Fitzpatrick gets his first chance to erase any other doubts tonight at Lambeau Field. The Bengals play the Green Bay Packers in the first preseason game for both teams and for the first time people will get to see Fitzpatrick, the Bengals' backup quarterback behind Palmer, run the offense. The Bengals acquired Fitzpatrick from St. Louis at the end of last preseason in a trade but Palmer played every offensive down.
The only time fans saw Fitzpatrick was when the TV cameras caught in a background shot. That unknown quality understandably leads to questions about his readiness should anything happen to Palmer.
"He doesn't need to prove anything," said Palmer, who will play through the first one or two series before handing things over to Fitzpatrick. "Anybody who knows anything about football and has watched him on film, watched him through OTAs and practice last year and now training camp knows that the guy can play. This will only give him more confidence doing it for his teammates but as far as guys on this team there are no questions. The guy can play and I think everybody has confidence in him."
Fitzpatrick (6-2, 225) is in his fourth season in the NFL. The Rams drafted him in the seventh round out of Harvard, where he earned a degree in economics. He made a name for himself as a rookie when injuries gave him his first playing opportunity. He capitalized by coming off the bench to complete 19-of-30 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns, including a 56-yarder in overtime as the Rams came from behind to win at Houston, 33-27.
He started the next three games but hasn't attempted a pass in a regular season game since. That didn't deter the Bengals from trading for him. Quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese likes Fitzpatrick's attributes, both tangible and intangible. It's not easy being asked to be the backup to one of the NFL's elite players.
"He's very self-motivated but not to the point to where it's going to be a distraction by any means," said Zampese. "He and I have talked about just growing as a quarterback, just putting his head down and growing with the trust that at some point something will fall in his lap. It will, but you'd better be ready when it does. In the meantime if you say "Hey, there's a starter already and I'm just going to sit here" you will not be ready."
So what should fans expect out of Fitzpatrick?
"He just has to move us. He has to worry about himself and what he has to do on that play to make it successful," said Zampese. "It might be salvaging plays that come up against a bad look or getting us out of bad situations to save us. He has to keep us out of minus-yards situations, move the team and score points.
"How everybody else feels will be fine as long as that is taken care of."
Fitzpatrick spoke to JungleInsider.com about his role with the Bengals and the expectations he has for himself heading into the preseason opener:
Q: It's your first training camp with the Bengals. What would have been your comfort level if you would have had to go into a game last season?
A: It obviously got better as the season progressed in terms of being familiar with the plays. There is not a whole lot of comfort you can feel in trying to pick up an offense in five days and play so I think if I would have had to go in there on that first Monday night game against Baltimore it would have been very basic and we might have had a rough time, but at this point I'm extremely comfortable with the offense. There are a lot of concepts that have carried over from my career in St. Louis just in terms of the verbiage. That I feel great about.
Q: This is going to be your first snap in a game for the Bengals Monday night at Green Bay?
A: That's actually not true because I did get on to the field last year in the first game against Baltimore for the first-ever hold of my life. But yes, under center it will be my first snap and I'm looking forward to it. It's one of those things that when you're a backup you never know when you're going to get in there and you have to take advantage of the reps you get in the preseason because you never know when the next ones are going to come.
Q: What is it that you want to go out and show Monday night?
A: Consistency and show that I can be efficient. Let's get in the end zone or get points out of every drive. I've got to make good decisions and, really as a backup, you don't need to go out there and make amazing plays; you need to go out there and make sure the team moves the ball. That's something I certainly look to get done.
Q: So much rides on Carson for this team. How do you approach being his backup? I would think that takes a certain mindset given that in reality you are not competing for the starting job.
A: There is no doubt that this team wins a lot of games because of Carson and because of the quarterback position. Obviously if I go in there I'm not Carson. We have a lot of different elements to our games. I just need to go out there and play the way I know how. As I mentioned earlier, when I'm in there I need to play with consistency and be efficient. I can't go out there and put us in a bad situation.
Q: What are those different elements to your game from Carson's?
A: I like to move around a little more in terms of scrambling and running around a little bit. He is so big and accurate and all of that – he is one of the elite quarterbacks in the league so it's hard to measure up to that. I just have to play to my strengths.
Q: Do you know Jim Sorgi of Indianapolis?
A: No, I've never met him.
Q: Obviously the Colts are in a situation where they are going to find out a lot about him with Peyton Manning's injury. I would think your situation here is similar a similar one.
A: I think they are similar in the sense that those are two very elite quarterbacks in Peyton and Carson, two guys who have been extremely durable. In that sense Indy and Cincinnati haven't had to rely on their backup quarterbacks much the last five years. That's what the preseason is for, to find out what you have back there. That's why I'm excited to be out there to play. I want to instill confidence not only in my coaches and the fans but in my teammates as well.
Q: Probably most important is that confidence from your teammates?
A: Absolutely. I came last year after training camp and after preseason was over with so a lot of these I'm sure never saw me play in a game for St. Louis and so they've never seen me play in a game before so it is important for me to go out and establish a certain sense of comfort and confidence for them in me.