A.J. Green and Andy Dalton supplied some déjà new Sunday night when the stronger Green and the sharper Dalton flexed their Pro Bowl muscles in a mock game they dominated briefly and briskly at Paul Brown Stadium.
Working against a fleet of inexperienced defensive backs, the NFL's first Pro Bowl rookie quarterback-receiver combo showed they are no longer new kids on the block with a ruthlessly efficient effort. Green went deep for 49 yards, bobbed intermediate for 19, and scored short on a six-yarder to cap Dalton's microwave first touchdown drive.
"I don't take pity on anybody," Green said after wrecking the rookies. "It's my job. If you're out there and trying to go for the ball, I'm going right over you. No matter whom it is."
That's going to include, in four days, Jets Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis in the Bengals preseason opener 7:30 p.m. Friday (Cincinnati's Channel 12-11:35 p.m.). Green put on 10 pounds over the offseason with the help of a chef and now in-season he's turning to Bengals strength coaches Chip Morton and Jeff Friday to keep him at 210 pounds with post-practice lifts.
"It wasn't he got outphysicaled last year. He would just try to run around guys and give up good angles," said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. "Keep it tighter and be more physical, much better. He's really strong and can shed guys. It will be interesting to see this week because he will see bump and run against Revis."
Rookie Tony Dye, the free-agent safety from UCLA who had to play some corner Sunday night, thinks he got bumped on the TD fade that Green caught the six-yard dart from Dalton.
"He got a pushoff in my face, but I'll get him back," said Dye, who has a friendly rivalry with Green dating back to ESPN's high school All-American game. "But that's what great receivers do."
And the Bengals feel that this new-and-improved Green is on the verge of greatness. If he's not there already.
"We all notice that when he throws people to the ground in bump and run. He's a lot more confident in his releases and where he's going and how to get there," Gruden said. "Last year his mind was scrambling and now he has a plan to beat bump and run. He's getting better and better. He's a superstar in the making if he stays the course."
He looks like he's well on his way. After becoming the NFL's first rookie receiver with 1,000 receiving yards since Marques Colston in 2006, Green is saying things like, "Yes, definitely. I feel better. I feel like I know this and am coming out of my breaks quicker and stuff like that," when told head coach Marvin Lewis says he's better than last year.
"Camp is easier than last year because I actually know what's going on," he said.
So does Dalton and after a brutal start Sunday night with an interception and three incompletions, he did what he's supposed to do to a secondary that not only had the transplanted Dye, but fifth-rounder George Iloka at safety, rookie free agent wide receiver Taveon Rogers in his second full day playing corner, rookie free agent corner Chris Lewis-Harris and second-year corner T.J. Heath in his first full day with the club.
After finding Green three times for 74 yards, Dalton buzzed the two-minute drill on 5-of-6 passing for 62 yards and a touchdown (a five-yard fade to wide receiver Brandon Tate working on Lewis-Harris in the end zone) and brought the Black out of its own 3 on 5-of-5 passing for 48 yards. He got the Black inside the White 10 before Lewis shut down the drive.
"I had another good play in mind," Gruden said. "How about throwing to A.J.?"
"Just put it in the vicinity and he will get it. The only bad pass to A.J. is the one he can't get to."
But Dalton not only didn't throw any bad ones in the two specialty drives, he showed the command of the playbook he couldn't possibly have had as a rookie. Sunday was a pure product of a year in the system and a spring of camps.
"It was great. Tempo was good, formations were all correct. No one busted a route or protection. We had to audible once or twice and it was crisp," Gruden said of the two-minute drill. "Other than the first drive or two we had good things happen. Good, solid tempo. (Dalton) should do that. He was very efficient and quick with the ball. He did some good things but we have to make sure we don't come out of the tunnel flat like we did."
Like Green, Dalton made no apologies for carving up the kids. The star of the two-minute drill was wide receiver Armon Binns, who made four catches for 48 yards before finishing with five catches for 69 yards. In the two-minute drill, he wore out the corners on the sidelines with a couple of the catches he's been known to make. Long leaners with strong hands.
"We're a talented group of receivers, so I just have to get it to our guys. It started a little slow, but once we got into it we were in a groove," Dalton said. "I think it has to do with the second year being in the offense. (The receivers) might not have been in the games last year, but they were running them in practice, running all the same stuff. I think it's just guys having an understanding of what's going on and guys going the right depths on routes. That and some God-given talent. We've been working really hard and I can tell they have. We're just trying to go out and execute."
And, of course, Dalton still looks to be on the same page with Green.
"There's not much to say," Dalton said. "We should be by now."
Which may have been the best thing about Sunday night.
They should have lit it up in any situation, and they did.