Expect backup quarterback A.J. McCarron to receive plenty of reps in the Bengals' third preseason game Saturday night against Chicago at Paul Brown Stadium, as well as the preseason finale.
“We’ll stay on track," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "We’ll do as we had planned earlier.”
The plan against the Bears is to go with starter Andy Dalton for most of the first quarter and possibly into the second quarter depending on game situations. McCarron will take it from there.
The first-year quarterback from national championship-winning Alabama missed all of last season due to shoulder issues. He made his on-field debut Monday night against Tampa Bay after missing the preseason opener with an upper body muscle pull. He acquitted himself well, finishing 11-of-15 passing for 97 yards with no turnovers and a sack.
Infused with energy, McCarron was all back-slaps and helmet-pats when a teammate made him look good. Lewis said it was exciting to see a player relish his return to the field with such enthusiasm
“That’s the way his personality is. He’s got the personality somewhat of a linebacker who plays quarterback," Lewis said. "He can lead guys, and he gets excited. That’s a good thing, that’s part of what made him such a successful player (in college). He’s been through it, and realizes it. This is something he’s wanted the opportunity to do all his life.”
Though he played well on a big stage at Alabama while leading the Crimson Tide to the national title, McCarron is probably the least-experienced backup quarterback Lewis has had in Cincinnati, with zero snaps taken during the regular season. Lewis was asked if that's a concern, knowing that the durable Dalton has not missed a game in his NFL career.
“You know, I never say I have a concern, so you shouldn’t frame the question that way," Lewis said with a laugh. "But we’ve got a guy who has a lot of moxie, has a lot of other experience. I think in that situation, you’d have to go in and play to AJ’s strengths, and continue to do that. That’s why we go out there and practice every day. We’re going to play these preseason games to continue to work on what AJ’s strengths are, so that if anything would happen to Andy, we would be prepared offensively to shift and go to that mode."
Should McCarron need to stand in, the Bengals won't play the same way under McCarron as they do under Dalton. Lewis said he learned that lesson with former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, now with Arizona.
“That is the one lesson learned years ago without Carson, that whoever’s playing quarterback, Fitzy (Ryan Fitzpatrick) at that time, to make sure we’re doing the things that the quarterback can do, and have it not be Carson’s offense or Andy’s offense. It’s got to be that quarterback’s offense.”
The coach said McCarron and the offense are in it together the next two preseason games. They need to develop enough of a rapport so that an emergency switch will be as seamless as possible.
"He gets it in these games, and on the practice field, now, as much as we can. But yeah, when the season rolls around, that second guy doesn’t get many snaps," Lewis said. "But, in AJ, you have a guy who last year, even with being on the PUP list, was pushed to prepare as if he was the starting quarterback, and he did that. He welcomed that challenge all the time with Kenny (Zampese).
A.J. stood back there with me in practice all the time, and I told him the play. And he went through everything in his mind, and he talked it. That’s what you want.”