The Buffalo Bills didn't want quarterback Joe Licata, but the Cincinnati Bengals do.
On Monday, the former Will South and UB quarterback worked out for the defending AFC North champions and then signed a rookie contract. He'll compete in camp for the No. 3 QB job behind Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron. The Bills previously had Licata in for rookie camp on a tryout basis but opted not to sign him.
In Licata's 3 1/2 years starting with the Bulls, he threw for 9,485 yards, 76 touchdowns and 37 interceptions.
All along, Licata repeated that he simply wanted a "fair opportunity." While he's not very big, mobile and doesn't possess a rocket arm, Licata is counting on his intelligence being the ace of the sleeve, assuring he's "certain" he can excel at the next level. The kid who has worked extensively with former NFL QB Chad Pennington and idolizes Kurt Warner likes his odds.
“People get infatuated with arm strength but what makes the greats great is anticipation and accuracy,” Licata said before the NFL Draft. “And I think that’s my greatest strength on the field. People want measurables. People want the 6-5 guy who can run a 4.6 and throw the ball through a wall. But there’s not a lot of guys who can think the game too.
“It’s about anticipating things and seeing things.”
After 15 quarterbacks were drafted and another nine were signed after the draft to deals, Licata gets his shot. To make room Monday, the Bengals released quarterback Matt Johnson. Licata will battle with former Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning.
Wenning, originally a sixth-round pick in 2014 by Baltimore, spent three months on the Bengals' practice squad in 2015 before being activated as McCarron's back-up when Dalton fractured his thumb in mid-December.
UB head coach Lance Leipold described Licata as a smart decision-maker before the draft, a leader who can dissect a defense. And he believed Licata's ability to handle rough conditions would appeal to cold-weather teams.
"Our stadium can be windy at times and he's learned to adapt his game to that," Leipold said before the draft. "Those are things that sometimes get lost. He'll be able to handle it."
Licata would certainly face such conditions in the AFC North. And he proved his toughness in college.
A stinging hip bothered him much of his collegiate career. The pain felt like “getting shot” as a junior, like “needles” were jarring his hip, yet Licata completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,647 yards with 29 touchdowns and 11 picks that season.
"He went through that and still stuck in that pocket like a champ," Leipold said. "I'm not a big stat guy but if you look at the MAC stats, we had some of the fewest sacks given up last year and one of the reasons is, is his anticipation and getting rid of the ball. For a not zone-read team or move-in-the-pocket team, that's a lot of credit to Joe."
Now, this local dual-sport star hopes to make it in the NFL.