A couple of friendly faces visited the Cincinnati Bengals training camp recently. Former linebacker Takeo Spikes and defensive back Solomon Wilcots, representing the SiriusXM NFL radio network, attended Monday’s practice inside Paul Brown Stadium. The alumni of the orange and black sat down with Pro Bowl quarterback Andy Dalton to talk about his feelings on a myriad of topics heading into 2016.
Even though Dalton was unable to finish last season because of a broken thumb, he sounds optimistic looking forward to the possibilities of the club’s outlook this year.
“I felt like I really grew as a player last year,” Dalton said. “This year, it’s a little bit different, we have some new guys I’m going to be throwing to, so it’s just building the chemistry there. I think that’s the biggest thing—making sure they’re up to speed on what we’re doing because we had a good relationship with Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones and the guys that we lost. So, it’s making sure those guys are up to speed and in the spots they’re supposed to be and that’s the best thing we can expect to do right now.”
The topic of wide receiver chemistry came up a few times from Spikes and Wilcots, be it with the new cast members of Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell, or the one he’s spent six years building with A.J. Green. Spikes specifically asked Dalton about LaFell and how that relationship has been blooming.
“You know, he’s (LaFell) been solid ever since he’s been here. I think the first time we were out on the field, it wasn’t like he was asking a lot of questions,” Dalton said. “You could tell he was in his book and what we were trying to accomplish. He’s a bigger-bodied guy who can make some tough catches, so I’ve been really impressed with him.”
With Green, being impressed is nothing new. Green has been impressing everyone who lays their eyes on him since before he arrived in the NFL. Dalton knows that and values the relationship they have.
“I think it’s about consistency,” Dalton said later of his chemistry with Green. “When we have an opportunity to make a play, we have to make it and it needs to happen more often than not. The thing about it is we came in together, we have a great relationship on and off the field, so I think we’ve been able to show that with the way we’ve been playing. Whenever we get those matchups, those one-on-one opportunities for him to make a play, you have to give him the opportunity and I think more times than not, he’ll make it.”
Of course, the nauseating narrative the Bengals earned once again this January is their inability to win in the postseason. Dalton wasn’t a part of the last-minute loss in the Wild Card game against the Steelers, but the overall team implosion has been a major topic of discussion with the players and coaches this offseason and Wilcots asked about the team’s approach to the postseason this year.
“For us, we’ve had good seasons, but once the playoffs come we haven’t been able to finish and that’s the biggest part. You don’t get to start off in the playoffs or where you were last year, so the biggest thing is you have to put that behind you and push forward to do whatever you can to get back to the playoffs and then we can worry about that,” Dalton said. “At the end of the day, you have to be playing your best football at the end of the year.”
Simply put, the Bengals haven’t played their best football in January and that’s why Marvin Lewis has an 0-7 postseason record as the team’s head coach. There have been injuries that played a part in the losses, but at this point, there’s no room for excuses.
Teams are never fully healthy in January and even with Dalton on the sidelines, the team had a great chance to move on to the Divisional Round last January. It will take a combination of health, Dalton continuing to play at the level we saw last year and a quickly-developed relationship with his new receivers to get the team on a path to redemption this year.