Green looking to Larry Legend


A.J. Green

Cris Collinsworth started it Monday night when reminded in a text that A.J. Green is most likely going to do to his Bengals rookie receiving yards record what he's done to everything else this season Saturday when the Bengals play the Cardinals (1 p.m.-WLW-700) at Paul Brown Stadium.

He's going to jump up and take Yard No. 1,010 with that patented leap-and-sting a la The Green Hornet.

And it continued through Tuesday, ironically, the 30th anniversary of Collinsworth catching a season-high 128 yards on five balls in the 1981 season finale in Atlanta that made him the first Bengal in franchise history to finish with 1,000 yards receiving.

With Arizona five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald coming to town, the comparisons to Green are inevitable and many.

Green, 6-4, 207 pounds, was the fourth pick in the last draft. Fitzgerald, 6-3, 225 pounds, was the third pick in 2004.

"He reminds me of Larry Fitzgerald; he plays above the defense," Collinsworth texted and Bengals Nate Clements and Kelly Jennings agree.

They are former NFC West cornerbacks that had one of the league's most thankless jobs in covering Fitzgerald twice a year, Clements in San Francisco and Jennings in Seattle. And while they realize that Green isn't Fitzgerald just yet, they see the direction their young teammate is rapidly headed.

"Two different receivers in the way they're used," Clements said before Tuesday's practice. "Both have some of the same attributes they do well … that's one of them. Just the ability to go get the ball. When it's in the air, just the ability to locate and make a play on the ball."

In Sunday's game in St. Louis, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden showed his enormous confidence in his prized rookie by lining him up in virtually every spot and trying him on a variety of routes that the previous regime never had the luxury of doing with their No. 1 receiver, Chad Ochocinco.

Go routes. Wide receiver screens. Bunch formations.

There is some insider trader knowledge on these two defenses. Cardinals secondary coach Louie Cioffi was still working for the Bengals last season as the safeties coach when they began the draft strategy that hatched Green and before new Cards defensive coordinator Ray Horton hired him in Arizona.

That Ray Horton. The Bengals Super Bowl defensive back who became zone blitz guru Dick LeBeau's trusted aide in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

And not only are there Jennings and Clements with plenty of experience against Fitzgerald, but there is Clements's former 49ers teammate and current Bengals outside linebacker Manny Lawson. Their last game with San Francisco was actually their first game of this year when the 49ers beat the Cards in last season's Jan. 2 season finale, 38-7.

Rookie quarterback John Skelton, who may play Saturday, was 14-of-25 for 92 yards in playing part of that game.

"For a big guy, he's real elusive," Clements said of Skelton. "I would say he's real elusive. Like a Ben Roethlisberger."

By the way, Fitzgerald caught 11 balls for 125 yards in that 2010 finale.

"He's bigger girth-wise. He's got great size at what, 6-3, 220? He's a freak of nature," Jennings said. "But A.J. may be faster than him from what I've seen. A.J.'s ball skills are just off the charts. Same thing with Fitzgerald. His body position and the way he attacks the ball is like no other and A.J. is the same thing."

Maybe even more important is that Green sees enough of himself in Fitzgerald that he has developed a friendship with him. They text every couple of weeks and Green plans to work out with him for a few weeks in the offseason in Arizona.

"Larry works out like a beast," Green said. "He tells me some stuff … he tells me to be patient and study. I need to link up with some of the older guys and see how they train."

Green also plans to work out with his other role model, Detroit's Calvin Johnson, since they both live in Atlanta and worked out together during the lockout.

When it comes to rookie seasons, Green already has them beat with 1,006 yards on 61 catches and seven touchdowns in 13 starts. In 16 starts in 2004, Fitzgerald had 58 catches for 780 yards and eight touchdowns while in 15 games and 10 starts in 2007, Johnson had 48 catches for 756 yards and four touchdowns.

But Fitzgerald is the guy Green and the Bengals see Saturday.

"The way he attacks the ball in the air and competes for the ball," said Green when asked what he likes about Fitzgerald.

He's been taking some pretty good notes. And Jennings has notes on Fitzgerald that he's passing along to his mates and coaches.

"He has the strongest and biggest hands I've played against," Jennings said. "I've had my hands on the ball and he's reached around my hand and takes the ball. He does some great things in his area."

One area where Clements and Jennings say Fitzgerald is in a class by himself is yards after catch.

"When he catches it, he's moving," Clements said, and Jennings added, "There's no hesitation where he looks to see what's going on. He turns it up and goes."

But Green's ball skills, Jennings says, are already at the top of the game. Fitzgerald comes into PBS playing his 123rd game with 72 touchdowns and is already less than 700 yards from 10,000 career yards.

Can Green be there in 110 more games?

"In time," Jennings said, "I do believe he can."

It's a conclusion to which everyone seems to be jumping.

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