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Cream of the crop

Posted Jan 25, 2014

Vontaze Burfict has assured Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green he doesn't have to worry in Sunday's Pro Bowl.

Vontaze Burfict, the Bengals linebacker who is one of the biggest hitters in football, is playing for the other team for some ungodly reason. But he's assured Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green he doesn't have to worry in Sunday's Pro Bowl (7 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) when Burfict makes his all-star debut.

"He said he's not going to hit me coming across the middle," Green said with a laugh this week from Hawaii. "We're real-life teammates. He's real great player. One of the best in the business."

We, of course, know how good Green is.

We've seen him match 155-yard games in Detroit against his idol and mentor, Calvin Johnson. We've seen him grind for 116 yards in Pittsburgh against one of the NFL's top defenses with the playoffs on the line. We've seen him rack up five straight 100-yard games and make a ballet full of acrobatic catches.

But if you really want to see how good Green is, odds are you'll get to see it during one tidy, neat night of football if you tune in for his third straight appearance in the NFL's all-star game that keeps trying to reinvent itself into relevance.

Even though he wasn't the MVP last year, Green was clearly the best player on a field teeming with the best of the best when he led all receivers with 119 yards and became the seventh player in Pro Bowl history to score at least three touchdowns. Two years ago as a rookie, he caught a 34-yard touchdown pass. The game may be played with all the intensity of a padless practice in June, but Green says the adrenaline is going to be there even though he's playing for Team (Deion) Sanders and not the AFC as the NFL tries to jazz it all up again.

"Every time I get on the field," Green said, "it's time to compete."

Even though the teams have been chosen with a playground draft instead of by conference, Green has been reunited with Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. It will be recalled that Luck found Green last year in Hawaii for touchdown passes of 49 and four yards ("Great arm, natural leader," Green says of Luck), but there have been no pacts between the two this year.

"Look at all the great receivers we have. There's no telling who is going to get the ball," Green said.

Green is joined by two NFC East receivers in Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson and Dez Bryant of Dallas, as well as Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown from his own AFC North. When it's not Luck throwing, it will be two more NFC guys in Carolina's Cam Newton and Philadelphia's Nick Foles.

"The best thing (about the Pro Bowl) is being around all these guys; they're the best," Green said. "No, no. It never gets boring. It's always an honor to play in this game and you can hang out with your family."

If you can call any Pro Bowl week typical, this is it because Green is one of those rare superstars as typical as your neighbor. He has again brought his fiancée and parents to Hawaii, as well as a friend from back home in South Carolina. Of the week's activities, he likes hanging out on the beach the most.

But, believe him, the disappointment of the wild card loss lingers. Three catches for 34 yards after a monstrous year Green helped get the Bengals there. Write him in for 10-11 TDs and 1,300-1,400 yards per year, but he has yet to have 100 yards or a TD in a playoff game.

"Consistency," Green said of what he needs to do for an encore.

And what the Bengals offense has to do for an encore?

"Be consistent," Green said again. "Can't turn it over in the playoffs."

And, he says, there will be a fourth straight playoff berth.

"Definitely," he said.

The biggest change is Green's first major change as a pro. His offensive coordinator is no longer Redskins head coach Jay Gruden. It is Hue Jackson, who a decade ago coached two 1,000-yard Bengals wide receivers.

"It's a great opportunity for him. It's not the first time for him," Green said. "I think he'll do fine."

Fine.

History says Green is going to do just fine Sunday.

"It's fun being out there with all those guys," Green said.

 

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