With the Bengals’ first practice concluded, Ryan Finley walked past Andy Dalton’s locker and headed to a side locker room where the rookies are relegated until the final roster cut. The two quarterbacks will be much closer once the season begins.
How close? That’ll be up to Finley.
The fourth-round pick from N.C. State is competing with Jeff Driskel for the chance to be the No. 2 quarterback for now. Dalton is under contract for two more seasons, and coach Zac Taylor has declared him the unchallenged starter.
Finley started learning the offense this week and went through the first rookie minicamp practice on Friday, getting accustomed to a new setting and a new offense. Taylor liked the way Finley grasped the limited part of the offense he’s been taught and made corrections on the field.
“I thought he had good command in the huddle,” Taylor said. “I was pleased. One time we broke the huddle, we weren’t on the same page, and he got them back in there. Day 1, that’s a good start for him, showing those qualities.”
Finley was nervous and floated a few throws, but otherwise was pleased with the scaled-back workout.
“I hadn’t been in a setting like that in a while,” Finley said. “I could have thrown it better, but I think that’s just the first day.”
The Bengals moved up in the fourth round to take Finley, the highest spot they’ve drafted a quarterback since they got Dalton in the second round in 2011. Cincinnati was one of three teams, along with Detroit and Washington, that brought him in for pre-draft visits.
Finley didn’t play football until high school. His father grew up in Minnesota and played hockey, so that was Finley’s main sport as a youth.
“It was something we could do together,” Finley said. “When I got a little bit older, I kind of played on the same teams as my dad.”
Finley played seven games at Boise State before transferring to N.C. State, where he played three seasons. As a senior, he completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 3,928 yards with 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
The Bengals think he’ll be a good complement to Dalton, who has a similar passing style in their West Coast offense. Dalton texted Finley after he was drafted, but they hadn’t yet met as of Friday. Finley has spent time watching video of Dalton to learn the offense.
“I’ve heard so many awesome things and just watching him on film these past couple days trying to learn the offense, I’m impressed,” Finley said.
The main challenge for Finley is grasping a playbook that’s far more complicated in how plays are described and called.
“It’s very new for me,” he said. “Very wordy, but it’s fun. It’s what I like.”
Taylor won’t do any 11-on-11 drills during his first rookie minicamp as Bengals head coach, putting more of an emphasis on getting players up to speed on the playbooks while undrafted rookies try to impress during individual drills.
“We’re kind of in-between,” Taylor said. “You’re not going to see any 11 on 11, but it’s more than a tryout.”
HITTING THE GROUND
The Bengals practiced on their grass fields adjacent to Paul Brown Stadium, which were damp from an overnight rain. Several players slipped while running routes.
“A little slick,” Taylor said. “It’s not ideal when it rains for your first practice.”