A.J.Green celebrated his 27th birthday as Player of the Day.
After the Big Toe Miseries, The Bruise, and The Concussion that knocked him out of the Wild Card Game, the injuries that limited him to no catches in six games last season, A.J. Green has his jaw set.
Green, the Bengals' four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, ended Friday's first day of training camp pounding the bags working on his release from the line of scrimmage as an estimated crowd of about 1,400 at the Paul Brown Stadium practice fields gathered for autographs.
"I'm back to form," Green said. "I missed a couple of games last year. It's like the football world forgot about me…That's bad for me…That's the way I approached this whole offseason. "
Green looked relatively sharp. He caught a passel of balls over the middle, including a nice deep dig from quarterback Andy Dalton. He also worked the go pattern twice for a touchdown down the right sideline from Dalton in 11-on-11.
He formed a quick bond with the Bengals' newest coach, Al Saunders, a 33-year NFL coaching veteran and a Hue Jackson confidant who has the title of senior offensive assistant for the duration of training camp. Even though Green's 27th birthday was Friday and Saunders is 68, it looked like they had been together forever as Saunders helped out receivers coach James Urban.
"I love him. He's so energetic. He's running down the field giving me the high five every time I catch the ball," Green said. "He's been around the league a long time. He knows a lot. I was talking to him the whole day. He's real hands-on. Having him and Urb in my ear is really going to help me.
"Al Saunders told me the Hall of Famers always need something to work on. I'm just trying to do better on my releases. If I take five to 10 minutes every day to get better at one little thing this whole year, I'll be fine."
Earlier this week, head coach Marvin Lewis said he was going to tell Green not to talk about his contract status, which the Bengals would like to extend before the season. Green has been saying he thinks it will get done. On Friday, he must have adhered to Lewis.
"I talked about that the whole offseason. I don t want to talk about that now," Green said. "I'm just here to play football. Control what I can control and everything will take care of itself."
SAUNDERS RE-UNION: Saunders has one of the more highly regarded offensive minds in the game. He's been with virtually every offense that mattered, stretching back to receivers for San Diego's Air Coryell in the early 1980s before replacing Don Coryell as Chargers head coach for three seasons.
"Al Saunders," said Bengals tight ends coach Jon Hayes, who played in Kansas City when Saunders was with the Chiefs, "has forgotten more football than most people know."
When that Chiefs offense rampaged through the early 90s, Saunders was Marty Schottenheimer's assistant head coach and receivers coach before doing the same thing for Dick Vermeil when Vermeil put together "The Greatest Show on Turf," in St. Louis in 1999 and 2000, where there was a young assistant named Ken Zampese, the Bengals current quarterbacks coach.
Jackson, a young member of the West Coast coaching mafia that produced Saunders, hooked up with him in Baltimore in 2008 and 2009, where they were offensive assistants. Jackson made Saunders his offensive coordinator when he was the Raiders head coach in 2011. With Saunders no longer a Raiders senior offensive assistant this year, Jackson wasn't going to let that pass.
"He's a guy who I know will give me an honest evaluation, next to our owner and head coach, about how this offense is," Jackson said. "When somebody who knows you and what you're trying to accomplish, it always makes it a little bit easier.
"I'm excited about it. He's got a tremendous football mind and he's a tremendous football coach….Jon Hayes and Ken Zampese, he knows a lot of people here."
Saunders looks like he's the 27-year-old bouncing around out there. A veteran of 25 marathons, he stopped running them in his early 60s, but he's obviously got a lot of energy and is in great shape.
"I still run, but I don't put in the marathon training," he said. "I'm back in the pool now."
Saunders has been around long enough to know what Bengaldom already knows.
"I thought Hue did a magnificent job (in Oakland)," he said, "and he'll be a head football coach again."
Cincinnati Bengals host training camp at Paul Brown Stadium practice fields 07/31/2015
PLAYER OF THE DAY: Give it to Green. He caught everything thrown at him that was grabbable, including the two touchdowns. Dalton barely over threw him on one bomb, but Green caught the other two.
PLAY OF THE DAY: A few things were at work on this particular play in 11-on-11. It was a run, but as Dalton was handing off to running back Jeremy Hill, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu went in motion and was standing behind Hill when he got the handoff. Then downfield, there was 33-year-old left tackle Andrew Whitworth sprinting about 35 yards to near mid field.
It shows you everything you need to know early on. Jackson is going to throw you the kitchen sink and Whitworth is out to prove he's got plenty left in his tank and he still loves to lead.
PLAY OF THE DAY II: The irrepressible Adam Jones as he caught punts off the machine. He caught one holding a ball. Then he caught another holding two balls. He kept that one and brought applause from the crowd when he caught the fourth one while preventing another one from leaking out.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Jackson on Whitworth:
"I'm not going to tell you how good he's playing right now. But the guys in a different stratosphere."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Tight end Tyler Eifert is supposed to be a nightmare matchup. But on Friday he was a nightmare, period. On three snaps the defense couldn't find him and left him wide open…
Wide receiver Greg Little, hailed in October, discarded in December, cut in February, and re-signed in July, made a leaping catch in 11-on-11 as he tries impress enough to stick.
"Production, performance. Things I saw today," said Jackson, when asked what he needs to see from Little. "His back is against the wall, so he's coming out fighting. That's all you can ask for." …
Clearly this is Dalton's camp. It looked like the Bengals ran an estimated 62 snaps of 11-on-11 and he took 33 of them. AJ McCarron had 22 and Josh Johnson seven…
There's no doubt rookie wide receiver Mario Alford can run. He was a blur on some runs Jackson designed for him…
True to his word, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther mixed it up. He started Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick at cornerback and went with Leon Hall, as well as Darqueze Dennard, in the slot, but the corners got a lot work at various spots. He also started Emmanuel Lamur at SAM backer and A.J. Hawk in Vontaze Burfict's WILL backer spot, but worked in the other backers…
Lamur had a nice pass rush move on right tackle Andre Smith in 11-on-11 and right end Will Clarke got around rookie left end Jake Fisher in a battle of second-teamers…
This a tough game. Two days after wide receiver James Wright went on injured reserve, they gave his No. 86 to wide receiver Onterio McCalebb. it is McCalebb's third number with the Bengals as he transitions from cornerback to receiver...