Jeff Driskel must recognize the competition he’s got with rookie fourth-round draft pick Ryan Finley for the Cincinnati Bengals’ backup quarterback spot. Now, he’s trying to show his value extends beyond what he could do from behind center.
The fourth-year quarterback approached special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons on Monday about the potential of contributing in that phase of the game, and on Tuesday morning, head coach Zac Taylor informed him the Bengals wanted to work him out a bit at wide receiver, too.
Driskel got a few routes in during the final practice of training camp that afternoon, nearly making a touchdown catch on an Andy Dalton throw to the corner of the end zone, and he’s hoping with three preseason games left he gets a chance to showcase his versatility a little more before the 53-man roster decisions are made. Cincinnati travels to play the Washington Redskins on Thursday and Driskel will still be getting reps at quarterback.
“I just wanted to show that I want to help the team any way that I can, whether that’s at quarterback, which is obviously where I want to play, where I think I can play in this league,” Driskel said. “But contributing on special teams and whatever I can do to help the team, I made that clear to the staff that I want to be able to do that and show that I can contribute.”
Finley had an impressive debut Saturday in the preseason opener at Kansas City when he completed 13 of 18 passes for 109 yards and one touchdown with one late interception. Driskel, meanwhile, struggled as he went 8-for-19 with 79 yards and one interception and a rating of 32.6.
It seems unlikely the Bengals would keep three quarterbacks unless one of them (Driskel) shows he can add value elsewhere; however, Taylor insists Driskel is still doing everything he normally would as a quarterback and he is not out of that competition.
“He wants to bring value to this team,” Taylor said. “He is not out of the quarterback competition by any stretch. He just feels like he can help us, and we feel like he can help us on special teams and you saw him take a couple reps at receiver. He is a great athlete. He’s 232 pounds, he’s explosive, he has good hands — those guys are hard to come by on special teams sometimes and even at receiver, so we’ll give him a look.”
Driskel made his NFL debut last year and became the starter when Dalton broke his thumb in Week 11, but Driskel struggled with the rest of the team. With Taylor coming in as an offensive-minded head coach, it was no surprise when the Bengals traded up during the April draft to take Finley in the fourth round out of N.C. State.
It seems Finley remains in the plans for the future, but Driskel said he doesn’t feel like he’s out of the competition.
“That’s still my main focus, is playing quarterback,” he said. “I’ve had a pretty nice camp so far. Didn’t play like I would have wanted to in the game, but I still have three games of game reps and just looking forward to continue improving.”
Driskel said it was fun getting some reps at receiver Tuesday, but he’s still not sure what he will do on special teams. He practiced at receiver a little at the end of the 2017 season and ended up breaking his arm when he fell to the ground awkwardly; however, the 26-year-old said that was a freak accident and he’s not worried about a repeat scenario possibly taking him out of the competition all together.
Now, he just has a lot of learning to do to actually show he could be effective in that role. He knew Dalton was going to throw to him “no matter what,” so it was a little disappointing he couldn’t make the catch on the fade route that would have gone for a touchdown.
Second-year wide receiver Auden Tate said he was impressed by Driskel’s speed and thought he had the ball in his hands before the defender made a play on it. Dalton believes he could be an asset at that position.
“He’s done great,” Dalton said. “For a guy that his athletic ability, I think we always knew he could do more than just be a quarterback. But when you’re a quarterback, you’re limited on things that you can do. Now that he’s willing to do more, he’s going to get that opportunity. He’s really going to showcase his athletic ability. I’m excited to where it’s all going to go.
“… I think for him, to show that he’s willing to do whatever it takes. He wants to help this team in any aspect that he can. It shows just the type of guy that he is.”