Catching up

Posted: 8:30 p.m.

From stylish Isaac Curtis to quotable Cris Collinsworth and from the prickly Carl Pickens to the outrageous Chad Ocho Cinco and the industrious T.J. Houshmandzadeh, receivers always seem to grab the limelight for the Bengals.

So why not now with Houshmandzadeh in Seattle and The Ocho in limbo? This week the Bengals have hosted their largest average daily participation of players in offseason workouts since head coach Marvin Lewis arrived in 2003 and the spotlight is still on the receivers.

There is Laveranues Coles, the newest one with 631 career catches, and then the promising but unproven trio of Andre Caldwell, Jerome Simpson and Chris Henry with a combined 119.

Those are three guys that absolutely have to step up if this offense is going to get anywhere near where it was in 2005. So far they have since last season ended. In the only offseason stat available:

Sweat.

After putting Henry, Caldwell and Simpson through a grinding running workout Wednesday at Paul Brown Stadium, strength coach Chip Morton was able to conclude that their work has not gone for naught.

"It's a barometer for fitness and those three guys killed it," said Morton, describing a series of 100-yard sprints followed by a short recovery time. "It's obvious they've been working. Physically they're in great shape."

Obviously it will take more than that, particularly for Henry. Usually his returns to the stadium are enveloped by cameras because since 2006 he's been either headed to or coming back from a league suspension because of brushes with the law.

But on Monday he quietly slipped into the workouts with nary a microphone, vowing "I'm a different person" after losing a total of 14 games over the past three seasons in NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's office. Not to mention the spring ball and training camp he missed last year before he was cleared of two charges.

Meanwhile, Caldwell and Simpson got wide eyes when asked about their one throwing session with quarterback Carson Palmer at Charles Collins' receiver camp in Los Angeles.

"He looks like the old Carson," Simpson said of the 29-year-old Palmer.

"He looked like he did on TV," said Caldwell, who looked good on the tube too when he caught a TD in a national title win for Florida.

It's hard to forget what Palmer and Henry have done together with the long ball. They have hooked up eight times for touchdowns of 25 yards or longer.

"He's a very important piece of our ability to be successful next year," said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. "He's been given chances. He needs to repay those chances. He needs to step up and elevate his game to a level it should be at. He's had so much missed time. He can be a very productive receiver in the NFL, but he's hurt himself. It's now or never for him."

Productive? When Henry caught two touchdowns in the Bengals win in Pittsburgh in the third game of 2006, it marked eight touchdowns on his first 42 NFL catches.

Then came the inactives and the suspensions, and it's been 11 TDs on the next 65. Great, but that's over three years.

"I spent some time in Missouri," said Bratkowski, who broke into coaching at Columbia. "You have to show me. Talking is one thing and doing it is another."

Bratkowski wants Henry in the weight room to put muscle on the 6-4, 200-pound frame that got him the nickname "Slim," and when the field practices start he wants Henry to stay after working on a game he needs to diversify.

So far, Henry has done it. For the first time back in February he went to Los Angeles to work with his fellow receivers at Collins' camp, where Collins' task was "to get him to be able to run something other than (fly) routes and posts," he said.

Morton can tell Henry is extremely fit. And also something else.

"He came in last Friday and he had a peaceful countenance," Morton said. "He was with his girlfriend and child and he wanted to know what time we got going Monday. It looks like he's on the right track."

Henry isn't thinking about the time lost. But he is thinking about playing time. And he thinks he can be "one of the best in the league. That's what I'm going to try and do this year," if he can stay on the field for the entire spring and summer.

The starters, of course, are The Ocho and Coles.

"We've got a lot of guys," Henry said. "My goal is to start. It's about time."

Even though he's been missing in action for much of the past two seasons, Henry is actually one of the few knowns on what is going to be an overhauled offense. Bratkowski said Wednesday he realizes personnel-wise it is completely different than the 2005-06 versions that finished sixth and eighth, respectively in the NFL.

Which why he isn't throwing out the playbook ("We have done successful things here," he said), but he did say it has to be retooled to fit the different style of player.

"We've got a different running back and with all the changes on the offensive line we're not going to be able to do some of the things we've done before. We'll have to do it differently. Laveranues is different than T.J. Andre is different than Kelley Washington. After the draft we'll get things solidified and scheme it for what they can do."

Bratkowski also wants the 6-2, 195-pound Simpson in the weight room. One of the 6-0, 204-pound Caldwell's strengths is strength and while Bratkowski thinks Caldwell may eventually be able to provide some of Houshmandzadeh's third-down reliability, the trust is going to have to come from the spring workouts.

The Palmer who has actually thrown the most with Caldwell and Simpson this year is Jordan, the Bengals No. 3. His L.A. breakdown:

"Andre is playing really low. He's getting out of his breaks a lot smoother. He's always been pretty strong, but as far as getting in and out of his cuts you can notice the difference.

"Jerome is catching the ball better. He understands his body better. He's not hopping into stuff. I think he's more confident. The more you do it, the more confident you get."

Another reason the receivers are always in the spotlight:

Of the 40 Bengals who have made the Pro Bowl, the most decorated position has been receiver with seven.

Caldwell has been watching.

"Carson looks like the Carson on the highlights," he said. "We want to get on some of them this year."

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