One of the biggest developments early on in Bengals training camp has been the struggle of backup quarterback AJ McCarron.
Yes, the same McCarron who had a quality showing in organized padless activities this offseason. The same AJ McCarron who the Bengals appeared confident would be their No. 2 and only backup QB behind Andy Dalton once the final 53-man roster was set. And, the same AJ McCarron who has received rave reviews from many of teammates (though, mostly those who also went to University of Alabama.)
But the McCarron we've seen thus far in training camp looks doesn't look like the guy you want starting in an NFL game if Dalton goes down with an injury. That's not to say McCarron won't rebound and have a good camp later on, but his performance thus far has to make Bengals coaches hesitant to roll with McCarron as the only quarterback other than Dalton on the final roster.
Most of his trouble has been throwing passes too high or too wide for his receivers to catch up to.
Thought AJ mccarron was the future ☕️ pic.twitter.com/CcNYTwzWb6— Houston Crawford (@htown) August 4, 2015
Nice route from D. Moore, but McCarron little off in red zone 7 on 7. https://t.co/iL0vmL21XC— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) August 4, 2015
AJ McCarron really struggling with accuracy in simple QB throwing different routes to receivers drill. @Local12 pic.twitter.com/iALYLM5Rc9— Richard Skinner (@Local12Skinny) August 2, 2015
AJ McCarron is overthrowing a lot of balls here in drills. Sailing balls high and out of bounds on sideline routes— Brennen Warner (@BrennenWarner) August 2, 2015
#Bengals going through QB-WR drills. Receivers running comeback routes. AJ McCarron overshot three passes. WRs had a couple drops— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) August 2, 2015
While I don't see the Bengals cutting McCarron this year, it is possible his poor performance in camp thus far may end up leading to Josh Johnson making the final roster. That would leave the Bengals with three QBs and having to sacrifice a player at another position to ensure there's a capable backup behind Dalton if anything were to happen to him.
As of now, the likeliest positions to suffer would be defensive back or defensive line. In my latest 53-man roster projection, I have the Bengals keeping 10 defensive backs and 10 defensive lineman. If a third QB were to be kept, one of those two positions would likely suffer, leading to a guy like Margus Hunt, Derron Smith, Chris-Lewis Harris, or Pat Sims to be cut.
Then again, between the Bengals having a great offensive line and utilizing a quick-passing offense, Dalton is rarely touched by defenders, let alone put at risk for injury. Even if McCarron continues to struggle through camp and into the preseason games, the Bengals may still roll the dice and assume Dalton will stay healthy for all of 2015.
If something were to happen to Dalton during the year, don't be shocked if Johnson gets signed and ends up starting the very next week. Even coming off the street during the regular season, he'll probably be more effective than McCarron who has yet to play one NFL snap.
Remember, McCarron only got a handful of practices in late last year after opening the year on PUP with an injured throwing arm. He's never even taken a live preseason snap, and even if he ends up being better than Johnson, the coaching staff will feel more secure with the veteran backup. Johnson already has one season of backing up Dalton under his belt (2013), so it wouldn't be a big surprise to see him do it again in 2015.
Whatever happens, it's clear the Bengals want and need McCarron to step up his game and perform better between now and final roster cuts. Guys like Hunt, Sims, or Smith could see their Bengals careers in jeopardy if McCarron doesn't show improvement.