He spent his college career at TCU, Texas Christian University. As a quarterback there, he set high-flying records, most prominently his number of wins in his four years at the position. That college career culminated into a 21-19 Rose Bowl win over the favored Big Ten champion Wisconsin Badgers.
It was in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft—the 35th overall pick to be exact. It was the moment the Cincinnati Bengals picked him up, with uncertainty surrounding former quarterback Carson Palmer at the time. And at 6’2,” 215 pounds, and with the number 14 on his back, he was thrust into the starting quarterback position for a struggling Cincinnati team.
His objective: Try to take the reins of a team that had lost nearly all of its star players and lead the franchise away from total disaster.
Everything stood in the way of him even coming close to that feat. His was one of the three youngest teams in the NFL, with very little experience in the league at most positions—perhaps most importantly for No. 14: his receivers. In fact, his leading target became the guy that Cincinnati had drafted ahead of Dalton that same year.
And then there was the lockout. It lasted and continued to eliminate practice time for any of the players in the league. Andy Dalton had just four short weeks to learn the entire playbook of the Cincinnati Bengals. Furthermore, that playbook had been changed dramatically to reflect a West Coast offense that Dalton was used to, under offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
Dalton practiced hard and often, learning the plays in half the time that he would have usually had. He took the team through the preseason and then guided the offense into the regular season, seemingly just after he had started getting familiar with the palybook.
He led the offense of a team ranked last in the NFL at the beginning of the season, into Week 1. With some help from Bruce Gradkowski, Andy Dalton and his team grabbed a 1-0 record to start his career. According to the season projections, the Bengals were going to go 1-15 the rest of the way.
As we all know by now, that didn’t happen.
Andy Dalton caught fire.