Before Marvin Lewis arrived in Cincinnati in 2003, the Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterback position was a mess. After Boomer Esiason was pushed out of the door in the 1993 offseason, Cincinnati experimented with David Klingler, Jay Schroeder, Jeff Blake, Neil O’Donnell, Akili Smith, Jon Kitna and Scott Mitchell under center.
Since that time, the Bengals have relied on just Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton at the position over the past 15 years. Yes, Kitna ably manned the position in the 2003 transition season, while Ryan Fitzpatrick and AJ McCarron stepped in for spot starts because of injuries to Palmer and Dalton, respectively, but stability has largely been a part of the quarterback position under Lewis.
Though Dalton helped lead the team to five straight postseason berths from 2011-2015, the team and more than anyone, himself, have fallen far short of expectations the past two seasons. With a resurgence of new weapons surrounding him and some stability at offensive coordinator, could this be the year we see the best from Dalton?
Comings and goings:
Departures: AJ McCarron
Additions: Matt Barkley (free agency), Logan Woodside (draft, round 7)
In short, McCarron gambled on himself this offseason. Yes, he won an arbitration with the league to become an unrestricted free agent, but the market was very quiet for his services. He signed a two-year deal with Buffalo after Tyrod Taylor was shipped to Cleveland, but with Josh Allen being selected No. 7 overall, McCarron’s supposed starting spot is now in jeopardy with the Bills.
McCarron’s potential replacements have shown to be less than stellar thus far. After a great college career at USC, Barkley never cemented himself as a viable NFL starter. However, he’s had starting experience in the league and could be a decent band-aid for the Bengals, should Dalton miss a short period of time. However, his showing in the preseason hasn’t exactly enhanced his case.
Woodside is another story altogether. He had a productive collegiate career at Toledo, but a couple of issues are following him to the NFL. One is his slight stature (6’1”) and lack of arm strength, but another is a recent arrest for DUI in June. Woodside was held out of the beginning of training camp and has taken minimal in-game reps this preseason, so his uphill battle for the backup spot became even more difficult when the pads came on.
Starter: Andy Dalton
Backup candidates: Matt Barkley, Logan Woodside, Jeff Driskel
Looking at Barkley and Woodside, the Bengals not only didn’t bring in anything resembling competition for Dalton, they seemingly diminished the quality of the position room as a whole. But there is one more quarterback to be mentioned.
Driskel is an interesting player in this group. Even though they have traditionally kept just two quarterbacks on the active roster in recent years, Driskel has made his way on the final list in 2016 as an addition post-final cuts, but was placed on Injured Reserve last year. The Bengals like his raw athleticism and upside, but the question of his reaching of his possible potential is still under question.
Last preseason, we saw Driskel make special plays in his time with the third-team, enough to where the Bengals decided to carry him onto the roster. This year, he’s continued to showcase his ability to work out of the pocket and make throws on the move. A stellar performance in Week 1 against the Bears essentially bumped him up to second-string over Barkley for for a week, until Barkley took those reps from him in Week 3 against the Bills.
The competition between the two has been neck-and-neck, but it’s been the flashes from Driskel in preseason games that have made it that way.
With the returns of Tyler Eifert and John Ross, coupled with more touches for Joe Mixon and a revamped offensive line, Dalton could produce like he did back in 2015, when he was a dark horse MVP candidate. But with seven years under his belt, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from now—large amounts of solid-to-great play, with sporadic and inexplicable bouts of terrible performances in the biggest of games.
Regardless of one’s feeling for Dalton, he’s the guy for 2018. If the team really wanted to supplant him, they had a No. 12 pick to use in a quarterback-heavy draft and opted to go with what is essentially two offensive linemen in trading for Cordy Glenn and picking Billy Price at No. 21 overall.
What happens behind Dalton in 2018 is the true enigma. Common knowledge has Barkley as a reliable veteran backup, as the Bengals usually prefer the safe option over the riskier/higher upside player.
Still, Barkley hasn’t impressed in training camp or the preseason, while Woodside has had the aforementioned off-field issues and seems destined for the practice squad. Driskel flashed that backyard football-type of play in the preseason opener with a touchdown pass to Auden Tate, and has continued to perform more consistently since.
Whoever is backing up Dalton, it ultimately won’t matter if he has to play significant snaps. But Driskel seems to have given a better case for the job, and after two years in the system, the backup spot should be his and his alone.