CINCINNATI -- Hue Jackson has little trouble keeping himself grounded these days. All he has to do is look at the calendar.
It's June 10.
Still, it's been hard for the offensive coordinator to avoid getting even just a little giddy at what he's seen so far from his quarterback through the first three weeks of offseason practices. Sharp throws, well-placed passes and a sound understanding of a stepped-up offensive tempo are just a few examples of the type of play that has Jackson trying to contain his excitement about Andy Dalton.
Yes, the words "excitement" and "Andy Dalton" were used in the same sentence. That Andy Dalton.
About seven months after he was last spotted, "Good Andy" has returned to Paul Brown Stadium. Jackson hopes he'll stay, too, and do whatever he can to keep "Bad Andy" out.
"There's more urgency in his body," Jackson said of Dalton following the Bengals' first minicamp practice Tuesday. "All the way around, he's improving.
"But we've got to keep improving."
While he was wowed by the 40-yard in-air bomb Dalton delivered from the left hashmark to a well-covered A.J. Green along the right sideline, Jackson still wants to be patient with trumping up his quarterback too much.
Even the 60-yard "Go" route completion in the end zone to Green, followed by the quickly-delivered 20-yard post pass across the middle to Marvin Jones in one-on-one drills with defensive backs, kept Jackson reserved in his judgement on Dalton's day.
"Again, we have a lot more practices before we get ready to play a game," Jackson said. "So I'm excited about what the upside is, but I know we've got to go get there. We've got to keep chasing it every day to get there."
All of this comes as Dalton continues to deal with the potential distraction of contract negotiations. He said earlier Tuesday that he believes enough in himself that if forced into signing an extension that was structured similarly to Colin Kaepernick's unique and controversial new deal, he could do it.
It mostly has been Dalton's decision-making and arm strength that has caught Jackson's eye during the voluntary organized team activities and Tuesday's mandatory minicamp.
"He's throwing the ball fantastic," Jackson said. "He's more compact. The ball comes out quicker."
A large credit for those passing improvements will go to Southern California-based throwing instructor Tom House, a former major league pitcher who worked with Dalton on his mechanics earlier this offseason. House has trained the likes of Drew Brees and Tom Brady, trying to get them to focus on the fundamentals that will get the ball exactly where it needs to be at the speed it needs to be there.
Earlier this offseason Dalton explained that House's main point of emphasis was to get Dalton to keep his front arm tucked close to his body when he threw, much like a pitcher does when throwing a baseball. In doing so, House told him he would keep his body under better control. Before, Dalton had a tendency to open up his front shoulder too quickly, causing his throws to sail wildly and lack velocity. A number of his 20 interceptions last season were the result of overthrown passes that wobbled slowly beyond their targets.
Some credit for Dalton's improvements also should go to Jackson, whose quicker tempo offense has seemed to put him in better position to get passes off in a faster, more fluid rhythm. The pace the Bengals have been practicing at this spring will closely mirror the high-speed play they'll showcase when they take the stadium for live games in the fall.
"Hue tries to create that atmosphere in practice," Dalton said. "We want to do everything quick. We want our drops to be quick. We want to get back and be ready to go. And so the emphasis is on tempo this whole offseason. We've really been moving forward in that direction and it's been great."
At the start of Tuesday's practice, Bengals quarterbacks were going through a quick-throw drill that forced them to throw the ball to a receiver on a quick screen. There were no dropbacks to the exercise. It was all about getting the ball, turning, finding the target and throwing toward the target. Drills like that can help reinforce the urgency Jackson wants to see.
From those exercises to Dalton's passes in one-on-one, seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 scenarios, Jackson has seen enough to believe his quarterback is trending in the right direction.
Those exercises and Dalton's passes in one-on-one and 11-on-11 scenarios are just small pieces to the improved play Jackson has witnessed so far.
"There's not a lapse in play," Jackson said. "Again, I can only speak from what I can encounter, but I see a very confident player who goes in and calls the play and makes decisions, who redirected things and gets us in the right place. There's not a lot of negative football plays. That's what you want. He's taken charge and control."