Updated: 4:45 p.m.
Adam Jones looked around the locker room during this week's mandatory minicamp and decided, "We're good neighbors around here. We respect each other. We just go out and work hard and compete. We like to compete. I like to compete. ... There's a lot of first-round players in this room."
So far, so good. The Bengals Good Neighbor Policy is working out quite well for Jones. Once one of pro sports' notorious figures on and and off the field, Jones, the fifth-year cornerback, is saying and doing all the right things on both venues. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer indicated Jones is making a bid for the third corner job with his rare athleticism and he's not the only coach that's noticed.
Special teams coach Darrin Simmons has Jones back returning both punts and kicks and he says he's seen enough breathtaking physical skills to conjure up memories of 2006, when Jones led the NFL with a 12.9-yard average on punts that included three touchdowns. In just 39 NFL games, he has scored on four punts. But not since '06. In his last season, 2008 in Dallas, Jones averaged just 4.5 yards on 21 returns.
"He has a certain level of explosion and speed that's hard to replicate," Simmons said this week. "He has a certain spirit to him that way. Sometimes a little too spirited. I've got to get him to do all the little things better."
Simmons is putting a lot of this on himself because for most of his seven previous seasons here he hasn't had much to work with on punt returns. Not until free-agent rookie wide receiver Quan Cosby came out of nowhere of the Texas hills last season to finish second in the AFC with the club's best punt return average in 25 years. And, wouldn't you know it, his Longhorns teammate that replicated what he did after he left Austin, Jordan Shipley, just arrived in the third round.
Now add Jones to the list and Simmons knows a coaching challenge when he sees it. Somehow he has to marry Jones' vat of physical skills with Cosby's seamless decision-making. While watching Jones field punts this week, Simmons saw him run up on a short one, opting to make a running catch, and then screech around the edge of the defenders with a slippery move up the sidelines.
Gamble or golden? Simmons knows Jones also has 12 career fumbles.
"That was a nice play. He came up and made a nice play. It saved us a lot of field position," Simmons said. "I've got to get him to learn how to differentiate when's the right time to do that and when is not the right time. When you put your team at risk at losing the ball, it's obviously not the right time. We have to pick our spots. That's what somebody like Quan did a fantastic job of last year. He was great at playing out the situations."
If Cosby is the solid plow horse never giving ground, Simmons knows what Jones is.
"He's got a little wild bull in him; that's good to a degree," Simmons said. "You want the wild bull to come out when want it to come out. There's other times you want to keep him under wraps. Save him. He's got a gear to him that's made him successful."
At least off the field, Jones seems to have penned the bull. As he talked about facing wide receiver Chad Ochocinco as a rookie in the Bengals 2005 win in Tennessee, he politely offered, "That's a long time ago. I'm moving on to the future."
For Jones, the future is spending some time in the next two weeks with his daughter in Atlanta and then expecting a child Nov. 13. He says his fiancée has all his attention these days.
"I'm a slave around the house," he said with a laugh.
Someone asked the man once picked sixth in the NFL Draft if he felt like all the first-round picks he noticed competing out there.
"Why not?" he asked.
Simmons is asking the same question.
"It's easy to see," he said, "why he's done what he's done in the past."
ROSTER JUGGLE WITH SHORT CAMP
After cutting five players Friday, the Bengals still have four extra players on their roster when it comes to the maximum 80 they can have under contract when training camp starts.
But which four won't be at Georgetown College for the first practice July 29 is still up in the air for a variety of reasons. The central question appears to be how many kickers to take to the shortest scheduled Bengals training camp ever. Jake Richardson was a Friday casualty, leaving incumbent Kevin Huber as the lone punter. But kickers Mike Nugent and Dave Rayner staged a spirited battle this week in the mandatory minicamp with the only miss of 12 field-goal tries from each being Rayner's 54-yarder.
One of the factors is going to be the progress of contract negotiations with the draft picks. With first-rounder Jermaine Gresham safely tucked in at No. 21, nobody is really expecting a holdout so there could not be any free spots on the roster.
Plus, head coach Marvin Lewis is preparing for five preseason games in 25 days starting with the Aug. 8 Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, and is opting not to put his players through the meat grinder. He didn't move up his start date and he's opted to break camp Aug. 13 after just 13 days in camp.
If he wants to give his position players a break, Lewis may decide to take just one kicker so he's got some bodies. He does have some injury situations that could dictate that, with right tackle Andre Smith (foot), and SAM linebackers Rey Maualuga and Rashad Jeanty (leg) coming back from offseason procedures, as well as tight end Reggie Kelly and right end Antwan Odom coming off Achilles surgery.
And the Bengals aren't overstocked in a lot of spots. After cutting their most experienced cornerback in Keiwan Ratliff as well as first-year cornerback DeAngelo Willingham and rookie free-agent safety Bryan Evans, the Bengals still have 15 defensive backs on the roster and could lose one or two more.
Also released was first-year running back Walter Mendenhall, but the Bengals have just two running backs (first-year player Cedric Peerman and rookie free agent Cordera Eason of Mississippi) behind Cedric Benson, Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard.
It is doubtful they would hack into either the offensive or defensive lines, but there is a lot to hash out between now and the 29th.
The Bengals have had 12-day camps during their 13 seasons at Georgetown, but that was because they were cut short by weather. What hurts the college is that Lewis has opted to replace the annual intrasquad scrimmage and mock game with the Hall of Fame Game. That wipes out Georgetown's two biggest revenue days, but the club is talking to the school about coming up with some kind of marquee event that first weekend of Friday, July 30-Sunday, Aug. 1.
"We've had some informal talks about it, but nothing has been decided," said Georgetown athletic director Eric Ward, who expects the full camp schedule to be released next week.
Bill Connelly, the long-time Bengals business manager, remembers the days when the club was in camp for nine weeks. Now it's barely nine days.
"My first one in 1976 was nine weeks from start to finish," Connelly said. "It's such a big change. We've been talking about it ever since March when we first heard from the league we might get the game."
Ward said this summer's situation doesn't impact negotiations for an extension for next year, which he says have already started. But clearly other factors do, such as the potential for a lockout and an 18-game regular season with a curtailed preseason.
"I would think the deal for next year would have a lot of conditions," Ward said. "But it's not the labor situation we're looking at so much, but the new schedule and the talk about the later start to the preseason. If (camp) got pushed back any later, it would be very difficult for us because it would displace our students."