We have heard the all-too-familiar comment, "Can Andy Dalton take the next step?" plenty of times over the offseason. Fans of the Cincinnati Bengals have been in a deadlock over the discussion of whether Dalton can actually become a franchise quarterback for the team.
Well, the answer to that question is beginning to emerge.
Yes, he can.
Over the first practices of the Bengals' 2013 training camp, head coach Marvin Lewis has stressed the importance of tempo for the offense. The goal is to get everyone on the same page so Dalton can get the ball in and out of his hands in a hurry.
Lewis had some very telling comments about the new up-tempo style during an interview with Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com:
What jumps out is you come in and the guys know what to expect. The thing about it is that we’re pushing the tempo. I felt good about the tempo, in and out of the huddle, to the line of scrimmage and give the quarterback a chance to work. If we dilly-dally around and mess around, that play clock is sitting there at 12 when we get to the line of scrimmage. We want that play clock at 18 if we can or 20 if we’re in the huddle. If we can get in and out of the huddle in that time, that’s good. That’s why we push that envelope as much as we can.
The key factor about the tempo that Lewis is instilling in his offensive players is that it is not only meant to be quick, but smooth as well. When everyone is on the same page, and gets in and out of the huddle as a unit, it gives Dalton the advantage during pre-snap reads.
With this new offensive philosophy comes new offensive weapons.
The Bengals were not necessarily stacked outside of A.J. Green over the past couple of seasons. Now, with the experience of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, and the additions of rookies Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard, Dalton has every necessary chance for success.
He has already shown that during the early days of training camp.
During 11-on-11 drills—against the 2012 sixth-ranked defense—Dalton completed 21 of 30 attempts in a situation where the offense is usually playing catchup to the defense so early in training camp.
Keep in mind, this is without Green on the field.
Plenty of this is due to the very early chemistry that is being built between Dalton and Eifert. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden expanded upon this during the interview on Bengals.com:
Tyler is already making a good mark on the quarterback; that's the important thing. You bring people in here and we can sell them all we want to, but it's up to the quarterback to gain his trust and vice versa. Both these guys are already starting to see a trust factor. Tyler is going to get better. He'll have a better understanding.
Aside from the immense weapons that Dalton has at his disposal, Gruden also commented on the vastly improved offensive line:
We've got Whit back and Clint back and that helps because we had a lot of linemen playing and they were kind of in a funk. Now we've got stability up front. They have more confidence. That's where it starts. As long as they do their job we have a chance to get some balls off downfield.
Aside from his supporting cast, Dalton has also continued to embrace his role as a leader of the offense. He is becoming more vocal and continues to emphasize his role. Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer tweeted this regarding Dalton:
Dalton: "I think I've really taken control of this offense. I'm doing everything they ask me to do."— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) July 25, 2013
The offense is doing all of the right things, Dalton is saying all of the right things and the coaching staff is impressed with what they have seen so far. This is only after the first days of training camp.
If Dalton continues this trend, the questions regarding his reliability and his chances of taking this team to the next level can finally come to an end.