Saturday, May 10, 2014
In McCarron, Bengals pick anti-Andy
By Coley Harvey
CINCINNATI -- In the next few days, you'll probably read reports comparing AJ McCarron to Andy Dalton, calling the two Cincinnati Bengals quarterbacks carbon copies of each other.
Don't believe that hype.
It is true that McCarron, the Bengals' 2014 fifth-round draft pick, and Dalton, their starting quarterback, have tangible on-field similarities, but it's their difference in demeanor -- and ability to produce in big-game scenarios -- that ultimately draws a finite distinction between them.
The confidence of A.J. McCarron, right, can border on cockiness, but he has the hardware to back it up.
McCarron has a confidence that borders on cockiness. Dalton is arguably the most selfless dude on a team full of compassionate personalities. McCarron has diamond-encrusted rings on his fingers, earned from helping the Alabama Crimson Tide win back-to-back national championships. Dalton has a black plastic band he wears on game days to recognize his marriage.
There's nothing wrong with either of those traits; all four are endearing qualities for different types of players to have. But the thing about each of them is that they help confirm the following: AJ McCarron is the anti-Andy.
For most Bengals fans starved for a playoff win, that is cause for celebration. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has to be at least a little happy to have another guy in the meeting rooms who is more similar to him than Dalton.
"A lot of people call me cocky. A lot of people say I have a lot of confidence, too," Jackson said. "I kind of like that in a guy. I kind of like that in a quarterback. You have to have a little bit of that so that you can raise above sometimes in tough times."
Now for the real question: What happens to Dalton with McCarron on the roster?
There is no easy answer, but it's clear that the rookie's presence makes the outlook on Dalton's contract extension cloudier than ever. Even if the Bengals contend Dalton is and will be their starter for the foreseeable future.
"This is not about Andy Dalton," Jackson said of the draft pick. "Andy Dalton is our quarterback. And we stand behind him 100 percent."
It is true that Dalton has been somewhat successful in the NFL. He won 30 games in his first three seasons as an NFL quarterback, and he has led the Bengals to three straight playoff berths for the first time in their history. But he still hasn't helped them earn a playoff victory and continues to struggle on the big stage.
Aside from a Monday night win over the Steelers last season -- one that was primarily fueled by running back Giovani Bernard's breakout performance -- Dalton otherwise had difficulty in prime time in 2013. He was sacked for a safety to close out the Bengals' 22-20 overtime loss at Miami on a Thursday night, and like the rest of his teammates, had trouble getting going in a 30-20 Sunday night loss at Pittsburgh near the end of the season.
Big games have been the bane of Dalton's existence. In college, they were the source of McCarron's strength.
Last season alone McCarron helped lead Alabama to a 49-42 win over Texas A&M after continually answering scores from Johnny Manziel's Aggies. It was one of the more emotional wins of Alabama's 11-win season.
Beyond that, McCarron helped rally the Tide to two straight regular-season wins over rival LSU and a pair of national championship victories. One of the title-game wins came over LSU, the other over Notre Dame.
Dalton appeared in two BCS games in college, winning one of them. His TCU Horned Frogs beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl his senior season.
Earlier Saturday, hours before the Bengals selected him, McCarron was the talk of social media after Adam Schefter reported during ESPN's televised draft coverage that he "rubbed [teams] the wrong way" during his pre-draft evaluations.
"He's a 'we' guy, and we'll make sure he's a 'we' guy," Bengals quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese said. "There's not going to be a 'me' guy in our room, period. I know I'm not going to stand for it and I know neither is Coach Jackson. I didn't get that impression from him."
What the Bengals believe they got was a hungry quarterback who has a self-described "chip on [his] shoulder." In a since-deleted tweet McCarron told his followers early Saturday after slipping through the first three rounds: "& y'all thought I played with a chip on my shoulder, JUST WAIT.. God has a great plan & I can't wait! #blessed #historyinthemaking."
By Saturday afternoon, after his fifth-round selection, McCarron embraced his underdog leanings.
"When I come to work, I've always kind of went to work with a chip on my shoulder," McCarron said to Cincinnati media on a conference call. "That's the thing that pushes me and has made me the player I am."
If McCarron pushes himself the way he already has, there's a good chance the anti-Andy will soon push the Bengals to places they have yet to reach under the real one.