- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Dalton, a rookie second-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals, is impressing with his poise. McCoy, who is in his first full season as the Cleveland Browns' starter, is standing out as a strong leader. Both are smart, calm and best-suited for the West Coast-style of offense, which relies on a short, high-percentage throws.
Their development is integral if the Bengals and the Browns want to close the gap between them and the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, the perennial playoff teams in the division. The Steelers know there's no questions at quarterback as long as Roethlisberger is slinging passes downfield, and the Ravens will affirm their commitment to Flacco when they look to sign him to an extension next offseason.
While it's too early to anoint either Dalton and McCoy as franchise quarterbacks, you get the sense that both have a certain feel for the position. Maybe that's why their names have been linked to Dan Marino and Drew Brees this early in their careers. That's much better than hearing their names associated with David Klingler and Charlie Frye.
If it wasn't for that quarterback named Cam in Carolina, the rookie quarterback that everyone would be talking about would be Dalton. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Dalton is the second rookie quarterback since the merger to post a passer rating of 100-plus in his first two starts. The only other to accomplish that feat was Marino.
The "Red Rifle" -- the nickname given by the Bengals' play-by-play announcer as a nod to Dalton's hair color -- really turned heads Sunday, when he threw for 332 yards at Denver despite having an injured right wrist. For the season, he has completed 66.1 percent of his passes, throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions.
"He is primed to be great," Bengals rookie wide receiver A.J. Green said. "His composure, his confidence, and the way he can throw the ball to everybody."
Unlike how the Bengals handled Carson Palmer as a rookie, Cincinnati has decided to throw Dalton onto the field right away. His on-the-job training increased Sunday when he faced a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Dalton completed 8 of 15 passes for 140 yards and one touchdown in trying to rally the Bengals in the final 13 1/2 minutes. His experiences that quarter included two fourth-down situations and challenging field position (he was backed up at his own 5-yard line).
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis pointed out how Dalton faced all different looks, from dropping eight players into coverage to sending six to pressure.
"He handled it all," Lewis said. "He was decisive with it. That’s a good thing and an opportunity to keep building upon."
McCoy, a third-round pick by the Browns in 2010, has more experience than Dalton but not much more. He started eight games last season, earning wins against the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots.
His biggest supporters are in the Browns' locker room. Teammates have responded immediately to McCoy's leadership and personality.
"His general demeanor is what it takes to be a good quarterback," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said.
This season, McCoy has completed 56.9 percent of his passes, throwing three touchdowns and one interception. But the evaluation of McCoy goes beyond the statistics.
"I really think he can be the next Drew Brees because of his incredible leadership skills, preparation and physical toughness," former quarterback Trent Dilfer wrote on ESPN.com.
"As a leader, he's Tim Tebow without the cameras."
McCoy showed that toughness in Indianapolis on Sunday. Following a below-average outing in the season opener, McCoy began his second game with a jarring hit from the Colts' Dwight Freeney on the second possession of the game.
Not sure if that woke up McCoy, but then he turned it around. He began moving out of the pocket and throwing on the run. He completed 22 of 32 passes for 211 yards. He didn't throw an interception and he wasn't sacked again after that shot from Freeney.
"Colt was moving, wasn't he?" Browns running back Peyton Hillis said. "It looked like he was running for his life there a couple times. But Colt's a playmaker and he's a great athlete. You know he's going to do the right thing for the ballclub."
Next up for McCoy is the Miami Dolphins, who have allowed six passing touchdowns and made one interception. Dalton goes against the San Francisco 49ers, who have given up the eighth-most passing yards this season.
It'll be interesting to see whether both McCoy and Dalton establish themselves as franchise quarterbacks or if one will separate himself from the other. At this point, the Bengals are looking to move past Palmer's retirement, and the Browns are searching for long-term stability at the quarterback position for the first time since rejoining the NFL (Cleveland has had 10 different quarterbacks start a season opener since 1999).
What can be said now about both quarterbacks is that they give their teams and their fans some hope.
This is a better situation than the Seattle Seahawks are in where you know Tarvaris Jackson is just a stop-gap. It's also better than Washington where it's tough to put your trust in Rex Grossman. And it's definitely better than the days of Klingler and Frye.