on getting that fifth step and really getting that hitch, and really getting more into it," Dalton said. "Rather than trying to feel a throw out there. Just let it go. There were so many times last year we were running by guys even if they were the off corner. A.J. and some of these other guys are going to get past them. It can be frustrating when you know you've got it and you just missed the throw. Hopefully it will happen a little less this year."
There aren't any absolute guarantees that Dalton will be a vastly improved quarterback and really, he doesn't have all that much to improve upon. But, unlike so many quarterback busts of the past, Dalton is working to better himself and the team. We should see dividends on his hard work on the field this year.