With all eyes on McCarron, can he lead Bengals?

Posted at 11:00 AM, Dec 17, 2015

CINCINNATI -- AJ McCarron has it all.

Two national championships at Alabama. The model wife, Katherine Webb, the woman Brent Musberger made famous. The couple just found out their first child, a boy, is on the way.

Katherine Webb and Cincinnati Bengal AJ McCarron have been married since 2014. Photo by WCPO

But as far as professional football, McCarron has a lot to prove. He wasn’t selected until the fifth round of the 2014 draft. He was the ninth quarterback and 164th player selected overall. That was largely because there were doubts about his arm strength and athleticism.

McCarron gets his chance Sunday when he makes his first pro start against the San Francisco 49ers in San Jose. Whether McCarron’s successful or not will depend somewhat on his arm and athleticism.

But what’s clear is that the intangibles that made him successful at Alabama — he was 36-4 as a starter — have carried over to his pro career.

“I’ve always liked the kid,” defensive end Wallace Gilberry said. “I’ve followed him for a long time. He’s a winner.”

“I love him. The guy’s a winner. He’s prepares pretty good and gives us great looks in practice,” cornerback Adam Jones said. “He’s smart. He’s competitive. I’m eager to see what he can do with a full week behind him.”

With Andy Dalton out indefinitely with a fractured right thumb, the Bengals' season rests squarely on McCarron’s shoulders.

He's had a lot of time to prepare for this. He has been with the Bengals nearly two full years. He missed an entire year with a shoulder injury that predated training camp. He started that year on Injured Reserve and wasn’t cleared to practice until Nov. 18. He was on the inactive list for the final three games and the playoff game.

This year, his first extensive action came in an Aug. 29 exhibition game against Chicago. He went 8-for-8 for 87 yards in leading the Bengals to a touchdown on his first drive. He finished 12-for-17 for 149 yards and a touchdown.

“It’s never the same until you get thrown into a game atmosphere,” McCarron said. “Chicago was kind of relieving. I realized I can play this game. I have confidence I can play at this level. To do it in a game is totally different. It was a confidence booster.”

Fans saw a bit of his personality in that game. He ran on the field gesturing and shouting when he took over for Dalton.

“I feel like you can lead all different ways,” McCarron said. “Mine is always to play the game with passion. I try to get everybody else to show a side of them they might not want to show or show all the time. Show a little excitement. Do a crazy dance, do something.

“That’s the way I’ve always played the game. Brett Favre is my favorite quarterback of all time. It’s not because of his decision-making. It’s because of the way he played the game. He was always like that 40-year-old kid.

“That’s what I love about the game. It’s a game. We get paid a great amount. That’s a blessing, but at the end of the day, it’s a game. You got to play like you’re a kid in the back yard having fun.”

McCarron is not short on confidence. Coach Marvin Lewis knew that would serve McCarron well when his chance came.

“The hard part would be (taking over), if he didn’t have the personality that he has,” Lewis said. “This kid has a great personality. It’s why he’s here. He’s got the guys in the building’s confidence. We’ve been so impressed with him. And now he’s got to lead us for however long. I’m glad that we’ve got him. This is why we have him. This is why we drafted him. And this is why we’ve had him here.”

Now, he gets a chance to prove himself as a pro. A lot has been made of the fact that an Alabama quarterback hasn't won an NFL game since Jeff Rutledge did with the New York Giants in 1987.

“Alabama is Alabama,” McCarron said. “I’m with the Cincinnati Bengals. That’s why I’m here now. I’m worried about winning this game and the (AFC) North championship. That’s my No. 1 priority. The history is history. I’m not worried about that.”

McCarron spent Tuesday -- the player’s off day -- watching film with some wide receivers.

“We’re putting in a lot of work,” McCarron said. “We’re wanting to show the guys we’re here, working our tails off. I want to show the guys they can depend on me, and I’m ready to play.”