Updated: 8:45 p.m.
The Bengals estimated Thursday night's crowd at the first Paul Brown Stadium training camp practice at just shy of 3,000 as they prepare for Saturday's 3 p.m. intrasquad scrimmage and Sunday's 6 p.m. Mock Game in the stadium.
It was the Bengals' last call in full pads before the weekend festivities. They do have a 3 p.m. workout Friday on the practice fields adjacent to PBS and passes are available starting at 10 a.m. and running through noon at the North ticket window.
The offense looked effective in a red-zone passing period with tight end Jermaine Gresham scoring two touchdowns from quarterback
"He looked good," said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, who had heard about Gresham criticizing himself earlier in the day when he compared himself to fellow Pro Bowlers.
"There's no reason to compare him to anybody. He's his own person. He can block, he can catch, he's a good solid tight end. Guys might have better stats and better highlights and dunks over the goal posts, but Jermaine's a very solid tight end in the NFL."
Gruden said all the receivers have looked good enough that he didn't want to be in the room if the Bengals had to make the cut now. He did say that
"I’m not saying he won’t be in a week or two or three," Gruden said. "It takes awhile to have that confidence to explode off of it. The more he works in individual and team it will come.”
The biggest cheer came when head coach Marvin Lewis ran into rookie receiver
Public opinion seems to be on the side of Lewis's two-year extension as applause greeted him when he got helped up.
GRESHAM TOUGH ON SELF: The big fella from Oklahoma, Gresham, called out
Crazy, really. Gresham is a beast of a tight end at 6-5, 260 pounds. But Atkins goes a fire-plug 290 pounds at 6-1 and can bench two and a half Greshams. Trying to block him is like trying to mow uphill.
"I've got a big heart," Gresham said, and it's true because it was big enough that his guest Pro Bowl week was his preschool chum from Ardmore, Okla., Tommie Fitzgerald.
"He got me. He got me. He drove me back two yards," Gresham admitted of Atkins before Thursday night's 6 p.m. practice in Paul Brown Stadium. "I wanted to cut the head off the dragon. I held my own, though. I just wanted to be competitive. He's the lowest and the shortest. Yeah, if I can block him, I can probably block anybody.
This is what Gresham is doing these days: challenging Pro Bowlers. The funny thing is, Gresham is a Pro Bowler himself, but he doesn't sound like a waiver wire pickup.
"I'm just very, very average; below average," Gresham said. "I need to excel in things so I can be in the top level tier (with) those guys at some point.
"I'm just not good enough right now. I need to pick up my level of game. I need to perfect everything in the craft of the tight end position. You want to be the best. I believe I can be that guy. It's more pride than anything. You just have to keep up with your peers."
Gresham was a Pro Bowl alternate, but when Billy Cundiff air-mailed the Patriots to the Super Bowl, New England's double tight end package of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez couldn't go to Hawaii. The Gronk caught 17 TD passes along with 1,327 yards and Hernandez added seven and 910, respectively, while Gresham, drafted before both in 2010, went for 56 catches, 596 yards and six touchdowns.
"Not even close," said Gresham, who says he watched all of their catches six or seven times on tape.
And don't forget the Saints' Jimmy Graham, another 2010 tight end drafted after Gresham. He caught 99 balls for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns.
"I believe I'm (capable), but until I do it, I can't even compare," he said. "I'm not hard on myself. I just put things in perspective. I'm a realist."
What is real is that the Bengals don't run an offense like the Patriots or the Saints and their go-to guy is another Pro Bowler in wide receiver A.J. Green. They love to split Gresham out like a wide receiver and Gresham loves to be split out and maybe the Bengals will once he has a better handle on the playbook. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden hasn't been shy about challenging Gresham's assignment errors.
But The Gresh is a very real No. 2 option. He's the prototype tight end. That's why he was drafted before everybody else. He's big, he's fast. His hands pluck passes out of thin air. Especially now that he's had an offseason with the same offense he had the previous season for the first time in his career.
"You can see the strides being made," Gresham said. "Just being here with the quarterback, seeing the coach in the offseason, knowing the playbook, and repetition ... you can see the difference. It's just knowing the offense."
Look how 49ers tight end Vernon Davis's career off when San Francisco finally got consistency on offense. But if we're being real here, Gresham is in the toughest division for blocking pass rushers and the coaches like his effort and expertise in that department. They need him to do the grimy stuff at least some of the time.
"In this division, if you can block and hold your own against these guys, then you can say you're doing something," he said.
But he thinks he needs to catch the ball, too.
"You've got to get 1,000 yards," Gresham said. "You've got to be with your peers. If I'm not doing (Tony) Gonzalez, (Antonio) Gates, Vernon Davis, numbers like that … ."
How about, say, 50 catches and eight TDs?
"Only if BenJarvus (Green-Ellis) gets 2,000 yards, then we can talk," Gresham said of his new running back.
The realist is a tough crowd.
JONES ADJUSTS: The Bengals know fifth-rounder
After finally grabbing a clean 'Go' ball for a touchdown bomb in 11 on 11, Jones made a wondrous catch on another deep ball when he leaped over cornerback
On the day Marvin Lewis got an extension, Marvin Lewis Jones extended himself into the conversation.
"I was thinking of running and getting in front of him, but the ball changed flight," Jones said Thursday of the play quarterback
The 6-2 Jones calls himself "a one-foot jumper." One seems to be plenty. He says he's a pretty accomplished dunker of a basketball.
"Reverse. Between the legs. Windmill," he said.
During the first four practices, Jones had trouble tracking the long ball despite clearly beating the defender and even had a couple go right through his arms. But he says he's made a minor adjustment.
"In college, I was used to chopping my feet and jumping over people," he said. "After I clear the defender you have to keep running full speed instead of turning your shoulder thinking the quarterback is going to drop it on your outside shoulder. He's trying to score. He's throwing it all out there. Just the ability to keep running through the catch. It's a minor adjustment."
The Bengals desperately need some deep speed opposite Green. It's why Jones is an odds-on favorite to stick on the roster even though he may need some time to develop into the pro game.
GRUDEN ON GREAT LIST: Gruden, who quarterbacked the Tampa Bay Storm to three ArenaBowl titles during his first four years in the league, has been named the fourth greatest player in AFL history by the silver anniversary committee.
Gruden finished his playing career with 21,476 passing yards and 397 touchdown passes along with two First-Team All-Arena selections and four ArenaBowl championships. He was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame in 1999.
"It's a great honor. I was very upset I wasn't two. I don't know who three and two are, but I'm very upset," said Gruden, who emphasized he was kidding. "I had a great career over there. I loved playing. It's a tough sport. I just wish it didn’t end like it did. I'm glad they started it back and tried to get it on its feet. I have great memories of the arena league.
He thinks he has an idea who is No. 1 and No. 2, in between the one-liners.
"Eddie Brown and Barry Wagner," he said. "Barry Wagner is the iron man of the decade. He was awesome. Eddie Brown was an offensive specialist and receiver. He's probably two or one. They'll be one and two. I don't even know who three is. It better be somebody damn good. I'm just kidding. It might be Aaron Garcia. He played a long time."
Gruden noted that former NFL MVP and Hall of Fame candidate Kurt Warner is 16th on the list.
"He should have played longer," Gruden joked.
The league’s Silver Anniversary Committee continues to count down its list of the 25 Greatest Players in AFL History Friday with No. 3 during NFL Network’s 8 p.m. broadcast of the American Conference Championship game between the Jacksonville Sharks and Philadelphia Soul on “NET10 Arena Football Friday.” The announcement of the Silver Anniversary’s Top 2 will be made at AVITAE ArenaBowl XXV in New Orleans Aug. 10.
DALTONS HOST EVENT: On Monday, the Bengals' next day off, quarterback Andy Dalton and wife Jordan host lunch and free play on rides, at Kings Island for severely and chronically ill and special needs children with their families. The King for a Day Program features free Fast Lane Passes, snack vouchers and Andy Dalton T-shirts and lunch with the Daltons at Kings Island’s private picnic area.
The day is part of the Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation's mission to provide opportunities, support and resources to children and families in need throughout Greater Cincinnati. More info is at andydalton.org.