Bengals backup QBs need to step up game

CINCINNATI – “Hard Knocks” takes viewers into the secretive
world of football, the mind of a coach. Coaches will allow some thoughts to
come out through the media but only to a point. Rarely do you get the full
extent what coaches are thinking like you did in this week’s episode when the
subject of the Bengals’ backup quarterbacks was featured.

Josh Johnson and John Skelton have their positive attributes
as they compete to see who will be No. 2 behind starter Andy Dalton. This
week’s episode showed in blunt detail just what it was the coaches thought was
holding the players back. Johnson isn’t accurate enough and Skelton needs to
learn the playbook faster.

Head coach Marvin Lewis, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden
and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese were honest about their concerns as they
spoke in their meeting room. No doubt the same concerns and points of emphasis have
been repeatedly expressed to the players, but those are candid criticisms that
are usually kept in-house.

Saturday’s preseason home opener against Tennessee at Paul
Brown Stadium will give the two backups more opportunity to prove they can be
Dalton’s backup.

Johnson and Skelton both played well in last Thursday’s
34-10 preseason opening win at Atlanta; Johnson completed nine of 16 passes for
100 yards and one touchdown, adding another 64 yards on four rushes, while
Skelton was 4-of-5 for 72 yards and one touchdown in his brief playing time. It’s
what they do inside the numbers, the finer details, that will decide who wins
the job, and if both make the final roster.

They
still have a ways to go, no question,” said Gruden. “Josh is really high. Holy
cow, he makes some big plays, some splash plays. Then sometimes he makes some
plays that just want to make you bang your head on the wall. We just have to
limit those plays.

“John
just has to study harder. He’s got to understand the concepts. He’s got to know
the play before I call it out. When I call a formation, he should know the
play. It’s not quite there yet. It’s going to take some time. We threw a lot of
offense in early because a lot of guys were returning, but unfortunately for
him, he wasn’t returning. So he’s got a lot of catching up to do.”

Skelton’s
36-yard touchdown pass to Dane Sanzenbacher in the fourth quarter was an
example of why the Bengals liked him enough to claim him on waivers after
Arizona released him. He started 17 games for the Cardinals, including a 23-17
Bengals win when the teams played at PBS on Christmas Eve 2011.

“He
stands back there and is a great pocket passer, has great touch,” said Gruden. “We’ve
got to get him caught up on the terminology. And I’ve got to alter my play
calling when he’s in there, obviously. Because I want to make sure he gets it
right.”

Dalton
hasn’t missed a start in his two seasons with the Bengals and just once, in his
first regular season game at Cleveland in the 2011 opener, has he been pulled
from a game because of injury. That kind of luck with quarterbacks doesn’t last
too often. The priority of the preseason, however, is to get Dalton ready, not
to get the backups extra practice snaps.

It’s
a young team, but it’s a veteran team in the fact that a lot of guys have been
here two or three years,” said Skelton. “They are kind of able to pick up where
they left off last season with the momentum they carried and to come in new you
just feel like you are behind the eight-ball. But it’s not an excuse you have
to catch up and find your way to fit in.

Johnson
and Skelton said they watched the “Hard Knocks” episode but didn’t take the criticism
personally. It’s an hour-long show, so one particularly bad practice day
throwing the ball for Johnson made it appear he was having more such days.

“It’s
TV,” said Johnson. “I don’t get caught up in the whole hype that comes with a
lot of stuff. My job is to be here and to play football. My job as a
quarterback is to go out and move the offense, get completions. As long as I’m
doing that on Sundays I could care less about what’s being portrayed about me.

“The
coaches coach us hard, and personally I like that because it keeps you pushing
yourself to push the envelope on your abilities.”

Dalton
and the first team offense will get more time this week against the Titans than
they did against the Falcons but there has been no announcement on how the
playing time will break down. Johnson followed Dalton in Atlanta but Skelton
could get the second call this week.

“They
don’t tell you, but realistically that’s your life if you’re not the starter
because you never know when you’re going to be called upon,” said Johnson. “Your
job is to go in there and answer the call. You have to be ready and keep the
offense moving and keep the team going in the direction that the starter had it
going. It’s good preparation.”