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Full roster keeping Bengals up with Joneses

Bob Bratkowski

On a day all the cameras were trained on Adam Jones' statement, Matt Jones made a statement in the privacy of a few routes in Tuesday's passing camp that opened the Bengals on-field season.

Hey, they are just trying to keep up with the Joneses.

With a roster that will eventually have 17 defensive backs and 11 wide receivers, Tuesday gave a glimpse of why head coach Marvin Lewis said this is going to be the most competitive of his eight training camps running the Bengals.

"It will be position to position," Lewis said. "We didn't stand pat this offseason. We've got to start from scratch and we put people in place to do that. If I'm a member of this team, like our quarterback, that's a great thing to have. To look around and say, 'Wow, look at this. Now it's up to me just do my job to the utmost of my ability,' and I think we've raised the level throughout the rest of the team."

Count Palmer in after throwing to his veteran receivers for six days before Tuesday.

On Monday, he said Matt Jones, the former first-round draft pick that hasn't caught an NFL pass since '08, and free-agent pickup Antonio Bryant can give him what he's been missing since the departure of T.J. Houshmandzadeh and the injury to the late Chris Henry.

After the offense went against a defense for the first time Tuesday, you saw and heard why. While Palmer continued to be impressed by Jones, Bryant raved about Palmer.

Palmer didn't throw a deep ball to Jones on Tuesday because the Bengals were installing their short routes. But twice Jones ran by a top-tier cornerback in Leon Hall during drills and caught one of them.

First of all, everything said and written Tuesday has to be prefaced with it is Day One and the pads don't come out for another three months or so.

But second of all, Palmer can't help but notice the 6-6 Jones.

"He looked good today," Palmer said. "He's so long. Big. So lanky. I threw him a ball when he was completely covered. He just caught it out in front of him and didn't let the DB come close to making a play on it. That's what you have to do when you're that big and you're that type of player. You need to use that to your advantage and it looks like he's going to be able to do that. I can't wait to get him out there for the long routes when we put more of the offense in and we can open him up."

We know where Lewis comes down on the Carson Debate. Palmer doesn't have the '05-'06 numbers because the people around him changed. As Lewis has often said, the old defensive coordinator reiterated Tuesday what keeps his ilk awake at night: The ability of an offense "to throw it over your head" and to run the ball at will.

In Palmer's first three seasons as a starter, he had 32 completions of 40 yards or more. In the last three, it is 13. And only five last year. Now enter Bryant with his career average of 15.3 yards per catch and Jones with 13 and, well, it is early.

But the coaches must feel good about Jones. Remember those stories on national Web sites after the Bengals signed him in February and unnamed Bengals coaches ripped it saying he had such a bad workout?

Who knows who said it, but on Tuesday, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski went on record to say he's been impressed.

"He did some good things," he said. "He's in better shape, but on his behalf when he worked out here it was 32 degrees and there was ice on the field. Not exactly optimal conditions. He's worked hard. He's looking better and better every day."

Still a long way away. But Jones did say Tuesday he feels he's in the best shape of his career at this point in the season.

"I would get started about when everybody else did," Jones said. "But this year I went to (a training facility) for two weeks in March and I've been at it here for five weeks. This is the best my body has felt right now."

And, a guy that figures to run a 4.4 40-yard dash, Jones says he feels faster than when he last played.

Lewis has also been watching.

"I've been impressed with him," Lewis said of Jones' work with the quarterbacks leading up to Tuesday. "It's going to be fun to watch. He's feeling good about himself. He's got the quarterbacks feeling good about his abilities. We've got to get things to help him help us."

Meanwhile, Bryant, working on his eighth head coach and twice as many quarterbacks in his eighth season, was bubbling after Tuesday's workout. And he's been trying to keep it very low key since signing that four-year, $28 million deal back in March, but he couldn't help himself.

"With him, it's about precision and timing," Bryant said of Palmer. "That's good because it will help me as an individual pick my game up. That's something I've lacked for the most part. I see he's consistent with his timing and how you should come out of the routes. He's almost down to a science. I kind of like that. I know exactly what to expect because it's been consistent so far since I've been here."

Bryant talked about playing with Jeff Garcia and how when his short stature forced him out of the pocket, the game suddenly became instinct more than precision.

"You had to prepare yourself to run two routes," Bryant said. "The first route and the Jeff route."

Which is funny because without Houshmandzadeh, Palmer seems to have been struggling to find a guy he knows is going to be where when Chad Ochocinco is blanketed. Bryant says he won't have to worry with him.

"I'm not going to do that. I'm just going to follow the quarterback's eyes," Bryant said. "When I come out of that route, if it's not there and he's doing something different, you've got to use common sense. He's been very consistent with where he's throwing that ball and how he wants to come out of the break. I know exactly what's expected. It's 14 yards this way and not that way, then that's exactly what you should do."

Bratkowski, who likes how seriously Bryant approaches the game, put plenty on his plate Tuesday. He had him playing the Z on the outside and the slot inside with a lot of motions and shifts and while he was in the wrong place at times, Bratkowski feels he's picking it up well.

"Like the first day of school," said Bryant, the high school honor student. "Moving around and finding out where all your classes are."

That's how early it is. First day of school early.

But it's never too early to feel good.

"I don't like to elaborate on the future, but I feel really good about our situation," Bryant said. "The fact he can adjust to who's running the routes. ... That's something quarterbacks I've had never really understood. Some quarterbacks that have a lot of talent try to make a perfect throw instead of making the opportunity for the receiver to make the throw look perfect. Give us an opportunity to make a play on it. Which (Palmer) is doing."

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