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Bengals training camp preview Part 2: Replacing AJ McCarron

One quarterback or two? A couple veterans or a rookie? The Bengals have plenty of questions behind Andy Dalton going forward.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals-Minicamp Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

There’s nothing like the relationship between a teams fanbase and the backup quarterback. AJ McCarron may not have been the best free agent the Bengals saw leave this offseason, but he was definitely the most polarizing one.

The former fifth-round pick was thought by some to be the long-term upgrade over Andy Dalton, and the rest believed he was what a fifth-round quarterback is usually destined to be: A journeyman reserve. The discourse centered around McCarron’s future with the Bengals was at the very least intoxicating, but those days have reached an end.

Expecting a contract indicative of a franchise quarterback on the open market, McCarron settled for a two-year contract with Buffalo worth up to $10 million and $4.9 million guaranteed at signing.

While he’s fighting for the starting spot over first-round pick Josh Allen on a depleted Bills team, the Bengals are left figuring out who’s going to take his place behind Dalton. They have a few options to choose from.

If the Bengals want the most experienced man for the job, Matt Barkley is that by default. A 2013 fourth-round pick out of USC, Barkley has ended in Cincinnati after spending four years with three different teams. He was only with Philadelphia, the team who drafted him, until just before the start of the 2015 season when he was traded to Arizona for a conditional seventh-round pick.

Barkley lasted almost exactly one year in the desert before being waived and picked up by Chicago in 2016, where he ended up starting six games and only winning one while throwing eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

His stretch of performances saw him get released yet again and San Francisco took a chance on him last offseason with a two-year deal, but he failed to make the final roster. He was picked up by the Cardinals once more midway through the 2017 season, but once again, was on the market this offseason.

The Bengals, who worked out Barkley last October before he joined the Cardinals, had interest in him this past free agency due to his history with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor when both were in Philadelphia in Barkley’s rookie year in 2013. Lazor was the Eagles QB coach that worked with Barkley in the beginning of his career, but left for Miami to be the Dolphins offensive coordinator when Barkley’s career started going downhill.

If there was a “safe” bet as to which quarterback will take the reps directly after Dalton this camp, it’s Barkley for this reason. But he shouldn’t be too far ahead of the next candidate.

Jeff Driskel made a good case last preseason for the Bengals to keep him on the final roster and for the Bengals to carry three quarterbacks, which they did. Unfortunately, Driskel suffered a broken thumb and index finger in the preseason finale that forced the Bengals to place him on injured reserve immediately after they finalized the roster.

Driskel, just 25 years of age, is two years younger than Barkley and the Bengals are just his second team in his young career. A 2016 sixth-round pick by San Francisco, Driskel was thought to be more than just a passer on Chip Kelly’s 49ers, but a rough first preseason saw him waived at the beginning of last September. The Bengals wasted no time and claimed him, keeping him on the active roster for the entirety of 2016.

Driskel’s 106.1 passer rating throughout the 2017 preseason was enough to warrant a roster spot, but he’s yet to even be activated in a regular season game. Once he healed from his preseason injury, the Bengals had more interest in using him as a pass catcher in practice than a quarterback, and his season was officially ended by a left-arm injury on a rep when he was lined up as a wide receiver.

There should be no excuse to use Driskel anywhere other than under center this year with such uncertainty at the backup spot. That uncertainty is also why the final candidate is in the picture.

Toledo’s all-time passing leader Logan Woodside was selected by the Bengals with the 249th pick in the seventh round of this year’s draft. The “MAC version of Baker Mayfield,” the moniker Bleeding Green Nation’s Benjamin Solak gave him upon studying his college tape, Woodside was ultra-efficient and productive against a soft schedule in his five years in Toledo. But his NFL career got off to a shaky start.

Last month, Woodside was arrested on DUI charges near his hometown in northern Kentucky. The incident won’t prohibit him from competing against Barkley and Driskel, but it’s something to remember going forward.

To say any of these three are clear favorites to make the roster over each other is far-fetched, because there’s just not much to work with. We’re not even sure if one or two will clinch a spot yet.

Barkley has shown he can’t hold a job but is at least reunited with a familiar face to advise help.

Driskel has flashed with the team but we’ll find out how much more he’s capable of over Barkley and Woodside in a new system.

The winner may ultimately be the one who screws up the least dramatically, and that’s what some training camp battles come down to.