We all know the Cincinnati Bengals lost some talented starters this offseason. But, perhaps the most significant loss is the leadership from veterans like Andrew Whitworth, Domata Peko and Rey Maualuga. With the changing of the leadership guard, it is up to the next generation of veterans to lead the rest of the team to success. With that said, the Bengals are prepared with players like Andy Dalton and A.J. Green ready to take the reigns.
“Even with those guys leaving us, I feel I was already in that position, to be the leader of the team,” Dalton said this week. “It may require a little more of me, but I feel like there will be other guys who will step up to be in those positions. I felt like I was already established in that position, and I have to keep finding ways to get most out of everybody. It gives other positions for guys to step up.”
Dalton was thrust into a leadership role with the Bengals early on. In his rookie season (2011), he was tasked with the seemingly impossible job of replacing former franchise quarterback, Carson Palmer, who demanded a trade in the offseason, threatening to retire if he did not get his way. While the Bengals did not trade Palmer initially, he stayed true to his threat and did not report for team activities, forcing the young Dalton to step up in the vacated role.
It would have been understandable if he shied away from such heavy expectations, but he did not. He did lean on veterans like Whitworth to help lead and show him the way, but it didn’t take long for Dalton to establish himself as one of the faces of the franchise. As such, he led the team to an unexpected 9-7 record and the first of five consecutive playoff berths in his rookie year. Fast forward to 2017, it is time for him to take it a step up further. And fear not, because Dalton is prepared and ready for the challenge.
“It’s obviously different,” Dalton said comparing that 2011 season to his seventh year in the league. “You get in the huddle and there are guys in there who are 10 years older than you. It’s just a different time. I honestly am not the same kind of leader now that I was then. But, I felt like I did alright that first year.”
It shows how effective a leader Dalton has been, taking a team that was almost unanimously seen as the worst in the league to a 9-7 record and the AFC’s No. 6 seed, to a 10-6 record and a wild card berth in 2012, an 11-5 record and a division championship in 2013, a 10-5-1 record and a wild card berth in 2014, and a 12-4 record and a division championship in 2015. 2016 was a down year for a number of reasons, but Dalton still led by example, recording the second 4,000-yard passing season of his career (4,206 yards) and throwing for 18 touchdowns and a career-low eight interceptions in 16 games.
“He takes the bull by the horns. That’s important. He knows that he’s got to be the leader of the football team,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “He’s out with the defense and the rest of the offensive team, and that’s good. Those guys want to be led, and he’s done a good job of that. They’re happy and pleased with him that way, and they continually encourage him to let him know they want to be led. He knows that.”
At this stage in Dalton’s career, being the face of the franchise and one of the primary leaders of the team is virtually expected. However, with the experience he has in that department so far, he should be fully prepared to step up to the plate and lead the team to success in 2017.
“Going into year seven now, I’m really comfortable with everything we’ve got going here,” Dalton said. “And so now we have some of the new guys, and guys who will be playing for us this year, so we’re just making sure we are up to speed on what we’re doing. Constant communication is big, making sure they’re knowing exactly how we want it to be and exactly how we are asking them to do it.”
If there is one player on the team who is qualified to lead the Bengals’ rebuilt roster to success, it is the franchise quarterback. There are very few situations the 29-year-old has not experienced in his NFL career, which allows him to lead by example for the many young players brought in to help the Bengals revive the roster and make a run at the Super Bowl.