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Bengals get TE Sooner rather than later


Updated: 11:20 p.m.

If Thursday night's NFL prospects weren't hugging commissioner Roger Goodell, they were jockeying with a camera.

Not the newest Bengal. Not Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham. Sitting by himself in his Norman, Okla., apartment. No parents. No girlfriend. No agent, who is, by the way, Ben Dogra of Tom Condon's influential CAA firm.

On the first prime-time telecast in NFL Draft history, the Bengals picked the one guy who could have been listening on a transistor radio and they couldn't be happier.

He's the guy they wanted all the way. Not enough to trade up and give up a second-rounder, but enough that they resisted a few offers to trade down. Enough that Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant's baggage was just a little too big.

There was some angst when the Falcons went on the clock at No. 19, but Lewis was pretty certain his good friend, Falcons head coach Mike Smith was going defense and when Atlanta went for Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, Lewis began looking up Gresham's number because the Texas at No. 20 figured to do what they did with the running backs off the board and went for Alabama cornerback Kareem Jackson.

"No, I've got cable; I was watching," Gresham assured the Cincinnati media on his conference call after he watched three of his teammates go before him. "I didn't want to put everyone else through the stress."

Even more amazing is that no one called him during the draft until head coach Marvin Lewis rang at about 9:37 p.m., two hours and seven minutes into it and asked, "Do you want to be a Cincinnati Bengal?"

"That's the way he is," Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said of Gresham. "He's not about the party, he's about the game. He fits what we became last year. A tough, physical offense. Play until it's all over and don't stop."

"A gym rat," is what tight ends coach Jon Hayes calls Gresham.

Bratkowski says the 6-5, 261-pound Gresham fits the pounding of the AFC North. He may call himself "a loner," but Gresham is going to have a lot of friends in a city that has been lusting for a tight end since Tony McGee couldn't duplicate his 55-catch season in 1995. He'll get a taste Friday when he makes his first Paul Brown Stadium appearance in a 4:45 p.m. news conference.

"I (fit) any division," Gresham said in his conference call with the Cincinnati media. "I fit the NFL. I'm a winner."

He is also a perfect fit for Hayes, whom just also happens to be a former Oklahoma tight ends coach. He didn't coach Gresham in college, but head coach Bob Stoops made sure that he had Hayes, a 12-year NFL tight end, talking to Gresham since his freshman year when he would make his annual scouting trip to campus.

On this last trip, Gresham's pro day, Hayes marveled at the power of Gresham's hands when he nearly knocked over Hayes running a route across the middle.

"That doesn't happen very often," said Hayes, a very large 6-6 man himself.

Gresham sold Hayes even more during a visit to Paul Brown Stadium about two weeks ago. He took him home for dinner with his family and Gresham ended up downstairs boxing with Hayes' nine-year-old son Jackson on Wii. Jackson knocked him out twice.

"Jermaine is such a competitive guy and you could see the frustration," Hayes said. "But he's a nice kid. He just kept shaking his head saying, 'I can't believe it.' "

Believe it. The Bengals believe they finally have an honest-to-goodness knockout threat at tight end.

"Wait until you see what I've got going for rookie camp," said Bratkowski of next weekend's gathering.

For the first time in history the Bengals took a tight end with their first draft pick. Gresham, who missed all last season to repair torn knee cartilage, is most likely going to be penciled in as the starter. That could change when the Bengals do the expected and re-sign Reggie Kelly, but Gresham will be on the field a lot as an added weapon for quarterback Carson Palmer and as Bratkowski said, he'll get the chance to start. 

Gresham is a much different player than the 33-year-old Kelly, the starter since Lewis arrived in 2003 and before he missed last season with a ruptured Achilles. While Kelly is a solid route runner inside and a ferocious blocker, Gresham is an explosive downfield receiver that can play the slot as well as patrol the middle who had 14 touchdown catches in 2008 while averaging 14.4 yards per catch. He earned a reputation for playing big in big games when he scored the Sooners' two touchdowns in Florida's 24-14 win in a national title game.

The Bengals are obviously satisfied that his right knee injury from last September and a left knee anterior cruciate ligament tear from high school has passed muster. Lewis said there were no concerns.

Ourlads Scouting Services calls him "a matchup nightmare for most safeties and nickel corners," and says he blocks "with good balance." The Bengals see Gresham, who ran 4.72 seconds in the 40-yard dash, as a well-rounded tight end they hope can be complemented by Chase Coffman, the pass-catching tight end taken in the third round last season that has yet to take an NFL snap.

The only tight end the Bengals took in the first round before Thursday was Michigan's Mike Cobb with the 22nd pick in 1977, the club's third pick after it took defensive tackle Eddie Edwards (3) and Wilson Whitley (8). Cobb didn't have a catch in 13 games that season and was gone the next season.

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