PITTSBURGH — Phil Simms looked a little out of place without his partner Saturday as Jim Nantz called Kentucky’s win over North Carolina to tip off CBS’s college basketball coverage before heading here to join Simms in the booth for Sunday’s Bengals game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Local 12) against the Steelers for a share of first place in the AFC North.
But Simms, the CBS analyst who took some heat espousing on the relative merits of Andrew Luck a few weeks ago, always feels at home talking about young quarterbacks. Yet when he talks about Bengals rookie Andy Dalton, he starts with his coaches.
Simms, a Super Bowl MVP that enjoyed his best day as an NFL quarterback on the biggest stage, agrees. The NFL is a coach’s league. And he says the Bengals have handled Dalton “almost perfectly” and “borderline great.”
“To me in the NFL the most important people are the coaches,” Simms said Saturday night after he emerged from skull sessions with the Bengals coordinators. “I understand you need players, but I know coaches who have the players and still can’t get it done.”
Count Simms among the growing legion of fans of offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, which seems to include certain elements of the Jaguars front office, some college programs, and all of Bengaldom. Thankfully, Gruden’s success has poked holes in a certain inbred arrogance that doesn’t even try to hide in the NFL. Along with quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese and the rest of his staff, Gruden’s guys have made it look almost easy.
One veteran NFL coach sniffed a few weeks after Gruden’s hire about the Bengals hiring an Arena League coach. But, like Simms says, Gruden’s staff has been brilliant in overseeing Dalton’s development without the benefit of spring practice and classroom sessions.
Coaching is teaching and adjusting. Indoors, outdoors, or on the moon.
“The biggest surprise to me is how the Bengals have handled it. How they’ve run the team. How they’ve organized this new-look team,” Simms said. “They’ve handled Andy Dalton as good or probably better than the Carolina Panthers have handled Cam Newton.
“They’ve surrounded him already with good stuff. The offense is smart. It’s not too complicated. They’re making the transition easy for him. They’ve done the right stuff and I’m sure during the year they’ve added a layer on.”
As for Dalton, Simms is holding off on any pronouncements until “he gets the eye test,” which means after studying him on tape on him and watching him on TV since he was a freshman at TCU, Simms finally gets to see him play a game in person Sunday.
Simms doesn’t have any big questions about Dalton. He’s just curious, the way an expert is curious about another member of the craft. He’s impressed and loves the potential.
“With Andy, it’s easy to see the poise and all that on the field,’ Simms said. “That’s wonderful, but I’m anxious to watch him in person, to see how the football comes out of his hand.”
Simms believes quarterbacks have to have some kind of physical trait to set them apart, be it “really big, really fast, or you can really throw it.” He says a quarterback can’t just be “really smart,’ because it doesn’t take all that much to hit the open guy, and Dalton is trying to jack up that completion percentage that now sits at barely 60 percent.
“Andy Dalton right now is in between in all those categories,” Simms said. “What he is to me already is he’s a guy that’s going to stand in there. He’s not a guy quick-footed enough to scramble all the time and get the five yards. He’s going to be a successful quarterback because he can figure out who to throw it to and hit them when they’re open at an unbelievably high rate. And he has the potential to make two or three throws a game that can separate. To me, that’s what it’s going to come down to.”
Don’t get Simms wrong. He likes what he sees on tape and he was particularly impressed with the way the Steelers coaches were surprised this week at how far he was along physically when they played three weeks ago. But he wants to see the guy up close.
“I’m excited for the eye test,” Simms said.
When he was scouting Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger coming out of college, Simms was able to put No. 1 on his list of likes, “Big. And he’ll play big in the NFL.”
No. 1 on his list for Dalton is his throwing motion.
“He has a beautiful throwing motion. I didn’t say that about Carson Palmer,” Simms said. “Carson has a jerkier motion. Andy’s is smooth and that smooth motion will serve him well and his arm will get stronger as time goes on.”
Tags: Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Gruden, Ken Zampese, Phil Simms
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