Ochocinco says "the hunger is back," and he's ready to show everyone when he reports for Bengals mandatory minicamp June 18. (Bengals photo)
Updated: 8:20 p.m.
Word on the street is Chad Ochocinco has taken to the airwaves for the first time since the Super Bowl and has proclaimed on NFL Network (7 p.m. Tuesday) what we knew last week. He's working hard and he plans not to report until the June 18-20 mandatory minicamp.
And, indeed, The Ocho surfaced on the network's Total Access program in, of all places, a Hollywood, Calif., boxing gym sparring former WBC featherweight champion Kevin Kelly.
But Ochocinco floored the presumption that he's sitting out the voluntaries for a second straight spring because he's unhappy with his contract. He sounded as humble as he's ever been in his eight seasons as a Bengal that hit a low point last year with the miserable numbers of 53 catches for 563 yards and four touchdowns.
"I not only owe Cincinnati, but my coaches, my players, my team and my fans to get myself back in rare form before I even hit the field again," Ochocinco said. "Because last year was very humbling to me. It was an embarrassment. Not only to myself, but to the city and team. Before I even go back I just want to be in unbelievable form before I touch the green grass."
When asked if the absence is related to the contract, The Ocho expounded on the absence of hunger.
"I had to go back to Square One. From 1997 to 1999, I was hungry," said The Ocho, referring to his junior college days. "It got a little too easy for me. I wouldn't say I stopped working hard, but the hunger wasn't there like it used to be. The hunger is back. Last year was very humbling. When I get back, words can't describe the type of year I'm going to have."
Still, head coach Marvin Lewis going to limit him that weekend until he shows he's in shape.
Lewis acknowledged after Tuesday's practice that he talked to Ochocinco a few days ago, a rarity in an offseason Ochocinco has been ducking calls from the 513 area code.
"The biggest thing I told Chad just the other day is with a lot of the new things we're doing he's going to have to play catch up," Lewis said. "He's excited about that and is working hard. Chad learns football very quickly and he'll be able to get his feet on the ground. What he found last year when you're working with a team and you're doing football, there's a lot more stress on it. When he gets here I will judge how much football I'll allow him to do until he proves he's in the shape our players are in."
But Tuesday night The Ocho indicated he hadn't talked to Lewis or anyone in Cincinnati.
"There's no need to talk to anyone; I'm in isolation," he said. "My Pro Bowls, the great years Carson and I had, were not made during the season. They were made now, in the offseason."
The Ocho didn't report until mandatories last year, which he limped through because he needed arthroscopic ankle surgery. Then after missing the first week of training camp, he missed the last two weeks of the preseason with a separated shoulder.
Asked if The Ocho is going to be his starting receiver in two weeks, Lewis said, "I'll see him when I see him."
NFL Network probed speculation concerning the chemistry between The Ocho and quarterback Carson Palmer. Palmer has chosen not to discuss Ochocinco because he's not here for the voluntary workouts while pumping up receivers that are playing Ochocinco's X spot, such as Chris Henry. But Palmer has also said the Bengals still need the nine-year veteran.
Lewis didn't want Palmer answering the chemistry question, but Lewis did.
"I think their relationship has been a good, strong relationship," Lewis said. "Right now Chad doesn't have a relationship with Carson because he's not here right now. Their relationship on the field is the most important thing, off the field they're two different guys. They probably couldn't be any further away and I think they both recognize that and that's why they've meshed so well on the field."
Jordan Palmer, Carson's brother and the club's No. 3 quarterback last season trying to win the backup job, downplayed the developing spin and said there was no distraction.
"Chad's one of the more different guys; a great dude," Jordan Palmer said. "He's sarcastic, he's always joking around. Carson's the same way but on Sundays they're always on the same page. Chad being here and playing more will help get them on the same page earlier this year, but with Chad's personality, he's so funny and all over the place that I think Carson has done a great job dealing with it. They are good buddies, but Chad in the offseason does his own thing and prepares himself for next season the way he does, which is different than anyone else's. But it's worked for him in the past."
Asked if he wanted to send a message to his quarterback, The Ocho couldn't resist with, "Remember those days when you were young and it was the night before Christmas and you knew there was something good under the tree and you couldn't wait to open it?"
He told him that's what to expect with "the new 85."
Jordan Palmer has been talking to former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, a workout partner of The Ocho, and is encouraged.
"Chad will be ready to go. I talked to T.J. the other day and T.J. said he's in great shape," Jordan said. "When Chad shows up, he'll be ready to go."
On Friday, Charles Collins, The Ocho's junior college coach and workout guru, said he looked the best he's seen him in three years.
"He's able to stick his foot in the ground and go. From what I can see he's got that great first step back," Collins said. "I think what he needs to do is get back to some of the techniques and work on the fundaments that he got away from. A lot of it is the mental part of it. But I think he's getting ready to have a really good year. He's getting in and out his breaks and he's working on catching the long ball. His times in the 40 show he's strong and has got endurance."
On Tuesday, The Ocho revealed that part of the regimen has boxing and sparring, and that he is taking shots. Whether he was taking notes from Dhani Jones or Roy Jones Jr., is anyone's guess, but he's putting a lot of money on the line if he gets hurt in a non-football situation. But then, this is a guy that outran a race horse.
And Ochocinco said in Tuesday's interview he's transferring boxing skills to football.
"I'm loving it," he said. "Hand-eye coordination. Quickness. Lateral movement. No false-stepping in boxing. I can't wait to use it on the field."
» Could the Bengals be getting their third former Dallas defender? James Williams, the agent for ex-Dallas linebacker Greg Ellis, said the Bengals are on his client's list because of his regard for defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, his coordinator in Dallas for seven years, after Ellis was cut Tuesday.
"Zim knows what he'd be getting," Williams said. "A locker room leader who produces."
But Williams said no visit has been lined up yet and that Ellis has "to sift" through what he says were "several" calls expressing interest. An outside linebacker in a 3-4 who has racked up 20.5 sacks the past two seasons and 77 in his career, the 6-6, 265-pound Ellis would most likely project to a rush end in the Bengals 4-3.
The Bengals are heavy at that spot, which is manned by their two most expensive defensive players in Robert Geathers and Antwan Odom, and they also drafted Michael Johnson in the third round back in April. Plus, Ellis turns 34 the day after the Bengals open the preseason schedule.
Two of Ellis' old teammates, tackle Tank Johnson and safety Roy Williams, signed with the Bengals in the last months.
Ellis' regard for Zimmer is mutual. And Zimmer wouldn't be worried about the numbers.
"The more the merrier," Zimmer said. "He's a good kid. He studies the game as well as anyone I've ever seen. I know he turns 34, but I also know he'll get eight sacks. He's that type of guy. And I would imagine you can do a lot of different things with him because now he's also played linebacker."
» Bengals cornerback Leon Hall continues to look at a fine rather than a one-game suspension stemming from his DUI arrest that has been pled to driving recklessly on Monday. The NFL policy says "absent aggravating circumstances, discipline for a first offense for DUI will generally be a fine of 2/17ths of the amount in Paragraph 5 of the NFL Player Contract to a maximum of $50,000."
A few snippets from Tuesday's practice:
» Abilene Christian rookie running back Bernard Scott has never returned punts in his life, but he was there with wide receivers Antonio Chatman and Quan Cosby and Hall catching punts from rookie Kevin Huber and getting tips from head coach Marvin Lewis.
"He was telling me to get my feet under me and not rush catching it," Scott said.
Scott has spent one season as a returner and it was at Central Arkansas returning kickoffs in 2004.
» By the way, Huber flashed some consistency according to the Cincinnati Enquirer's i-watch manned by beat man Joe Reedy. After one poor punt to start what looked to be a series of 10, Huber's hang time ranged from 4.2 to 4.5 seconds.
» Rookie defensive end Michael Johnson batted down a Carson Palmer pass at the line of scrimmage, just as Palmer predicted he had the dimensions to wreak such havoc in the passing lanes when he talked about him following the draft.
» Rookie free agent cornerback Rico Murray out of Kent State via Moeller High School had a busy day. After getting beat by wide receiver Jerome Simpson deep, Murray came back to bat away some passes, the last one a clean thud on a ball over the middle.
» Running back Marlon Lucky, who tweaked a hamstring May 1 in the rookie minicamp, returned Tuesday. So did veteran cornerback Simeon Castille (back).
» Rookie tight end Chase Coffman still hasn't practiced as a Bengal after being taken in the third round. He continues to work out on the side and get rehab for the fifth metatarsal on his left foot that he broke on Missouri's last offensive play of its bowl game.
"I think it's coming a long very well. There's no pain. It's still a little weak and I'm trying to get the strength and mobility back," Coffman said.
Translation: All indications are he'll work in the mandatories in a best-case scenario. But whether he goes or not this month, the plan is for him to be ready for the first day of training camp.