Updated: 5-21-09, 5:30 a.m.
How do you get to be one of the top 50 receivers all-time in the NFL?
If you're Laveranues Coles and you've just joined a new team at age 31 in your 10th season, you quietly go about the business of being a pro in the first week of on-field workouts. Learning the offense. Learning the quarterback. Learning, learning, learning even though your 631 career catches are 13th on the active list and 41st all-time.
"Of course, I'm a little bit out of what I'm used to doing but this is what they brought me in to play so I'm just trying to learn my way around and try to do exactly what they're asking me at this point," Coles says. "It's a new deal. I'm dealing with new coaches, a new system. I just go with the flow."
The Bengals have put Coles at the Z receiver, the wideout that is usually on the tight end side where T.J. Houshmandzadeh played a lot. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski says there are less sight adjustments and less blitz breakoffs at that spot, as well as a big blocking role in the strong-side running game but he says there isn't much difference between the Z and the X, the receiver on the other side.
"Things become more difficult or complex when you go inside; it's a different game," said Bratkowski, who thinks Coles can end up playing outside and inside.
Coles played the slot the two seasons he played with the Redskins (2003 and 2004), "but we haven't gone there yet with him. We want to focus on the one spot first," Bratkowski said.
The most comfortable part of Coles' adjustment to the Bengals is quarterback Carson Palmer. He's why Coles signed a four-year, $26 million deal here back in March and he's why Coles thinks the kinks will be worked out soon enough.
Coles has been impressed with Palmer's "will," particularly this week and he believes it separates him from some other quarterbacks he's seen in the league.
"In this offense, I think the way it's built everyone is a viable option," Coles said. "Carson just made that point to the guys. We have too much talent at wide receiver. Too many guys are capable of making plays for him not to demand the best out of each and every one of us. With that being said, I don't think there's going to be any one person that demands anything.
"Other than I've probably got the longest tenure out of the group and I'll probably get the doubles, but I think we've got guys that can make plays other than me."
With Chad Ochocinco's 612 catches not at the voluntary workouts, Coles' career total is nearly triple the 233 combined catches of Antonio Chatman (114), Chris Henry (107), Andre Caldwell (11) and Jerome Simpson (1).
So Coles has been working overtime with Palmer (it looked like they came off the field later than most Tuesday) and he's been in the film sessions that Palmer helps convene right after practice.
"Any time you have a good quarterback, that always helps. It makes things a lot easier. With Carson calling the shots, pulling the trigger I think I'll be fine," Coles said. "He demands a lot from everybody. He wants everyone's full potential and wants everybody to do well. As long as you come in with the right mentality and right perspective and understand what he's asking from you, you'll be fine.
"They all have good arm strength," said Coles when asked to compare Palmer to some of the guys he's seen. "But one of the things that separates him is his will to win and his will to not only go out and demand perfection from himself but also demand perfection from his teammates. That being said, I think the sky's the limit for him."
After nine NFL seasons, 631 catches, and 8,095 yards (15th on the active list), Coles says this is about the hardest he's gone in an offseason program. Both sides, he figures, are trying to get a handle on the other.
"They're trying to see where I'm at, where they're at, how do I fit in," Coles says. "They're probably trying to figure out exactly my skill set. What I'm good at doing. What I'm not so good at doing. And trying to get a better understanding of me as a player. In due time when they get that understanding I think they'll probably scale things back and try to keep me fresher."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Another example of right guard Bobbie Williams and left tackle Andrew Whitworth stepping up their leadership roles:
With NFL Players Association rep T.J. Houshmandzadeh and alternate Dexter Jackson no longer with the club, Whitworth has been named the club's interim rep until an election at a time to be announced.
Whitworth won't say if he's interested in the job permanently, but he thinks he knows how he got the appointment.
"T.J. probably told them I'd do it," he said.
» There may not be a bigger Bengals fan around than new Xavier basketball coach Chris Mack. The Bengals were a big part of his growing up in Cincinnati, so it can't be a surprise that he brought down a couple of recruits to practice this week and introduced them to head coach Marvin Lewis. It was an informal tour of Cincinnati put on by Mack's staff and when he saw the Bengals out practicing, they stopped by to say hello. Marvin Lewis has spoken to the XU team before some big games.
Mack has done the whole Bengals experience. His family didn't have season tickets but his dad's law firm did and he was at Riverfront Stadium plenty. When he was in junior high and living in North College Hill, he went to The Freezer Bowl and remembers his hot chocolate doing exactly that. Freezing.
"Walking back over the viaduct after the game," he says, "I don't think I've ever felt so badly. But it was worth it. We won."
When he talks about his favorites, he doesn't blink. "Cris Collinsworth, the way he'd catch a ball over his shoulder barely moving his body. James Brooks. Ickey Woods. Anthony Munoz. Of course, Boomer Esiason. Now there's no question. Carson Palmer."