CINCINNATI — Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton practiced a couple of handoffs at the start of the Cincinnati Bengals practice Wednesday, looking perfectly fine in his bright orange No. 14 jersey.
The next drill: Throw some warm-up passes. That's when the problem was evident.
Dalton stood and watched the other quarterbacks throw, resting his bruised right wrist and forearm. The Bengals plan to go slowly with Dalton this week, but think he could start Sunday in Denver.
"It's getting better every day," Dalton said before practice. "That's all I can ask for. And we'll see going out there what I'm able to do. I'm hopeful."
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Dalton's throwing arm was hit after he released a pass during a 27-17 win in Cleveland on Sunday. His wrist and forearm bothered him so much that he couldn't grip the ball very well, forcing him to the sideline for the second half. Bruce Gradkowski led Cincinnati to the win with a quick-snap touchdown pass.
Coach Marvin Lewis plans to let Gradkowski run most of the plays in practice while Dalton gets treatment and avoids throwing for now. When Dalton wanted to toss a ball to a teammate on Wednesday, he did it with his left arm.
Dalton had an impressive debut in Cleveland, leading the Bengals to a touchdown and a pair of field goals on their first three possessions. He was 10-for-15 for 81 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions when he got knocked out of the game on the final play of the first half.
Any worries about rookie jitters were quickly gone.
"I'd like to see somebody tell me where he looked like a rookie on Sunday," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "The guy was calm, cool and collected and did his job. I thought he played well, but the key is going to be that we play well around him."
Dalton's right forearm and wrist were hit by Phil Taylor's facemask as he was tackled after releasing a pass. Dalton knew right away that something was wrong. He didn't have much strength in his hand and couldn't grip a ball very well.
"I've hit my wrist before and I felt like I could shake it off," he said. "But this one, I could tell that I didn't have the grip that I needed to have."
X-rays at halftime were negative. He returned to the field in the third quarter and threw a few warm-up passes but struggled to hold on to the ball. He said the wrist and forearm have improved in the last few days.
The main concern is whether he can hold the ball tightly enough.
"I guess with the wrist injury, that's a big part of it," Dalton said. "There is still a little bit of pain in there but like I said, it's getting better every day."
Dalton's first half impressed his teammates. The offense moved smoothly even though a rookie was making the calls at the line of scrimmage.
"Dalton did a great job of getting us in and out of stuff, getting us in the right checks," Whitworth said. "We have said all along that is what he is great at. He's great at orchestrating the offense and putting you in the right places. As a young guy, you can tell he is calm and cool and knows when things are coming."
Gradkowski threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green off a quick-snap play, catching the Browns off-guard for the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, the Broncos are practicing without several of their key players.
Pro Bowlers Champ Bailey (hamstring) and Brandon Lloyd (groin) missed Wednesday's workout along with fellow starters Knowshon Moreno (hamstring) and Elvis Dumervil (shoulder). All of them were hurt Monday night against Oakland.
They might join D.J. Williams (elbow), Marcus Thomas (pectoral), Demaryius Thomas (foot) and Ty Warren (triceps) on the sideline Sunday when the Broncos host Cincinnati.
The eight players who missed practice Wednesday have a collective 55 years of NFL experience.