Andy Dalton was enjoying the best season of his career when a broken thumb sent him to the sidelines for the remainder in December.
Now the sixth-year Cincinnati Bengals quarterback looks to build on his 2015 progress in a much different offense headed up by new coordinator Ken Zampese.
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Dalton came into the Bengals offseason program healthy and entered the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp Tuesday anxious to get more work with the newcomers and young players who could play a big role in Zampese’s offense. The team has been together for voluntary workouts and OTAs, but minicamp is the last part of the offseason program before training camp opens in late July.
“Zamp’s personality is a little different than Hue (Jackson),” said Dalton, who threw for 3,250 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2015 with a quarterback rating of 106.3. “The offense as a whole, and schematically, is going to take on what he likes. … There are some things similar, and some things we’ll do different. For the most part, the new guys are starting to pick up on how we’ve done things for a while. It’s been a good, smooth transition. … As time goes on, we’ll continue to get better and understand more, but we’re in a good place now.”
Dalton has been working with Zampese, formerly the team’s quarterbacks coach, since his first season in 2011, but Zampese is expected to bring a different style to the offense than Hue Jackson’s creativity-infused playbook.
Still, Dalton doesn’t think the change in style will be an adjustment because he already understands Zampese’s thinking.
“The thing that’s different now is that I’m not learning a new person,” Dalton said. “Zamp’s been my quarterback coach since I’ve been here. We already have that great relationship. I understand how he thinks and does things.”
That relationship is equally important for Zampese, who is running an offense with little continuity on the receiving end. A.J. Green returns, but Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are gone and tight end Tyler Eifert is out with an ankle injury suffered in the Pro Bowl.
Newcomer Brandon LaFell, a seventh-year receiver, and Mario Alford, who had one catch last year as a rookie, are among those looking to factor in this season, and Dalton plays a key role in their development.
“This is a time where they’re learning a lot,” Dalton said. “… The more experience our guys get, the better feel our guys will have.”
Zampese said it helps greatly to have a quarterback that he’s worked with before leading the offense because “there are no rough edges” and anything he says to Dalton will be received the right way.
Dalton’s biggest strength, according to Zampese, is that he thrives in difficult situations. He’s been through seasons with new receivers before, but now being a more experienced leader, Dalton can better handle the adversity he could face while the offense develops chemistry.
“He fights through adversity very, very well, and he knows who he is and where he’s going in life, and that helps him be decisive and helps him be a leader and helps him fight through the hard situations that come up,” Zampese said.
The changes in the offense don’t change the expectations for Dalton’s year-to-year improvement, Zampese said, noting the system and schemes remain the same.
“The expectations are so high I don’t think those other moving parts make any difference,” Zampese said. “Our expectations are way up there. I don’t think there is a whole lot new or different to the offense. We got to this point finding out what our answers are, and we know what our answers are. We’ll find a couple new ones and away we’ll go.”