Updated: 7:10 p.m.
They are pro football’s Oscar and Felix. An X and O Odd Couple.
On Friday we met West Point tight end Alejandro Villanueva, at the Bengals rookie camp on a tryout basis and could well be looking at his last snaps of football before embarking on an army career that starts early next year on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border for 12 to 18 months.
Eight days before, we met Oklahoma tight end
Villanueva gave Gresham the seal of approval after Saturday morning’s practice. He thinks he’d make a good soldier.
"When you take orders ... I’m sure he would. He’s a great athlete,” Villanueva said. “What I know, he seems like a pretty good kid.”
Anybody who has come in contact with the Bengals No. 1 pick this weekend has come away impressed. But Gresham is extremely impressed with Villanueva. When Gresham signs his multi-million deal in July and heads to Georgetown, Ky., Villanueva is going to be in the middle of trying to qualify for the Rangers and their elite corps of soldiers in Fort Benning, Ga., before he reports to Fort Drum, N.Y.
“That shows true courage,” Gresham said. “The type of person that he is, he put that first. He’s got that first obligation in line. I just thought he was a kid at Army who came to play ball and was a good tight end. Then he (said) he had to leave to get deployed. That surprised me, but it didn’t surprise me because just being around him, the type of person he is. He has great character.”
Villanueva says not to jump to conclusions. “West Pointers get rich when they graduate; I’m not worried about the money,” he said. As he said Friday, his goal is to be career Army and to be a company commander, and those are the kind of guys that private companies seek.
“I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for me,” he said. “I made my decision and I’m proud of it.”
Meanwhile, Gresham prepares for a different kind of service. Maybe not as dangerous, but the AFC North can be as demanding. Tight ends coach Jon Hayes would have made a pretty good drill sergeant. Hearing that head coach Marvin Lewis praised him on Friday for adjusting to a left-handed stance, Gresham invoked Hayes.
“That’s compliments to my coaching. That’s Coach Hayes, running my ear to get that left hand down,” Gresham said. “That’s all coaching right there. He’s (in my ear) more than a little, but he’s a great coach and he’ll get me right. ... I’m just accustomed to a right-handed stance. It’s a little thing to fix, to clean up.”
Gresham says he’s adapting pretty well because he says the Bengals have been moving him around at tight end a lot like he did at Oklahoma.
“It’s not too big of a change,” he said. “Different lingo. The speed is the same. It might be a little bit faster.”
Maybe the biggest eye-opener has been spending time with Villanueva, a guy on fast and far different track.
“Two guys coming in and trying to learn the offense,” Gresham said. “We’ve got the same goal and we just clicked like that. We became friends just like that.”
SLANTS AND SCREENS
“There’s going to be heated competition,” he said after Saturday afternoon’s practice at rookie camp. “It’s going to come down to who stays healthy and who can be productive and consistent and develop a good feel with Carson. That will be something to watch.”
» One of the guys making it so close is sixth-round pick Dez Briscoe, the 6-2, 207-pounder from Kansas. Bratkowski liked how he ran his routes and caught the ball before he pulled up lame in the first practice Friday morning with a groin problem, but he also says Briscoe has to lose 10 pounds and work on his body fat.
Briscoe said he could have gone Saturday, but the coaches decided to keep him out so he’ll be ready for the on-field workouts with the veterans that start May 11.
» Fourth-round pick
» Former Bengals associate strength coach Rock Oliver surfaced at the Saturday morning practice. Oliver, now head of the strength program at the University of Kentucky, wanted to eyeball tryout candidate Christian Johnson, UK's 330-pound guard.
» Former Titans and Cowboys cornerback Pacman Jones said Friday that he’s still talking to the Bengals, but it sounds like they haven’t been in negotiations with him since after his February workout and there don’t appear to be any immediate plans to work him out again.
NO CHARACTER ACTORS: The Bengals always seem to get lumped into character conversations when it comes to NFL discipline, but no one ever talks about the lengths that head coach Marvin Lewis goes to hammer the point home. Since 2008, they’ve been in the bottom rung of NFL misbehavior with two DUIs and Lewis again pulled out all the stops this weekend.
The arrival of Villanueva was a bonus, but Lewis made sure he had plenty of character around for the rookies to see. He brought in quarterback
Dawson devoted much of Friday night’s meeting to the topic with help from Bengals director of security Rusty Guy. Plus, Lewis often calls on military personnel to talk to his players about team play and personal sacrifice. Before one road game last season, a Navy Seal addressed them on Saturday night.
“There’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t talk about it,” Bratkowski said, alluding to the military speakers. “After we hear them, we’ll go into our meetings and say, ‘That’s a real commitment. If we even show a third of that commitment ... if we can give ourselves to what we do as much as they do.' It gets us out of this NFL bubble we’re in and think about what is really allowing us to do this."
As Lewis said talking about Villanueva, “It’s about commitment. It’s real commitment. A much bigger commitment than most of us ever had.”
Throw Dawson into the mix to show you can be great on and off the field, and the point has been made. Bratkowski was the Steelers receivers coach in the last two seasons of Dawson’s career, 1999 and 2000, and even before then when he was in Seattle he watched tape and said, “My goodness I’ve never seen a guy that good play that position.”
“He’s one of the finest human beings on the face of the earth,” Bratkowski said. “What he can bring to the table not only through the kind of person he is as a high class human being, it’s a double plus.”