Rookie quarterback Ryan Finley should get a long look at what it’s like to compete in the NFL when the Cincinnati Bengals play their first preseason game Saturday at Kansas City.
Starters are expected to be somewhat limited, and the Bengals appeared to be preparing him for more snaps Monday when they trotted him out with the second-team offense for the first time in training camp. He flipped roles with backup Jeff Driskel after spending the eight days of practice with the third string.
Finley, a fourth-round draft pick out of North Carolina State, has struggled with his accuracy since rookie minicamp but had one of his better days during an otherwise disappointing practice for the offense. He faced significant pressure from the pass rush and had several positive plays wiped out by penalties but managed to maintain his composure for the most part.
“He does some good things,” coach Zac Taylor said. “As any rookie would go it’s a challenge to pick up a pretty big play book right off the bat and the biggest thing is getting him to play with confidence. He’s a confident kid. He did some really good things. He’ll get some more opportunities to play with the twos.”
Expectations are that Dalton and Driskel each will play a couple of series with the first team offense on Saturday, and Finley would then play a significant portion of the game after that with the second team offense. However, Taylor said he and his staff won’t decide how to split playing time until after seeing how practice goes Wednesday and Thursday.
Finley didn’t know he was going to practice with the No. 2s until Monday morning but relished the opportunity.
“I was excited about the opportunity,” Finley said. “I thought at times the offense moved the ball really well. At times for me personally was just some mental mistakes so I just got to do better.
“I’m just trying to get better every day. It’s a learning curve for me. I’m just excited for the opportunity to just keep coming out here and getting better every single day.”
Practicing with more urgency is one point of emphasis for Finley, but adjusting to the speed and pace of the NFL is just one aspect of making the transition from college. Finley began his career at Boise State but played just three games because of a season-ending ankle injury as a redshirt sophomore in 2015 and was granted an extra year of eligibility after transferring to N.C. State.
In three seasons with the Wolfpack, he passed for 10,501 yards and 60 touchdowns over 39 games.
“I think it’s everything,” Finley said of the difference between college and the NFL. “It really is. It’s a lot on a quarterback’s plate, but I think it’s fun. That’s what excites me about it. And so, like I said, keep trying to get better for me is just getting more and more comfortable every day and just studying and doing my best to execute. Whatever the defense gives you, just kind of execute what Zac and (offensive coordinator Brian) Callahan ask us to do.”
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Taylor said he was impressed by Finley’s approach to his first day of extensive work Monday and continues to see growth from the young quarterback.
“It doesn’t seem too big for him,” Taylor said. “He gets up there and you can tell sometimes the pressures on third down, in the NFL there is some very extensive pressure packages, so for a young guy seeing it for the first time it takes some time to process. That’s understandable. So we’re just going to keep bringing him along and he’ll get there. I’m very encouraged by some things I saw from him.”
Finley said the more reps he has gotten, the more comfortable he has felt, and he believes that has shown in his performance the last couple days of practice. Daily improvement will only improve his confidence, but he doesn’t know what to expect Saturday.
The Phoenix, Ariz., native will have a small crowd of family and friends there at Arrowhead Stadium cheering him on, including his parents and uncle.
“I just (need to) take advantage of every single rep,” Finley said. “…When my name gets called, I hope I’ll be ready to lead whoever the 10 other guys who are out there with me. I’ve got a lot of comfort with a lot of different guys out here, a lot of different groups. It’ll be fun. I’m excited for Saturday. I think we all are.”
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