Bengals backup QBs need to step up game
AUG 15, 2013 6:34p ET
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.”