Old hands on young wides

Posted May 11, 2012

Marvin Jones

Maybe it's because the offense isn't as complicated. Or maybe it's because it's a little more flexible. Or maybe it's because the players nowadays are a little more sophisticated.

Whatever the reasons Friday, on the first day of the rookie minicamp the Bengals wide receivers charged out of the draft and grabbed the playbook by the throat—not to mention the ball with some acrobatic catches—when it took just one practice for third-rounder Mohamed Sanu to play all three spots and fifth-rounder Marvin Jones to play two.

That hasn't always been the case when the Bengals emerged from the draft with receivers.

"Probably," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said when asked if he and receivers coach James Urban had just orchestrated an NFL rookie rarity. "Nowadays college offenses are getting more and more sophisticated and guys are coming in with more familiarity in the passing game. Luckily for us, (Sanu) came from a team that used him in a lot of different spots. Obviously, we have two guys with good heads on their shoulders."

The Vontaze Burfict story is immensely interesting, but Friday showed that Sanu and Jones are going to have a quicker impact on a team searching for receivers to team with Pro Bowler A.J. Green.

As bright and gifted as the Jones and Sanu are, the May leader-in-the-clubhouse for the No. 2 job may still be Armon Binns, whose long, lean catches are the ones his teammates have been talking about since they started throwing the ball around two weeks ago.

But as the 6-2, 210-pound Sanu and the 6-2, 200-pound Jones walked off the field together after Friday afternoon's practice, they also looked like bookend options for the future on Green's other side. Sanu's got the bulk, Jones has the 4.4 speed.

"(Sanu) had to study and learn all the positions and that's one of the reasons we were attracted to him," Gruden said. "These guys should be able to do that. They should be able to line up. It's harder for some guys."

It was hard for Jerome Simpson, who could only line up at the X or weakside receiver spot and he was still unreliable when it came to running routes, which is a reason he's no longer here. It was also hard for Chad Ochocinco, who pretty much only played the X and it was a reason defenses could find him so easily in crunch time.

The Ocho never played for Gruden, and Simpson only had a year in the system, but it's clear Gruden wants his West Coast scheme to be as interchangeable as possible.

A guy like Jones helps since he came out of what he calls an "almost identical system" at Cal.

"It's the same concepts. The only thing that changes a little bit is the verbiage. I can play all positions," said Jones, who played both outside spots Friday. "They can throw me in the slot.

"In your first practice when you play two or three spots, it goes to show you can pick up an offense. It doesn't matter how easy it could be. If they trust us to put us in Z, X in the slot, that's good."

After that first practice, Sanu also said the Rutgers scheme in which he caught a Big East-record 210 balls is pretty similar.

"I learn the playbook pretty quick," he said. "The plays we run at Rutgers is the same system here so it wasn't that much of a big difference. I feel pretty comfortable with it. It's just different terminology. I just got to get used to the different names with each play, but there's not much difference."

And these guys aren't exactly dummies. Jones is two electives away from getting his African-American Studies degree at Berkeley after stringing back-to-back 3.0 semesters. Sanu, whose mother is a politician in her native Sierra Leone, is a labor studies major. Asked if he has a favorite figure in his major, Jones says, "Everybody that has made an impact on African-American culture. Martin Luther King. Malcolm X. Marcus Garvey. There's a lot of people that influenced African-Americans in the United States."

Plus the Sanu and Jones don't seem fazed by the expectations that the Bengals are looking for Green's running mate.

"I don't feel like there is any pressure; it is just people having confidence in me," Sanu said. "I have confidence in myself; I have confidence in my teammates, I know we'll get the job done. If I'm that guy and Coach wants me in that role then I'll play that role. If he doesn't want me in that role then I'm going to support whoever is in that role and practice hard every day. "

Jones had the two plays of the day, one fighting off pass interference and coming back on a long ball with a leaping grab. Meanwhile, Sanu flashed his attributes: size and hands. And, of course, versatility.

"He's a quarterback-friendly target," Gruden said. "He's got a great knack for coming out of his breaks. He's got big, strong hands. Jones had two great catches in the morning. He's very acrobatic, attacks the ball in the air and he can run. There's a lot to like about our receivers."

And not just the draft picks. A free agent, Connecticut speedster Kashif Moore, raced past one of the first-rounders, Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, with a double move to catch a touchdown bomb.

"Hook, line and sinker, and he finished the play," Gruden said.

He's looking for finishers.

But a lot of it has to do where they start.

"It's a very important component of football nowadays to be able to line up in different spots," Gruden said, "and not just be a one-trick pony."


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