CINCINNATI (AP) — When receiver Cobi Hamilton dropped a sideline pass during a training camp practice, quarterback Andy Dalton sought him out and gave the rookie an encouraging and emphatic slap on the helmet.
Cincinnati's young quarterback is acting more like a leader.
The Bengals made him a team captain last year after coach Marvin Lewis challenged him to be more assertive. Dalton was forced to spend much of his first two seasons just learning the offense and making sure he was doing everything right.
Now, he's making sure everyone around him is doing the right thing, too.
"I feel like I'm not just leading by example out there, I'm also being vocal out there," Dalton said. "Now that I've played a couple of years, I've got some notches on my belt, so I feel like everybody knows that they can trust me. They know how hard I work and how much I study to get prepared for these games.
"I feel like I'm able to be a really good leader for this, not only offensively, but for everybody as a whole."
If the Bengals are going to end one of the longest playoff victory droughts in NFL history, Dalton is going to have to lead the way.
The second-round pick from TCU is the only Bengals quarterback to reach the playoffs in each of his first two seasons. He has thrown 47 touchdown passes, trailing only Dan Marino (68) and Peyton Manning (52) for most in the first two seasons.
His biggest shortcoming has been two subpar playoff performances resulting in losses at Houston, leaving Cincinnati without a playoff victory since the 1990 season. Dalton overthrew an open A.J. Green in the end zone in the closing minutes of the loss at Houston last season.
He has spent a lot of time working on his footwork in the offseason, helping him become more accurate on deep throws. He's also more focused on making sure everyone follows the script, which is one of the next steps that coach Marvin Lewis wants to see.
"It's not about Andy, but let's make sure these other 10 guys are exact," Lewis said. "We have a lot of comfort in Andy to get us in the right spots and where we want to go. The other guys now have to adjust and move forward. To me, that's the thing."
It's been evident during the first six practices of training camp.
"I think I've really taken control of this offense," Dalton said. "I have an understanding of everything that we're doing. Everything that they're asking me to do at the line of scrimmage — changing plays, changing protections, changing routes — whatever it may be, I have full control of that.
"All of that is going to make this offense better, and make me better as a player."
The Bengals have given him a couple more options in the passing game, drafting tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round and running back Giovani Bernard in the second. It's partly up to Dalton to make sure it all blends together on the field.
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth pointed out that Dalton got much better from his rookie season to last year, when he threw for 3,669 yards and 27 touchdowns.
"People are trying to rush him along," Whitworth said. "He's a third-year quarterback who has started since day one and had success with the greatest of greats, when you go back and look at his statistics compared to the guys that have played this game.
"So sure, there's things he wants to do better, but he's kept up with the progression."
Green has seen a change in Dalton as well — less reluctance to speak up in meetings with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, for instance.
"Oh yeah, man, I notice it," Green said. "You can see he's more confident in what he can do. This is his team and his offense. He knows it now."
NOTES: DE Carlos Dunlap was among several veterans who didn't practice on Wednesday. Lewis said he suffered a mild concussion in the last practice. ... DT Larry Black, a Cincinnati native signed as an undrafted free agent from Indiana, dislocated his right ankle during practice and was taken off on a cart. ... Lewis said there won't be any "live" action when the Bengals practice in Atlanta next week against the Falcons leading up to their preseason opener there on Aug. 8.
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