The negotiations between owners and players appear to be going uphill with the Iron Curtain of a lockout scheduled to drop Friday at midnight.
But for two of the Bengals player reps, thoughts of a downhill offense were keeping them energized and hopeful for a season in doubt Wednesday.
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the club's representative to the NFL Players Association, and tight end Reggie Kelly, one of the alternates, have heard about new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's physical, power running game and they can't wait to start hitting the books once there's an agreement.
"It's tough. Not every team can do it, but we've got guys that can play that style and the running back that can do it,' said Whitworth from Monroe, La., on the way to the hospital to visit his infant twins. "I'm excited about it. It's new and different and I can't wait to get on the field again. We owe the fans of Cincinnati a good season."
Kelly, author, 12-year pro, tenacious and vicious blocker to his foes, "The Reverend" to his admiring teammates, is at the opposite end of the NFL galaxy. He's one of the nearly 600 free agents that will be on the market Friday.
Only if there's a new CBA.
But while Whitworth has already talked a couple of times to Gruden and Kelly has only picked up some dribs and drabs from teammates and various stories on the 'Net, Kelly can't help notice that Gruden worked in a West Coast scheme with his brother in Tampa that was mostly power.
"We've seen the clips of (Jon Gruden) saying, 'Pound the rock,' " Kelly said from Atlanta on Wednesday. "Some West Coasts are a zone team, others are power. Tampa liked to go downhill. Russ Grimm said it best: 'Whenever you can move your opponent from Point A to Point B, that's good, and when you do it against their will, that's gratifying.' Every offensive lineman, every running back, every good blocking tight end wants to go downhill.
"I think it suits us. We've got some big guys. Nate Livings. Bobbie Williams. Whit. The type of blocking where the running back goes north and south instead of east and west. I know I can help in my position. That's a strength of mine. Those guys really like to pound it. And that kind of offense is good for a young tight end, so I think Jermaine (Gresham) is really going to like it."
Whitworth's juices got going early last week at the NFL scouting combine. He was in Indianapolis to sit in on some committee meetings, but was honored to address the offensive line class Friday morning.
"When I come to the combine, that's usually when I start to get into the mindset of the season and I start to get back into it," Whitworth said. "You're talking about football and then you see how excited the young guys are. I'm ready to go."
Whitworth had spent some time with Gruden on the phone before last weekend, where they schmoozed in a hotel lobby. When offensive line coach Paul Alexander invited Whitworth to dinner one floor up, Gruden wandered by a little later and sat down to visit some more.
"It was basically a get-to-know-him-type deal. He asked me if I was ready to get after it and it sounds like he's ready," Whitworth said. "Paul and I talked a little football, but not much. I think it's pretty simple. It's what Paul said. It's not Bob Bratkowski's fault. It's not one person. It's all of us. We've got to find a way to execute and to do it all the time instead of just some of the time."
Kelly hopes he's part of it again. But after turning 34 last week and last season's emergence of Gresham and Chase Coffman, he knows he may have played his final snap in Cincinnati. No one from the Bengals has talked to him. If the players are in flux, how about the free agents? Still, he's not ready to retire.
"I've always said I want to retire as a Bengal," he said. "But if things move on, then I'll see if there's a fit with another team. But I'll never forget how good they've been to me here. They've treated me like a VIP. I just have to wait and see what happens and you just hope they can get a deal soon."
Kelly hopes Carson Palmer doesn't retire, either. They've spoken and texted since Palmer has requested a trade and Kelly, his locker mate the past six seasons, stands by him. Palmer has often called Kelly the best teammate he's ever had. Kelly recalled how he signed Palmer's copy of Prepared, Kelly's inspirational book that hit the streets late last season.
"I wrote that a lot of guys look to me for leadership, but that I looked to him for leadership," Kelly said. "I watch him. I watch how much he sacrificed. Fans don't see what happens in the locker room and on the field. There were times he took the blame when it wasn't his fault. A lot of times. There would be a lot of guys that would have blamed someone else. But he never did. That's leadership. He's our quarterback. He's my quarterback. We don't want to lose him."
Kelly doesn't know what ignited the demand. But he understands the immense pressure and frustration his friend felt this season.
"It was just so tough with the upgrades we made and not to have success," Kelly said. "Very frustrating. He's just voicing his frustration and I can understand it. I just let him know I love him. We didn't talk much football. Life's bigger than that."
Whitworth was surprised of the comments that emerged Tuesday on the WCPO-TV Web site in Cincinnati. Channel 9 anchor Dennis Janson, via "a confidant," quoted Palmer saying he doesn't have to play because he's got $80 million.
"I have a hard time believing Carson Palmer said something like that," Whitworth said. "That's just not him. He's got so much humility and he's so mild-mannered. I don't see it. I know he's upset. He's frustrated. We'd love to have him back. But if he's not happy … this is a tough enough game as it is and if you're not happy where you are, it's all that much tougher to play. He's got to sit back and do what's best for him and his family."
The Palmer situation, like everything else - Whitworth's playbook, Kelly's free-agent status – is on hold until there's a CBA. Whitworth glumly said Wednesday the silence wasn't good. And he wasn't calling Tuesday's court decision in which the owners' $4 billion TV deal was invalidated a victory.
"This isn't about wins and losses for either side," Whitworth said. "We've got to get it done for the fans, for everybody. This is what we do."
The always diplomatic Kelly agreed with Whitworth that the 18-game schedule and the rookie wage scale have probably been pushed to the backburner with the sides trying to figure how to split the revenue. The players see that as a huge giveback.
"We're not looking to badmouth the owners; we love our owners," Kelly said. "I don't think the players want to lock out. We want to prepare for the upcoming season and I think the owners want that, too. But we're not going to back down. We feel like it's not only going to benefit the current players, but also future negotiations."
Whitworth believes they have to get over the revenue split first before moving on.
"I'm not sure, but that's what it sounds like," Whitworth said. "It's like all businesses. It comes down to the finances."