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Caldwell on right route


Posted: 8:25 p.m.

Andre Caldwell heard Carson Palmer is going to be in the house next week and that's all he needed to hear.

"I want to show off for the big guy," Caldwell said Thursday afternoon before stepping on the field in Los Angeles. "I hear he's ready to let it loose and I want to show the big guy how much I've improved and that I'm ready to go."

Palmer never got to throw to Caldwell in a game last year because of their assorted injuries. But with offseason workouts at Paul Brown Stadium set to open at the end of the month, Palmer is apparently chucking and Caldwell is juking.

Caldwell, currently the Bengals' third wide receiver off of last year's strong finish, has been at it five days a week for what will be five weeks as he prepares to make an impact on the shifting Bengals receiver scene.

One starter is gone (T.J. Houshmandzadeh) and another has arrived (Laveranues Coles). The buzz continues to be that Chad Ocho Cinco expects to get traded (he can't be reached for comment), but there has been no indication that he won't line up opposite Coles in the May workouts he has said he'll attend.

Meanwhile, Caldwell "is preparing like I'm going to be a starter" at Charles Collins' Phenom Factory receivers camp. Bengals reserve quarterback Jordan Palmer is throwing this week and Caldwell's fellow '08 draft mate, Jerome Simpson, as well as veteran Antonio Chatman, await No. 9 next week.

The Ocho may also show next week.

"I feel 100 percent. I feel like all the injuries are behind me and that's what really kept me from getting on the field last year," Caldwell said. "I feel like I came back strong and caught the attention of the coaches at the end of the year."

And it was as much for his running, blocking and ability to line up in all three spots if needed as it was for his catching. In the finale against the Chiefs he lined up as a quarterback in the Wildcat, and later threw in a 26-yard run off a reverse. He won't be as savvy as Houshmandzadeh this year, but he says he'll be faster.

The 6-0, 204-pound Caldwell knows he's a different type of receiver than the 6-1, 200-pound Houshmandzadeh, a guy that has built his reputation on steel-belted reliability over the middle. Particularly on third down.

"I think I have that in my game, but that's not the best part of my game," Caldwell said. "I think I'm a threat downfield because of my speed. I think I can turn a 20-yard play into a 60-yard play."

Caldwell knows he looked 4.3 fast for a couple of reasons in December.

"It was a combination," he said. "I had fresh legs because I hadn't played all that much, but I'm also fast. I don't think people realize that because they didn't see me last year because I played behind a great player in T.J."

He played in just seven games as a rookie and got derailed the same night Ocho Cinco separated his shoulder in the second preseason game. A foot injury delayed Caldwell's debut until the seventh game of the season and another injury to the same foot took him out of the next three until he started four of the last five games.

"I'm working on getting out of my breaks smoother, faster. Last year I was a little stiff," Caldwell said. "I'm working on getting separation."

Houshmandzadeh, the master route runner himself, has showed up at camp this week and says that Caldwell's routes are getting better.

"I don't know," said Houshmandzadeh, an NFL receiver connoisseur, when asked if there is one that reminds him of Caldwell.

"The thing is, Bubba is fast and he's got good size," Houshmandzadeh said. "Plus, his brother (Reche) has played in the NFL, so he has been prepared for what to expect."

Even though the Bengals took Caldwell in the third round and Simpson in the second round a year ago, there was never any question that Caldwell was much more polished and farther along. It remains that way, but Houshmandzadeh is impressed with Simpson's sincerity.

"There's no question about his dedication and desire," Houshmandzadeh said. "Jerome wants to do well. He wants to succeed and he works hard. He made me feel good. He called me the other night after we worked out and he said how much he appreciated me and how much I helped him and that if I saw anything from afar that I saw that could help him, he wanted me to call him. That made me feel good."

After a brief phoner last week, Caldwell got the sense Coles is going to supply he same kind of mentoring. All they talked about was the possibility of Caldwell giving up his No. 87 jersey, but Coles' classy response convinced him.

"I told him I didn't want to part with it just yet and he was a true gentleman about it," Caldwell said. "I've heard about him before and that he's that kind of guy. He sounds T.J.-like."

Next week, Caldwell gets reacquainted with a Palmer-like pass.

"I'll be ready for him," he said.  

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