Marvin Lewis: Bengals' leadership baton has been passed to Andy Dalton

CINCINNATI -- Believe it or not, the Cincinnati Bengals are Andy Dalton's team.

Coach Marvin Lewis drove that point home Friday afternoon when he said during a pre-training camp news conference that the locker room's baton of leadership has switched hands.

Dalton, the embattled starting quarterback who is entering his fifth season, now holds it.

"[Andrew] Whitworth is cutting his ties to allow Andy to keep going, as Whit would say," Lewis said. "He's passed the baton to Andy and he's happy to give it up. That's a good thing."

A 10-year veteran who has long been among the team's most commanding voices, Whitworth is beginning the final year of his contract. He has stated often that he wants to retire a Bengal. No formal interest from the club has been publicly expressed in re-signing him, but it's clear those in charge understand the impact Whitworth has had on the organization throughout his career. A 2006 draft pick, Whitworth has only worn Cincinnati's stripes.

Leadership has been at the heart of Dalton's offseason. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was charged following January's wild-card round playoff loss at Indianapolis with making Dalton a more respected figure inside and outside the franchise.

"Hue has been great for Andy because Hue has really pushed Andy to do more," Lewis said. "Andy has grown by leaps and bounds."

This hasn't been the first time Lewis commented on Dalton's development as a leader, and it likely won't be the last. As the Bengals try to mold Dalton into being a better performer in postseason and big-game scenarios, they feel the leadership issue is one of the final obstacles he has to overcome.

Dalton said he focused on being more vocal with teammates during organized team activities and minicamp, and he's hoping to do the same during training camp.

"It's just the full control [of being a leader] and making sure everybody's on the same page," Dalton said. "Because if a receiver runs something short, it messes up the timing. He's not going to catch the ball and we're not going to be able to get the full potential of a play; or the same if it's a blocking assignment. Just making sure everybody's doing the right thing. Pushing guys to be the best that they can be.

"That's what's going to help us win games, and that's what's going to help this team be the best. It's much-needed."