Ah, the backup quarterback in the NFL. Sometimes they are nothing more than an insurance policy behind an entrenched starter, while others they are the most popular guy on the team if that starter falters. Either way, every NFL team needs one and the Cincinnati Bengals are no different.
Fortunately for the boys in orange and black, they are in a better state than some other franchises out there. Though Andy Dalton has his critics, he is a playoff-caliber quarterback who has had a lot more early success than quarterbacks in the past. It's the guys behind him that bring a sense of uneasiness amongst the team's faithful.
Since taking over the offensive coordinator job in 2011, Jay Gruden has brought in quarterbacks that he is familiar with. For the first two years, journeyman Bruce Gradkowski backed up Dalton here in Cincinnati before he bolted to the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason. He did have a moment of brilliance in the season opener against the Cleveland Browns in 2011, but was mostly relegated to mop-up duty after that.
In their decision to overhaul that group, Gruden brought in another familiar face from his time with his brother and the Buccaneers in Josh Johnson. Mobile and athletic, Gruden likes Johnson because of his familiarity with his system. Still, there are issues that come with Johnson and that's why he hasn't found a job as an NFL starter in his five seasons.
They also grabbed John Skelton off of waivers this offseason to compete for the job. Skelton is the anti-Johnson, in that he is in the mold of former Bengals quarterback, Carson Palmer. Big-armed, immobile and having great height, Skelton has a winning record as an NFL starter, but seems to be more of the type of quarterback to fit the past Bob Bratkowski system.
WHAT KIND OF A QUARTERBACK DOES A WEST COAST OFFENSE NEED?
There are a few traits that a quarterback needs to embody while running Gruden's scheme. Let's examine each to get a better grasp.
- Mobility: A quarterback in this system needs to be mobile. Rollouts, waggles, and avoiding pressure are musts in this this system for any quarterback. Now, we're not saying someone has to be Michael Vick, Cam Newton and/or Robert Griffin III, but enough to get by in these areas. Though Dalton isn't a speedster, he has shown the ability to tuck and run when needed and has been effective. Johnson has the advantage in this area.
- Taking Care of the Football: Yes, Dalton came under fire last year for a rise in turnovers, but he has still scored many more touchdowns than had turnovers (52 touchdowns against 36 turnovers). He efficiency in the redzone can't be ignored, either, as he hasn't thrown an interception in that area in his first two seasons. Though Johnson has had some good moments in the preseason, particularly in the opener against the Falcons, he has shown the inability to properly take care of the football as evidenced by his two fumbles against the Titans. Furthermore, Johnson has five touchdowns to 17 turnovers in his pro career. Oh, and Skelton? Try 15 touchdowns against 32 turnovers. Yikes.
- Efficient Passing: The West Coast Offense is based on controlled passing and a balanced running attack to set up big plays in the screen game and deep balls off of play action. In between the running plays and these big play attempts, the quarterback needs to be able to excel in the short and intermediate passing games. Dalton is very good in this area, hence his relative success in the red zone and the knock being on his deep ball--not this area. Both Skelton and Johnson have struggled with accuracy, though both have upsides in this area. Both Johnson and Skelton have hovered around the 60 percent area, in terms of completion percentage.
SO WHO'S THE GUY FOR THE JOB?
I'm not sure that I'm sold on either at this point. I suppose that given his familiarity in the system and the ability to make plays with his legs, that Johnson would be a better fit. We're not adding Zac Robinson in this discussion because he hasn't made it off of the Practice Squad in two seasons and appears to be headed for the PUP List. Still, Skelton's ability to fling the ball with his arm strength could win the day.
Regardless, don't be surprised if the team looks at wiaver wire options after final cuts. They have added players to their final roster at that time in the past and if a decent guy is out there, they may spring for him. After all, some of these teams with unsettled starting quarterback issues have been hoarding a glut of guys and some will need to be shed off of their rosters.