Bengals like hands they've been dealt

Posted Jun 12, 2012

Armon Binns

During a week Chad Ochocinco signed in Miami and Antonio Bryant got a tryout in Seattle, the Bengals seemed both relieved and pleased to be no longer in the market for aging veteran wide receivers.

As the Bengals opened their mandatory minicamp Tuesday, they made it quite clear they like their young crop led by the man some call the anti-Ocho in Pro Bowl rookie A.J. Green, their leader at the position. Lewis simply called Green the best receiver in the NFL Tuesday, before he quickly qualified it to say "one of the best."

Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said he sees a little-known NFL vet, Brandon Tate, along with a second-year guy in Armon Binns getting what he calls "significant playing time and production."

"I don't see the need for another guy," Gruden said after Tuesday's practice. "There are a lot of veteran guys out there who aren’t as smart as these young guys. That's a fact.

"The receivers we have now, I would be thrilled if they were injury free and ready to go. I would be very surprised if somebody didn't pan out."

Lewis agreed and said there's more experience with this group than the one that went to the playoffs last year. In 2011, the Bengals started training camp with the 160 NFL catches of Andre Caldwell, Jerome Simpson and Jordan Shipley. Now they have 172 and Lewis's point is 65 of them come from Green.

"Why would we be more concerned this year about the lack of experience? I still can't figure that question out," asked Lewis. "That was one of the things I was wondering about. I really don't understand that. It seems like last year we had a lack of experience. Now we have maybe the best receiver—one of the best receivers—in the National Football League, so we're in pretty good shape there."

When Gruden breaks down the group trying to become Green's running mate, a list that looks to be anchored by Tate, second-year man Ryan Whalen and what amounts to the rookie duo of Binns and Mohamed Sanu, he likes the diversity they offer.

And then there is the return of Andrew Hawkins's 23 catches in the slot with speed that screams of mismatches.

"They can do a little bit of everything; it's kind of exciting," Gruden said. "We've got quickness in the slot with Hawk, we've got good size in the slot with Sanu, we've got speed outside with Tate, we've got good hands and a great target in Armon, we've got accountability with Ryan Whalen.

"There's no reason for concern right now. The lights haven't been on for some of these guys, but I don't anticipate them being any different than they are now."

Quarterback Andy Dalton has never had a vet receiver with more than 82 catches (that was Caldwell), and he's already been to the playoffs. So he's just looking for guys that know the offense. He insists speed and experience are nice, but the most important thing a receiver needs is knowledge of the playbook.

It will be recalled that last season ended with the Texans draped on Green in double and triple coverage and Dalton throwing three picks. He sees more help for Green this trip.

"He’s going to have a lot of help. With the guys that we have, it doesn’t matter who’s in there, I know they’re going to be in the right spot," Dalton said. "I know that they have a good feel for the game. They know when to sit in holes, when to run through things. It’s been a lot of fun out there practicing with them.”

Maybe Lewis has something. The Bengals certainly didn't have a guy that could run routes like the third-rounder Sanu. Green says that Sanu, drawing on his experience at Rutgers playing so many positions that included quarterback, is running better routes than he did last year.

"Sanu's been great," Green said. "He's a physical guy, great route runner, works hard. He probably is a better route runner now than I was because he's played all the positions. He understands the game a little bit more."

Dalton can see it.

“You can definitely tell that he understands,"" Dalton said. " He understands where holes are in defenses; he understands how to set a guy up on a crossing route – things like that. We’ve got a lot of talent.”

Tate had a year in 2010 with the Patriots that very few—if none—of the available veteran receivers on the market have had lately. He had 24 catches for 18 yards per and Gruden can see him responding now that he's getting another year in the system.

"He's more confident. He sees he belongs in the NFL as a wide receiver and I think that confidence level has shown," Gruden said. "He has all the ability. He and Binns, I would anticipate to have significant playing time and production."

Shipley, he of the 56 career grabs but only four last year after he tore his ACL, has the savvy but the club is bringing him along slowly and there has yet to be a clear indication if he'll be ready for the start of training camp July 27 or if he's a candidate for the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

"The knee feels pretty good. I'm probably going to do quite a bit of stuff, not exactly sure what; but I'll definitely be out there practicing," Shipley said before he worked off and on in practice Tuesday. "There's still a little bit of stiffness, but nothing big. I'm just kind of in the last phase of getting the speed back and all that."

Special teams is going to be a huge factor deciding which six receivers make the roster and Tate and Hawkins would appear to have the upper hand. Tate can return punts and kicks (he set the Bengals single-season punt return yardage record last year), and if he's playing a lot of receiver, cornerback Adam Jones can return the punts Tate doesn't.

Hawkins looked shaky fielding a punt Tuesday when he didn't charge it, but that's not his value on special teams. He's a top-flight gunner and cover man and a major reason the Bengals kick and punt coverage teams both finished in the top 10 last year.


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