Caldwell...again


Andre Caldwell

After Wednesday's practice, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden found himself lamenting the rule that teams can use only one football during each play.

"You can only run or pass," Gruden said. "If it's a run, the receivers get a little upset. If it's a pass, the running backs get upset. If it's a pass and it doesn't work, the fans say you should have run it and if it's a run that doesn't work then A.J. (Green) wants the ball. I can't do one thing right as a play-caller, but you know what? I'm happy to have this group because we have a lot of different ways to go and right now, knock on wood, it hasn't been a problem who's going to get the ball because the better we get on offense the more people are going to touch it."

Enter wide receiver Andre Caldwell, the man who came into his fourth season leading the team with career catches. The bad news is that the total matched his uniform number of only 87. The good news for Gruden and the once volatile wide receivers room is that instead of griping, Caldwell has been grinding. 

Everyone has always seemed to try and put Caldwell on the shelf ever since he arrived in the third round in the 2008 draft. Too stiff. Fast but not shifty. Bumpy in and out of cuts. But whenever the Bengals have needed him Caldwell has been there and produced at whatever receiver spot he's been placed.

When the Bengals dismissed him to sign Laveranues Coles before the 2009 season and Coles and everyone else was covered in the tight AFC North games early that season, he supplied the winning catches against Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the last 22 seconds within 14 days.

When Chris Henry got hurt soon after, Caldwell came off the bench to help provide what little teeth the passing game had left in the slot. Last season, when Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco couldn't finish out the season, Caldwell resurfaced from the oblivion of the Jordan Shipley selection and helped provide hope for this season with solid downfield play.

And on Sunday in Denver, Caldwell didn't even wait a series when Shipley was lost for the year with an ACL injury in the third quarter. He promptly caught a 10-yard touchdown pass on the same play that beat the Steelers two years ago.

"People always put me on the back burner but I always keep fighting, keep going. I've got my chance and now have to make the most of it," Caldwell said before Wednesday's practice. "I get a little discouraged but don't let it show. I just keep working, I let my game talk for me and that's what I'm going to do the next couple Sundays."

Even before Shipley got hurt, Caldwell's career had been revived by Gruden during his first training camp. Impressed by his versatility, smarts, and reliability, Gruden tried to make sure he rotated Caldwell with Green and Jerome Simpson in that first group of receivers on the outside while keeping Shipley in the slot.

"It's always good to get positive feedback when you work so hard," Caldwell said. "He revived me and got my spirits up and now I get a chance to show the world what I can do."

But just like the Bengals haven't been happy with their inability to find a way to work in running back Bernard Scott off the bench, Gruden couldn't seem to get Caldwell enough snaps.

Now, unfortunately, this.

"You'll see how valuable he is as our zebra man (slot receiver) in that personnel group," Gruden said. "What he doesn't have that Jerome and A.J. have is that explosive burst. Like the 'wow' factor. But he has a great feel for the game, he can still run very well and you can line him up anywhere."

After T.J. Houshmandzadeh left, Caldwell was the only receiver that could truly play all three positions in the old offense if asked. Now he is.

"This is more versatile. Week by week we change it up and do different things. They can move me around. I know every position," Caldwell said. "I just played one position. Now I can play everything. It's going to make stuff look a lot harder that is simpler to us.

"I think (the offense) gets the ball in the playmaker's hands. Let him make plays. I'm good run after catch and can stretch the field. They're going to send me down the field a lot so I think it's a good fit."

Caldwell says Gruden's West Coast offense has been a factor in how the Bengals have responded on the road in the season's first two games in which there have been minimal problems with the clock and penalties compared to last year's fire drills. The new offense, Caldwell says, also gives the slot guy more options.

"People are paying attention to detail. We just want to win. Offense is simplified for us and complicated for the defense," Caldwell said. "They can't just sit on me. They can't predict my route. Back then it was simple. We had a little group route we ran all the time and now it's a little bit open. Now it's more wide open. We have guys who can stretch the field who can make it one-on-one for me."

Caldwell has always been known as the anti-diva in a receiver room that had plenty of them. Now the only diva is the playbook.

"We pay attention a little more to detail; more focused," Caldwell said. "None of us has accomplished much and be the best we can be and accomplish a little bit more. Try to outperform each other. We're just all hungry."

The departure of some of the more notorious names in the room have helped refreshed the receiving corps, but so has Gruden's all-inclusive approach. He's not going to feed the ball to one guy.

"We can't be one-dimensional," Gruden said. "For us to be successful, I don't care what anybody says. We can't be a one-dimensional team. We have no chance."

As usual, Caldwell is here to help. 

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