If you're still thinking about Andre Caldwell's two fumbles late last season, he's ahead of you because he's gone backward to get ready for 2010.
Caldwell, the Bengals' once-and-future slot receiver, was up until 3:30 the other morning watching T.J. Houshmandzadeh do his thing from back in the day.
"From when T.J. was here," Caldwell says. "There wasn't a better slot receiver than him. He's just so smooth. Everything is so fluid. You can't get a read when he's going to break and cut. He just does it so smooth."
Caldwell arrived for offseason workouts Monday at 194 pounds, 13 fewer than when the Bengals drafted him at the end of the third round two years ago. After watching Chad Ochocinco go to his sixth Pro Bowl at age 31 following an offseason boxing regimen, Caldwell decided to head to Fight Factory, a gym in his hometown of Tampa, Fla.
"I'm not box boxing like Chad. I don't fight anybody," Caldwell says. "But I hit the bags, jump rope, do the treadmill. Boxers are the best conditioned athletes. It helps with footwork and conditioning. You go for three minutes straight. You never play that long in football."
This is what you do if you're Andre Caldwell and you're coming off a 2009 divided between heaven and hell and the Bengals receiver spot is hanging in purgatory. In the first half of the season he made two of the most dramatic touchdown catches in Bengals history to beat AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the final 22 seconds. Then in the second half of the season in the final two minutes of a pair of losses he fumbled a kickoff that led to the Oakland Meltdown and in San Diego he fumbled after making a catch that prevented the Bengals from scoring the winning touchdown.
"You do what I'm doing right now. Go a little harder. Working a little harder," he says. "(The fumbles) may have made the coaches not go to me as much during times like that. Lack of concentration. Not holding on the ball tight. You have to prove to them you're getting better every year."
Everyone's numbers suffered when wide receiver Chris Henry's stretch-the-field capabilities were lost in the eighth game. But none more than Caldwell's. Minutes before Henry broke his arm, Caldwell scored his third and last touchdown of the season in the 17-7 win over the Ravens. A few games later he was placed outside when it was clear the end of Laveranues Coles' very solid career had suddenly disappeared in quicksand. A few games after that in a desperate bid to reboot the pass game, Caldwell went back in the slot.
In the eight games with Henry, Caldwell caught 29 balls for 272 yards with his longest catch a 24-yarder. Without Henry, Caldwell was 22 for 160 yards, no scores, no catches longer than 17 yards, and a banged up ankle and knee that hobbled him down the stretch.
Caldwell isn't pointing the finger. His breakdown over the second half of the season is a reason he followed The Ocho into the gym, where he has built up his core with countless exercises for the abdomen while adding tons of cardio. Caldwell is also planning on sessions of "hot yoga," where he does flexibility in 95-degree rooms.
"I'm trying to have a better, more productive second half of the season. Don't wear down. I think I wore down a little bit," he says.
But he also thinks moving in and out of the slot hampered his play. The signing of Antonio Bryant for the outside would appear to be the answer for the vertical game and has Caldwell looking at how Houshmandzadeh plays in the slot.
"That's the plan," he said. "With (Bryant) being here on the outside that will probably focus me more in the slot and I think that's going to help. We couldn't stretch the field as well when (Henry) went down. Everything was compact and they shut it down."
CALDWELL ON TEBOW: Caldwell helped Tim Tebow win the Heisman Trophy at Florida and here his take on Tebow's NFL chances:
"He needs time. He needs to sit behind one of those good quarterbacks for about three years because I know he's going to put in the work and the effort to be a great quarterback. He's going to learn. I don't think he's going to be an elite passer ever. But he's a playmaker. He'll get the ball there. He probably can't make the prettiest looking passes. But he's going to use what he has to his advantage. Running. Scrambling. Making passes. He's got a strong arm and I think he can make the throws, but they may not be the prettiest."
Caldwell, the general manger, on where he'd draft Tebow: "Late second round."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» At the moment, the Bengals no longer appear to be in the Pacman Jones derby.
» *The Baltimore Sun *is saying the Ravens are most interested in Bengals kicker Shayne Graham among a trio of kickers that include former Bengal Neil Rackers and the Jets' Jay Feely.
» Reiterating what he said following February surgery for a pin to heal his broken foot, right tackle Andre Smith said this week he expects to be on the field for the first snap of the on-field sessions in May. He says he's still limited and the major thing between now and then is to keep his weight down, an issue he understands has been with him healthy or hurt the past year. There are no numbers, but he says he's comfortable where his weight is.
The Smith stat: In Smith's first seven NFL games, which were the final seven of last season, the Bengals averaged 4.5 yards per rush. At most he played 30 percent of the snaps in a game, but it does highlight his strength. And candor.
"It's a blessing to be able to move people in front of you; that's why they drafted me," he said. As for protecting the passer: "Still working on that. It's a lot different than college. ... Everybody is good in the NFL. ... In college you just dominate easily."
» Eagle eye Pat "Yaz" Yasinskas of ESPN.com glimpsed Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer on Tuesday at the University of South Florida's pro day. This is another sighting in the category of Due Diligence. USF defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is seen as a top 20 pick and it's another example of how the Bryant deal has opened up the first round to the Bengals. Any position but quarterback looks to be on the board.
» A defensive pick would give the Bengals five out of the last six first-rounders on that side of the ball. But that doesn't come anywhere near the defensive run they had in the eight drafts from 1986-94 in which they had a first-round pick and took a defensive player in every one. Linebacker Joe Kelly (1986), defensive end Jason Buck (1987), cornerback Rickey Dixon (1988), linebackers James Francis (1990) and Alfred Williams (1991), safety Darryl Williams (1992), defensive end John Copeland (1993) and defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson (1994). They traded out of the first round in 1989 and in '92 picked up Williams late in the first round after trading down to take quarterback David Klingler first at No. 6.