Green envy


A.J. Green

You can find Bengals wide receiver A. J. Green easily on the NFL stat sheet after his first five games.

Among all NFL rookies he's first with 402 receiving yards, tied at the top with Baltimore 's Torrey Smith with three touchdown catches and trails only Atlanta's Julio Jones by one catch with 24.

That's a 16-game pace that not only shatters the Bengals 30-year-old rookie record of Cris Collinsworth, but Green already has more yards than Chad Ochocinco, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Carl Pickens had as rookies.

Not only that, but Green is on pace for 77 catches and 1,268 yards, a better rookie season than current Pro Bowlers Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin and Andre Johnson and DeSean Jackson. So when offensive coordinator Jay Gruden on Monday called Green "obviously one of the elite receivers in the league," it's hard to argue.

Maybe you can find him on the stat sheet, but Green has been so good that Gruden is trying to hide him. On two of Green's bigger catches in Sunday's 30-20 win Jacksonville the Bengals lined him up inside. He caught a 13-yarder on a fourth-and-six out of a bunch formation that kept a touchdown drive alive and he caught another 13-yarder on a third-and-three when he lined up in the slot.

"Slowly but surely we're trying to move him around a little bit. We got him so we're not always lining him up outside in one spot," Gruden said. "On the big third-down play he caught later he was in the slot. We're trying to put him in different locations so teams can't roll up on him and play Cover 2 against him or roll toward him."

Green's predecessor as the Bengals' elite receiver, Ochocinco, almost always lined up on the outside because the coaches felt he was more dangerous relying on his instincts rather than learning multiple positions. The downside was that it made it easier for opponents to take him away.

But Green is a different breed as he mocks the myth that rookie receivers can't have much production that first year.

"He's got the rare athletic ability to make the big play despite not being polished yet," Gruden said. "He has the ability to jump over people and catch it at its highest point and just out-(athlete) people. But when he gets the routes down and knows how to run against certain looks, he's going to be really good."

Which is scary. But Gruden is making sure he gets Green polished.

One of the reasons quarterback Andy Dalton got picked off early in the second quarter Sunday was that Green slowed down running his route. One of the reasons the third-and-six pass was incomplete to force Dalton's winning fourth-and-sixth throw to tight end Jermaine Gresham was because Green lined up in the wrong spot.

But these are details that can be worked out. Green has been diligent and attentive and it is simply a matter of time they say. Imagine that he's racked up these numbers with a rookie quarterback and a starter opposite him that began the season with just four more NFL starts than he did.

Green is clearly the X Gruden is building around to make life easier for Dalton.

"When you have a guy like A.J. out there and people are learning the Lions offense is good with Calvin Johnson and Houston's offense is not as good without Andre Johnson, it's a different deal," Gruden said. "Once A.J. gets going and we get him honed in on a lot of these routes, we'll get our running game going because they are going to have to roll up to him quite a bit."

The Jaguars spent a good deal of Sunday doing just that and that upset Gruden because with the defense trying to take away Green in a Cover 2 zone and rolling toward Green, that gave the Bengals man-on-man blocking in the running game. But they could get just 2.5 yards per 31 runs even though "35 mph winds and playing Cover 2. I don't know any more of a time you want to run the ball," Gruden said.

"You want to run it, you want Cover 2, but they did a good job," Gruden said of the Jags. "They mixed up some coverages. We have to get better. I think all of our linemen and tight ends and backs and receivers will tell you it wasn't their best game blocking the run. But it was good when you didn't have your best game and win. That's a good thing."

So is having Adriel Jeremiah Green.

"He's getting better every week," Gruden said.

The projected numbers for Green and Julio Jones are projected over a 16-game schedule. The stats for the rest of the players are their lines from their rookie seasons.

*                                   G      Rec.     Yds.     Avg.     TD*

A.J. Green                16      77     1,268    16.8      10

Julio Jones               16      80      1,145    14.3      0

Larry Fitzgerald      16    58       780    13.4    8

Calvin Johnson      15    48       756    15.8     4

Andre Johnson       16    66       976    14.8    4

Reggie Wayne       13    27       345    12.8     0

Jerry Rice              16    49       927    18.9     3

Chad Ochocinco      12   28       329     11.8     1

Terrell Owens         16    35      520     14.9     4

DeSean Jackson     16    62       912    14.7     2

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