Over the 43 seasons the Bengals have been playing professional football, the franchise has been blessed with enduring quarterback-to-wide receiver hookups "” Ken Anderson to Isaac Curtis, Boomer Esiason to Eddie Brown, Jeff Blake to Carl Pickens and Carson Palmer to Chad Ochocinco.

The Bengals chose wide receiver A.J. Green from the University of Georgia in the first round and Texas Christian University quarterback Andy Dalton in the second round of this year's NFL Draft with the expectation that one day fans will be able to add Dalton-to-Green to that list.

In a year of change, the Bengals' first two draft picks signaled they are ready to meet their biggest challenge head-on. The fortunes of the team not just in 2011 but also for several seasons will be tied to how well Dalton and Green play pitch-and-catch.

"I think that potentially they could be a 10-year tandem, and that's what the franchise is hoping for," says Dave Lapham, radio analyst for the team the past 25 seasons. "I think it's entirely possible. Those guys are going to be the foundation and cornerstone of the passing attack for the next decade."

Dalton comes to the Bengals after being named the Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year for a second straight season and leading TCU to a 13-0 season, capped by a 21-19 win against Big Ten champion Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. He set an MWC record by producing nearly 12,000 yards of total offense in his career with the Horned Frogs.

"Playing in the Mountain West Conference we knew we had to be perfect to have a chance to play in a BCS game," Dalton says. "So I push myself to be perfect in everything that I'm doing."

Green averaged 15.8 yards per catch in his three seasons with Georgia and had 23 touchdown catches among his 166 career receptions. He got the nickname "Little Randy Moss" in high school for his abilities not just catching the ball but for what he could do after he got his hands on it.

On paper, Dalton and Green have the makeup to fit right into the Bengals' passing tradition. If there is one thing the Bengals have seemingly always had on that side of the ball, it's a quarterback-wide receiver combination that has forced opposing defensive coordinators to game plan against.

Anderson and Curtis were the first of those longtime prolific pairs. Lapham was a teammate of the two, including during the 1981 AFC Championship season, when despite being just fourth on the team with 37 receptions, Curtis still averaged 16.5 yards per catch. He caught 51 of his 53 career TDs from Anderson, the most by any QB-wide receiver combination in franchise history. His 17.1-yard average on 461 career receptions is one franchise record Ochocinco doesn't hold and includes five seasons of averaging at least 18.7 yards per catch and two seasons of better than 21 yards.

Ochocinco and Palmer have hooked up for 44 touchdown passes in their careers in Cincinnati, third most in franchise history behind Anderson-Curtis and the 47 touchdown passes that Blake threw to Pickens.

How quickly Dalton and Green begin their collaboration is still to be determined. Starting a rookie quarterback who will have less offseason preparation time than normal due to the NFL's labor dispute will make things tougher.

"You're talking about the fourth pick in the draft and a high second-round pick, so any time you take people that high, you think their future is bright and they're very important to the franchise," new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden says. "We need a starting quarterback. We have two guys coming back from last year with very limited playing experience in the NFL and Andy, so someone has to take the reins."
Palmer didn't start his rookie season; he didn't even take a snap as Jon Kitna played every down in 2003. That was a different Bengals team. Marvin Lewis was in his first year as the head coach and the Bengals, coming off a 2-14 campaign, had bigger immediate issues to fix than at quarterback. When Lewis felt he had those issues addressed, Palmer took over in 2004 and led the team to the AFC North division title in 2005, its first playoff appearance in 15 years.

While this 2011 version of the Bengals is also coming off a disappointing season, Lewis is more comfortable with his leadership group and won't be hesitant to start Dalton sooner than later if the redhead from Katy, Texas, is ready and Lewis believes it is the best move for the team.

"I feel really confident in that," said Lewis the day the Bengals drafted the quarterback. "I think that's what really drew him to us. We felt he was mature enough and ready to handle it. We went through quite a process with these guys and felt great about him. He's going to compete just like everyone else on the football team."