Posted Jun 13, 2012

Jermaine Gresham

The Patriots have "The Gronk" and the Bengals are hoping "The Gresh" turns into quarterback Andy Dalton's X-Factor as his first non-A.J. Green option down the field.

Before Tuesday's first minicamp practice, the taciturn Gresham opened the window of his fierce competitiveness and revealed how he's watched every move Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski made last season. Not only his cutting-edge 90 balls for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns, but also his market-setting $54 million for six years.

"I've watched every catch five times," Gresham said of Gronkowski's 2011 masterpiece. "You have to. He and Jimmy (the Saints' Graham) had the best seasons ever by a tight end. You have to see what they're doing. How they're getting open, how they're getting so many balls. He's a beast. What he got, he deserved."

The Bengals took Gresham with the 21st pick in 2010 and Gronkowski went 21 picks later in the second round to the Patriots. Both are big, strong and fast with the ability to pluck footballs out of thin air, and they met in their first NFL games and both scored touchdowns.

These are things that Gresham notices and drives him and he hasn't exactly been refuse. He went to the Pro Bowl last season when Gronkowski and his New England teammate Aaron Hernandez went to the Super Bowl instead. Gresham's 56 catches for 596 yards and six touchdowns were the best numbers by a Bengals tight end in more than 20 years.

Forget the 90 balls and more than 1,300 yards. That's the system, the way the Pats run their offense and make the tight ends the centerpiece while that guy here is Green. But everyone, including Gresham, is looking at jacking that yards per catch.

If Gresham calls Gronkowski a beast, then what do you think his teammates call him at 6-5, 260 pounds with breakneck speed and fast hands? If those weapons are unleashed, there's the No. 2 guy that can take heat off Green.

"I haven't put up numbers like him, so I really can't speak on that," Gresham said. "I feel like I can do anything the tight ends in this league do, but I'm not taking anything away from those guys. Those guys are freakish and what they do in their offense is pretty damn good."

Dalton thinks Gresham already is and he tipped his hand when he saw Gresham giving an interview Tuesday and offered an unsolicited opinion.

"You'll probably have more catches this year than you did last year just because you have a better idea of what's going on," said Dalton, and he was speaking for an offense closing up its first snaps under offensive coordinator Jay Gruden in an offseason setting.

Wednesday marks Cincinnati's 11th-such practice, 11 more than the Bengals had during last year, a boost for Gresham after suddenly having to pick up his second system in as many years with no prep. Asked if it's going to help him to get out of the gate quickly this year (the Bengals go to Baltimore for a big one right away Sept. 10), he hopes it can.

"The lockout was tough, no question, but this has helped a lot," he said. "Just being around the guys and getting the timing with the quarterback, and making the same plays for two years in a row is helping a lot. In the big scheme of things, it's the same Xs and Os as last year and just try to keep it simple. Just being a better professional is going to help me get out of the gate. Just being smarter."

Gresham and the club are on the same page. Gruden has been pushing Gresham to be more meticulous with his assignments and he wasn't happy after Tuesday's practice, where Gruden said he had a "major" mistake.

But he can also see the progress.

"Jermaine has got to work at it every day, no question about it," Gruden said. "He's come a long way with his route discipline and knowledge of the offense with the run game, especially. Just have to keep repping him. Some of the concepts where he has to read coverages on the move he has to get better at."

And, Gruden and Dalton are the first guys in his corner.

"When he's right, he can be an awesome target for Andy," Gruden said. "And it's our job to get him right more often than not and it's his job to keep working."

There is no need to worry about that. Gresham is doing a lot of it on his own. Especially studying "The Gronk."

"He's in the right position at the right time; he's always consistent," Gresham said. "A lot of times he's bigger and faster than the guys they put on him. Like faster than the linebacker and bigger than the DB. So he's taking advantage of it."

Just like Gruden thinks "The Gresh" can do.

"We've got to do a good job getting him more involved downfield and he's got to make sure he's more accountable for the quarterback," Gruden said. "The quarterback has to feel the confidence he can go to Jermaine when Jermaine is ready and in the right spot. When he gets to that point I would expect him to put up some strong numbers."

Dalton is expecting it. After wandering over to Gresham's locker, they began talking about one lethal route they can run twice a game.

"There's 30 more balls right there," they said.

56 plus 30 can add up to the X-Factor.


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