CINCINNATI -- Cocky? Rambunctious? Bad teammate? Locker-room cancer?
The player who stood before media for nearly 15 minutes Wednesday afternoon appeared anything but all of the descriptors listed above.
As new Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron held an unofficial introductory news conference Wednesday with reporters as he stood in the shadow of Paul Brown Stadium's South end zone, he didn't offer any overly brash proclamations or guarantees. He didn't threaten to chuck a cameraman into the stands. No teammates, either old or new, were tossed underneath any physical or metaphorical buses.
Instead, he was calm, mostly patient and polite as he answered questions. He even added, in his slight southern Alabama twang, a "no ma'am" as he prefaced one of his responses.
He showed his vulnerability, too, admitting that he was hurt by recent reports that questioned his character.
So who was this guy? Was he the same person who was chided all day Saturday and supposedly blasted all offseason behind the closed doors of several team front offices? On Wednesday, he didn't appear that way.
But remember, looks can sometimes be deceiving.
To hear McCarron and one of his former college teammates tell it, Saturday's reports were a case of mistaken persona. Two of them in particular, one from ESPN insider Adam Schefter and another from NFL Network said officials from multiple teams weren't impressed with McCarron during pre-draft meetings. Some team officials apparently felt he was too cocky and had an ego large enough to fill their entire stadiums.
McCarron, a starter on two national championship teams at Alabama, believes his confidence may have been misinterpreted as cockiness.
"Through my college years I've never been cocky," McCarron said. "I've always given respect to my teammates before myself."
Before we go too much further, let me point out I've done some homework on McCarron since Saturday. I've heard some of the same things Schefter and others did from a few people who were around Alabama's football program on a regular basis. An argument could be made that the claims I heard may have been buffered by the timing of the other remarks about McCarron that had been made earlier in the weekend, but they do come from intelligent people whom I trust.
But perhaps they misread his confidence as cockiness, too? Maybe, maybe not. I can't know for certain until I've spent more time around McCarron myself. One day isn't much of a sample size.
Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has his share of experiences involving McCarron to rely on though. He's known the quarterback since 2009, the same year they both enrolled at Alabama. The two played three seasons together before Kirkpatrick was drafted by Cincinnati in 2012.
"He's a competitor," Kirkpatrick said. "I watched him our freshman year try to compete for the job. Obviously he didn't get the job. But he always had a great attitude about it."
Kirkpatrick added he felt McCarron outplayed the starting quarterback, recently retired and former Bengal Greg McElroy. The top job was won by the elder McElory, though, because "he had more wisdom," Kirkpatrick said.
"I've seen him get fiery," Kirkpatrick added of McCarron. "I've seen him get mad. Maybe his receivers aren't getting the ball because we're picking the balls off. He gets mad -- he gets onto them. He lets them know by saying like, 'Let's pick it up.' He doesn't like slacking players because he's not going to go out there and be a slacking player."
So the question is: Is it confidence or cockiness that really fuels McCarron? Was it confidence or cockiness that the Bengals saw?
Does it really matter which, though?
Regardless the distinction between the traits, it's clear the Bengals saw something in McCarron that they didn't see in their starting quarterback. Time will ultimately judge whether McCarron is simply confident in his abilities or just overly cocky. There is a hope around the Bengals, though, that with McCarron around, Andy Dalton will eventually develop either of the two characteristics; ones offensive coordinator Hue Jackson believes a signal-caller ought to have.
"A lot of people call me cocky," Jackson said. "I have a lot of confidence, too, and I kind of like that in a guy.
"I kind of like that in a quarterback."