Rookie quarterback Ryan Finley admittedly felt a little bad upon finding out he was replacing veteran Andy Dalton as the Cincinnati Bengals’ starting quarterback.
Coach Zac Taylor informed the players Tuesday he had decided to make the change, hoping Finley can provide a spark that has been missing amid an 0-8 start.
Dalton, a ninth-year player who turned 32 on Tuesday, threw for 329 yards and a touchdown without any turnovers in a loss Sunday to the L.A. Rams, bouncing back from a three-interception outing the week prior. He’s passed for 2,252 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions this season. Finley, a fourth-round draft pick, is yet to appear in a regular-season game.
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“(I was) sad at first for Andy, and then excited,” Finley said Wednesday after his first practice with the first-team offense. “I’m excited for this opportunity that I’m getting and I’m just gonna have fun with it and execute and do whatever I can to help this team win.”
Dalton said he feels no ill-will toward Finley, and it was comforting for Finley to know that.
Finley learned from watching Dalton and especially took note of his resiliency. Having Dalton’s continued support is crucial for his development.
“Andy has been unbelievable to me,” Finley said. “He’s a really good dude. He’s a class act and he’s special to me. I look up to him a ton. I can’t imagine how hard this is for him. He texted me and said he has my back. That meant a lot to me.”
Finley, 24, is set to make his NFL debut Nov. 10 against the Baltimore Ravens. The Bengals have a bye this week, and Finley said the extra time to prepare will be “huge” for him and the team.
Wednesday was his first practice with the first-team offense, and although the session was shortened because of rain, it was helpful for Finley and the other players to get some reps together before breaking until Monday.
“It was fun,” Finley said. “I threw my first pass to A.J. Green, so that was exciting. The weather is what it is, but it was fun to get out there.”
Finley has come a long way since he first arrived for rookie minicamp in May. After struggling with accuracy during the team’s offseason workout program, he turned a corner in training camp and was impressive through three preseason appearances, completing 73.4 percent (47-of-64) of his passes for three touchdowns and one interception.
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Those reps gave Finley some confidence, he said, and provided him something to fall back on as he prepares to make the jump into a starting role. He hopes to replicate what he’s learned from watching Dalton and will rely on the football knowledge he’s gained from working with him and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt.
“I’m just going to try to have fun,” Finley said. “When it’s time to make plays and extend plays I’m going to try to do that. Really, we have good athletes. We have good players, so just get them the ball in space and let them do the work. I just have to focus on executing plays. That’s kind of my main goal.”
Taylor said he was impressed with Finley in the preseason but this is a chance to see what he is capable of against a first-team defense and playing alongside the starters.
“Everything that I’ve seen from Ryan shows us that he’s capable,” Taylor said. “Again, you have to get into some games against some starting defenses to know what you have there, and that’s what we’ll find out. Everything that we’ve seen from him in the meeting rooms, in training camp and the offseason shows us what led us to draft him. In the pre-draft process, this was a guy that we really liked and identified as someone we needed in our program. He’s shown us everything that we’ve needed to trust that he can help us get going.”
»LOOKING BACK: Bengals select Finley in fourth round
Taylor described Finley as having a “great touch on the ball” and an ability to “anticipate where it needs to go.” He also said Finley does a good job climbing in the pocket and buying time, but that will require the offensive line to keep the pocket from breaking down on him.
Finley also lacks the chemistry Dalton had years to develop with the receivers, but veteran A.J. Green hopes to do his part to help him out just “by being A.J.” Green hopes to make his season debut Nov. 10 as well.
“I love Ryan,” Green said. “Ryan is a competitor. He wants to win. He has that edge. He has that leadership. It’s going to be a little different for him now. He’s young, so he doesn’t really understand the business side of this. So, it’s probably a little awkward with him and Andy because him and Andy had a great relationship, but at the end of the day it’s a business and you have to take your emotion out of it sometimes and just focus on the business part.”
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