Transitioning from college to the NFL can be a tricky thing for a football player. On top of all the potential outside distractions and attention players receive at the NFL level, players must adjust from their goal being centered around making it to the NFL, to being the best player they can at the NFL level. For Bengals veterans, it’s their job to help the younger players work through these new challenges and learn what it takes to make it at the pro level.
“Just coming in each year, you want to get better at something,” A.J. Green told Jim Owczarski of Cincinnati.com. “That’s what I’m looking for in the young guys: something they didn’t do well last year, have they worked on it to get better this year?”
After realizing their often life-long goal of making it to the NFL, many players feel like they have already accomplished greatness. It is the curse of youth to have so much talent and ability, yet so little perspective on how to use it.
“Yeah, they are younger but it’s another year in the system,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “We’re not teaching them where to line up. We’re teaching them OK, this is exactly how we want to run the route and different things like that.”
The Bengals veterans have already been through this process. Granted, some players stick on the roster due to the investment the team has made in them. But, for the most part, every player needs to prove themselves to the team in one way or another. That won’t change for the current group of young guys.
“The biggest thing for them is, don’t stray away from what we’re doing,” Dalton said. “When it’s just one-on-ones with quarterbacks and receivers, make sure you run the route exactly the same way so the timing is there and everything’s down.”
That said, nobody is perfect. Players are bound to hit rough patches when they are just starting out. Even a player as highly touted as John Ross, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, will look like an overwhelmed rookie on more than one occasion while he adjusts to life in the NFL. But, how you react to those mistakes could define your career.
“You’re going to have some mess ups, but the biggest thing is when you mess up, try not to see the same one twice,” backup quarterback AJ McCarron said. “That’s how you learn. This time is for messing up.”
McCarron is one of many players on the Bengals who has learned from a lengthy period on the bench as a backup. Despite leading Alabama to two national championships, shattering records, and generally seeming like a well-rounded player, questions about his ability to make it in the NFL and his average measurables caused him to drop to the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Once in the NFL, he was essentially redshirted for his rookie season, recovering from lingering shoulder issues. Once healthy, all he could do was prove himself on the practice field. That was until franchise quarterback Andy Dalton fractured his thumb and couldn’t finish the 2015 season. McCarron then stepped up to take on a starting opportunity and for young players, the goal is always being able to do the same, step up when called upon.
In 2016, McCarron didn’t see any playing time and isn’t expected to in 2017, barring another injury to Dalton. However, that’s all part of the learning process for many NFL players. As such, McCarron is offering his guidance and expertise to the younger players with whom he will be working with this offseason.
“If you don’t know, just ask,” McCarron said. “That’s the biggest thing. Just ask me, because I’ve got most of them in my huddle. There’s going to be some miscommunication. But I feel like right now it’s been fine. Guys are working hard and doing good.”