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Bengals, Vikes relying on young QBs to ride smarts to success

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  • By Vic Carucci NFL.com
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The book on Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton is that they're really bright guys whose smarts help them maximize physical talent that might not be as good as other quarterbacks selected in the 2011 NFL Draft (such as Cam Newton, for instance).

So when Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, whose team made Ponder a first-round pick, and Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, whose club snatched Dalton near the top of the second round, say they envision both starting right away, are they basing that mostly on their new quarterback's intelligence?

It clearly seems that way.

With an offseason placed on hold and no team-supervised workouts allowed during the lockout, coaches for the Vikings, Bengals, and the NFL's 30 other teams must place a great deal of faith in their players -- veterans as well as rookies -- doing a great deal of work on their own. It's unrealistic to think that all of the player-run sessions will be as well organized as, say, the one the New Orleans Saints held Tuesday (prompting quarterback Drew Brees to tell reporters, "I feel like this is putting us way ahead of other teams by having it so organized.")

But it's reasonable for coaches to expect that at least certain players -- such as Ponder and Dalton -- will be on the higher end of diligence when it comes to studying playbooks and any other X-and-O material they were able to grab when the lockout was briefly lifted during the draft.

With Ponder and Dalton, there also is the expectation that they will do a good job of absorbing whatever their teams have been able to put in their hands. Ponder demonstrated as much by earning a degree in finance from Florida State in two-and-a-half years and during his standout performance at the Senior Bowl. Dalton, a former TCU standout, made a strong impression during NFL team visits for being an exceptionally quick study. Perhaps neither would be classified as the greatest of pure passers, but having the potential to deal with the many complexities of being an NFL quarterback as a rookie is a tremendous quality -- especially under these less-than-ideal circumstances.

Since Ponder was chosen on the first night of the draft, he was able to get to the Vikings' facility the next day and get a cram course from offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. Frazier also told reporters that Ponder didn't leave the building empty handed.

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Dalton apparently wasn't quite as fortunate. As a second-round pick, he didn't arrive at the Bengals' facility until after lockout rules had been reinstated, meaning he could take a tour and meet with reporters but couldn't talk football with the coaches. Still, he did make a point of getting the phone numbers of incumbent Bengal players, including the quarterbacks, before he left so there is reason to think that Dalton will get himself as up to speed as he possibly can.

That's what smart, self-motivated players do.

Another factor in why Frazier and Lewis are so bullish on their rookie quarterbacks being able to start immediately is that their offensive coaches will get these kids ready, whenever they're able to work with them. Musgrave and new Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden are strong teachers who should be able to connect with Ponder and Dalton well enough to help accelerate their preparation.

As Musgrave told reporters, "Whenever something transpires, we'll be able to hit the ground running and be able to overcome whatever feeling of being behind the eight-ball that we may experience."

By all early indications, the Vikings and Bengals might not be quite as anxious to land experienced quarterback help as many observers initially thought.

Follow Vic Carucci on Twitter @viccarucci.

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