Rookie wide receiver Cody Core caught Adam Jones' eye.
You know the professional hitter who can roll out of a snowbank in January and hit .300 with five dingers in spring training?
Well, meet the NFL equivalent in perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green and Andy Dalton, his AFC passing champion quarterback. During the first practice of the year Tuesday at Paul Brown Stadium , the Bengals cornerstone tandem stepped out of a May lilacs field with all the timing of a two-minute December drive.
A couple of bombs and a couple of digs and like they've been doing since 2011, they shrugged.
"We've been doing this for a long time," Dalton said and Green agreed.
"Andy and I have been here long enough that this offense goes as we go," Green said. "We don't need coaches or anybody to push us. We know the offense runs through us."
Suddenly, the Bengals need them n
ow more than ever with Tuesday's multiple reports that Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert's presence is in doubt for, at the very least, the Sept. 11 opener. In a story first broken by The Cincinnati Enquirer, Eifert is to undergo minimal surgery on the ankle he injured in the fourth quarter of the Pro Bowl.
That means not only do the Bengals have just three NFL catches from last season beyond their starting wide receivers, but the three tight ends behind Eifert (third-year player Ryan Hewitt and sophomores Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah) have combined career totals of 30 catches and one touchdown.
Compare that to Eifert's 52 catches and 13 TDs from last season and they need Green and Dalton to take this offense by the scruff of the neck. And they get it.
Green, who in five seasons has gone to five Pro Bowls while uttering nearly as many words, is embracing the vet role. For the first time since he was a rookie he's got a fellow starter (Brandon LaFell) who has played in the league longer than he has. Even if it's for only a year.
"I hope these young guys come along for the ride. My job is to get them ready to play," said Green, who has never said such a thing. But then, he's never been a soon-to-be-28-year-old receiver on a team teeming with three rookie receivers and two others that have an NFL catch and one NFL game among them.
" As one of the leaders, I lead by example. But I also have to be more vocal,' Green said. "Just help them out on different routes. How corners are going to play them and how you need to be more physical or get your body down. Just little things like that."
If there was any proof that the transition between Browns head coach Hue Jackson and new offensive coordinator Ken Zampese is going to be relatively smooth, it was Tuesday's darts Dalton offered for Green to catch.
Zampese wants more, of course, but he liked the leadership being flexed and invoked the words of his late head coach at Miami of Ohio, Randy Walker.
"Leadership is best coupled with performance I was told one time," Zampese said.
It certainly won't be as bumpy as 2011 even though they're so down on experience.
"This year reminds me a lot of my first year. I didn't really have anybody to learn from and we were all brand new," Green said. "We were just out there trying to prove ourselves. I remember they predicted us to go 0-16 that year . .. It's me and Andy's job to push this offense."
And that's where the difference is from '11. Green and Dalton have been around, not to mention LaFell. They went 9-7 that year with Green opposite Jerome Simpson, a guy that had 20 career catches. Green and LaFell have combined for more than 700 NFL catches and Dalton has 124 more TD passes than he did to start 2011.
"It was basically install today," Dalton said. "With the first and second groups we were just trying to make sure the communication is there. I felt like for the most part guys knew their assignments and what was going on. It's good for the first day."
Tyler Boyd is looking to run with Green's advice.
Dalton said if the offense didn't seem as fast-paced it's because there were so many new players on the field, the first time this version of the Green-Dalton offense has had so much change.
"But the good news is we've got plenty of time and the new guys get faster the more they process," Dalton said.
So Green knows Dalton's young targets need help. On Tuesday, he approached second-rounder Tyler Boyd after he ran a go route in a one-on-one drill.
"He was telling me to use leverage more, knock his hands off me so I have more room and opportunity to go make a play," Boyd said. "It's great to have a vet like him shadowing over us. To see him do it and how he does it so effectively and consistently makes it easier for us to learn than having someone just tell us to do it."
In fact, Pro Bowl cornerback Adam Jones is advising sixth-rounder Cody Core to do exactly that. And, by the way, Jones loves Core and all the other rookie receivers. He's extremely impressed with how fast the 6-3, 205-pound Core runs.
When he broke well on a come-back route to Core and turned to face him, Jones was stunned. "I'm looking at his damn sternum. If I was him, I would stand by A.J. every day and do exactly what he does."
Jones calls Boyd "a Cadillac,' because how smoothly he changes gears ("he's faster than you think,") and he says the same thing about the undrafted Alonzo Russell. Sneaky fast is what Jones called him.
"I see two or three of them," Jones said. "Maybe they can make a splash for us."
Green is making sure he's the first guy in the pool.
"We'll be fine. We've been together a long time. It showed today," Green said. "We didn't miss a lot today . . .We're going to keep the same pace. We're true to our system and we just put guys in."