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Thursday, May 15, 2014
Bengal Quick Takes: AJ McCarron speaks

By Coley Harvey

The backup quarterback is always the most popular player on the team ... until he becomes the starter.

That's certainly been a football truism for as long as I can remember with my under-30 mind, and I have a feeling it will remain that way well into the long future of the game.

Andy Dalton's play has always generated conversation on the Cincinnati Bengals beat, but suddenly the attention has shifted away from him and his still on-going contract negotiations and instead settled upon the newest member of the Bengals' quarterback room: AJ McCarron.

McCarron, the three-time national champion at Alabama, was a fifth-round Bengals selection in last Saturday's draft, but you would have thought he was a No. 1 overall pick the way he has generated discussion in the Queen City, his native Alabama and in points in between.

As a result, we've learned one other truism: when McCarron talks, we listen. That's where we begin with Thursday's Quick Takes:

1. McCarron speaks. The backup's backup, who still hasn't even played a down in the NFL, stood before a camera crush Wednesday afternoon that was reminiscent of the scrum that huddled around Dalton's locker a month ago when the Bengals began their offseason workout program. That was the first day the starting quarterback addressed Cincinnati media since the day after the Bengals' 27-10 playoff loss to San Diego in January. He had a lot to discuss: Moving on from the postseason defeat, gearing up for contract talks, his status as a soon-to-be father. For McCarron, Wednesday's session wasn't about looking forward as much as it was about going back to the past and rehashing the emotions that were circulating through his mind last Saturday when he felt he suddenly became the scourge of the NFL draft, sliding multiple rounds from where he anticipated. As you've hopefully read by now, he admitted being hurt by the comments about his character, and hopes he'll "get the last laugh."

2. McCarron's Cincinnati support system. If McCarron was hurt over the weekend by the comments about how cocky he is off the field, those feelings have all but completely waned by now. Since his arrival, he has hung out often with another former Alabama football player and fellow South Alabama native, Wallace Gilberry. The two have known each other since McCarron was a sophomore in high school. Also in the Bengals' locker room when McCarron arrived was his former college teammate Dre Kirkpatrick. When both spoke with reporters Wednesday they admitted they were surprised to hear the suggestions that McCarron wasn't a good teammate at Alabama and that he was too cocky. They defended him, saying his confidence was always viewed as a good thing at Alabama, and they believed he'd be an asset to the Bengals for however long he plays in Cincinnati. What will help will be having such familiar faces around him, Gilberry added. "That's one of the most important things is to have someone to relate to," Gilberry said. Oh, and it's important to note that Gilberry said McCarron and Dalton have been together often since Sunday, going over terminology and breaking down the Bengals' playbook.

3. Will "The Worker" Clarke. Fans of 1980s and 90s baseball will remember Will "The Thrill" Clark, the left-handed hitting San Francisco Giants first baseman. His name and nickname have been uttered often around Paul Brown Stadium since last Friday. That's because the Bengals have their own Will Clarke -- note the -e on his last name -- now occupying one corner of their defensive line. Clarke was their third-round selection last weekend. The defensive end is expected to help fill former Bengal Michael Johnson's shoes. Already some of the veteran Bengals defenders are seeing an endearing quality from Clarke. Barely a week into training, they see a player who wants to be part of the regular end rotation.

"You start to see their personality a lot; their character starts coming out in the weight room and on the field," Gilberry said about the newly added rookies. "Guys like myself, we watch and pay attention to that. If you've got a guy that comes in here and works hard like this Will Clarke, the D-end we drafted -- he's a hard worker -- you can respect that. Hard work and character, you can't really change that in a guy."

4. McCarron factoid. Here's a pre-draft McCarron factoid for you. At Alabama, he had 11 career fumbles, including seven as a junior in 2012, a national championship season. He lost two of them that year. He fumbled only once last season. He lost it. In his first three NFL seasons, Dalton had 15 fumbles in the regular season and playoffs combined.