It’s a good thing that Ryan Finley is starting his first NFL game against the team that A.J. Green does his best work against.
Finley and Green are expected to make their season debuts two Sundays from now against the Baltimore Ravens. It will be just the sixth time Green and another quarterback besides Andy Dalton start together for the Bengals since the two came into the NFL together in 2011.
Now that Finley has taken Dalton’s job for the time being, Green will have to start getting used to running routes for someone different than No. 14. But after practicing together for the first time this week, Green didn’t hold back his praise for Dalton’s replacement.
“I love Ryan, man. Ryan is a competitor. He wants to win. He has that edge,” Green told reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “He has that leadership. It’s going to be a little different for him now. He’s young, so he doesn’t really understand the business side of this. So it’s probably a little awkward with him and Andy because him and Andy has a great relationship, but at the end of the day it’s a business and you have to take your emotion out of it sometime and just focus on the business part.”
Dalton has had other quarterbacks start in his place before, most notably A.J. McCarron and Jeff Driskel, but it was always due to injury. A change in quarterback due to performance issues is something Green and the Bengals are completely unaccustomed to.
But Green’s right, it is a business. And right now, Finley’s business is getting the most out of Green and the other nine players on offense. According to Green, he’s already one step ahead in that department.
“Even ahead of time Ryan is calling out plays, like ‘What you got? What you got?’ I’m like, ‘Ryan, I don’t really know what I got right now. I wasn’t out there,’” Green said. “But he’s going through the whole thing. It’s fun just being on the sideline with him and building that connection.”
That connection is exactly what head coach Zac Taylor and the rest of the organization needs to see. Finley is now a part of the ongoing evaluation process for what this team is and needs to become. And it’s his responsibility to provide different results from what the team has seen with Dalton under center.
“I hope to bring energy, bring some juice,” Finley said. “Do my best to be good in the pocket. Get the ball out on time. Extend plays. We’ve struggled a little bit into the red zone. Just hoping to find some ways to get some points.”
The offense’s struggles are well known and most of the blame for that falls on Dalton. Still, Finley is the rookie and Dalton is the vet, and there’s been no loss in respect from either side.
“I look up to Andy more than people will know,” Finley said. “He’s a really good dude. He’s a class act and he’s special to me. I look up to him a ton. I can’t imagine how hard this is for him. He texted me and said he has my back. That meant a lot to me.”
The change from Finley to Dalton has been a shocking development, but the aftershocks of it all have seemed to cool down. With A.J. and now Andy behind him, Finley has the support he needs to prove himself.