Jermaine Gresham participates in his first Bengals training camp session. (AP photo)
Updated: 7:15 p.m.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. - As expected, there was no break for first-round pick Jermaine Gresham when he hit the field in 90-degree weather Tuesday at Georgetown College.
After signing his five-year deal shortly after his 1:15 p.m. or so arrival, he worked on most of the eight goal-line plays and on a third of the overall plays in offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski's script. Then the Bengals directed him to the kids' autograph tent to sign some more.
"He's got to catch up," Bratkowski said. "Coming out of the new system in the spring, I wouldn't say it was a struggle for him but it's a process and he went through the process twice. Now he's going through it the third time and he's probably missed 11, 10 meetings and then on-the-field stuff, and we've got time. Fortunately he's in here and we've got the extra preseason game, which helps a lot."
Tight ends coach Jon Hayes said before practice that he was able to get Gresham to the blackboard for about five minutes.
"We're going to give him a lot to digest without giving him a belly ache," Hayes said. "But he's going to get a lot of work."
Following his chalkboard meeting, Gresham signed what has been reported as a five-year deal and the Bengals cut LSU rookie free agent defensive end Rahim Alem to make room on the 80-man roster.
The Bengals wore shoulder pads and since Gresham didn't play his senior year at Oklahoma because of a knee injury, it was the first time he's worn them in a year. Hayes, vying for camp quote of the week, offered, "I can give him plays. I can give him the mechanics, but he has to make music to it to make him play. (At the chalkboard) I'll see how far along he is and how much he retained over the summer and go from there."
Hayes is satisfied that Gresham is recovered about 100 percent from his knee injury and, like head coach Marvin Lewis, Hayes doesn't think the eight missed practices are going to amount to much.
"We have to be smart with what we give him," Hayes said. "Make sure he can digest it and it can create confidence. I don't think he's that far behind. We just have to get him playing football (instead of the playbook). If we can do that we're in good shape."
During Andre Smith's holdout last season, the club e-mailed him portions of the playbook but Gresham felt comfortable simply taking home the notebook in which he had jotted his notes in the May and June camps. He realizes, however, new things have been installed since camp started.
Gresham may have taken only a third of the snaps, but he was all out in his ensuing news conference, which began nearly 12 hours after his 6:15 a.m. flight left Norman, Okla. And it was nearly 12 months since he'd been in pads because he injured the knee shortly before the season and while he says he missed too many blocks Tuesday, he didn't miss the point.
"If you have something you love taken away from you, you appreciate everything about it," Gresham said. "It's not specific things. It's everything. It's being out there with your guys. Being able to play football with each other. Laugh, joke, be tired with each other. You even miss that."
He probably won't miss it for long because the Bengals are doing everything they can to get him ready for Sunday's game against the Cowboys, which just so happens to be his parents' favorite team. Gresham will be tired because head coach Marvin Lewis says he's designed this camp to break him in and he's gone the extra step to make Gresham the starter.
Gresham's response offers a glimpse of why the Bengals think they've got a special player that is not only versatile on the field but also a warrior.
"That shouldn't be," Gresham said. "That's something that should be earned and I haven't earned anything here. Right now there are four guys ahead of me and they deserve to be ahead of me because they've been here putting in time and going through the ritual."
Gresham's solution is to "be the best football player I can be and attack it and have fun," he said.
He spent the weeks leading up to camp working out with this year's overall No. 1 pick, his Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford of the Rams. It officially ended when Gresham split out in a seven-on-seven drill Tuesday and coasted down the seam on a throw from another overall No. 1 pick named Carson Palmer. Those plays were few and far between Tuesday as he began to get acclimated to what an NFL tight end does in pads.
Bradford left last week to sign his Mega Bucks contract and Gresham missed him.
"We knew we had to be in the best shape we can be in to come into both camps and try to compete," he said. "We got up early to throw lift, run ... keep your mindset on football."
Gresham is supposed to be the player Palmer has never had. The big tight end he's never had, a huge visible lighthouse in the angry ocean of NFL defenses. But Tuesday, Gresham didn't even know how many balls he caught.
"I missed too many blocks for the most part," he said. "That's one thing that stands out."
It won't if everybody else remembers how many he catches.
BRAT'S CORNER: Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski thinks the Bengals have to clean-up their goal-line stuff after they struggled a bit Thursday moving the defense "and we had some mental errors down there that didn't help us with guys going the wrong way."
But he also said he saw some good things because it's always a tough thing to evaluate if it's not live because they weren't in full pads.
"It's good work for us even though it's not live and we really can't (cut) block like we can when it's live. Obviously we've got to do better than we did."
Palmer unofficially went 2-for-6 in the two-minute drill, their first look at it all the way through. He's still struggling to get in a groove with Terrell Owens and the two couldn't hook up twice, but The Ocho got them near field-goal range. Then linebacker Brandon Johnson came on a blitz for a pressure that blew up the drive and would have forced them to go for it on fourth down.
"It was the first time we went all the way through and we did it move it down there," Bratkowski said.
DON'T COWBOY UP: Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who coached in Dallas for 13 seasons, isn't so much jacked up about facing his old team Sunday as he is about seeing how his former Cowboys respond. He's looking for cornerback Adam Jones, defensive tackle Tank Johnson, and safety Roy Williams to check their emotions.
"It will be interesting to see if they continue to stay within the scheme," said Zimmer, who only coached Williams in Dallas. "Or whether they'll revert to their old ways playing their old team on the first night, the lights and all that stuff. It will be interesting to see if they stay within the guidelines of the defense."
Jones, known as a big-time freelancer in Tennessee and Dallas, has had to fight that under Zimmer. Zimmer tells them, "Don't be a riverboat gambler." Or, "Don't do your own thing." And he says so far, so good, that Jones "is doing fine."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Lewis did everybody a favor by ending the scorching afternoon 30 minutes early at 4:45 p.m ... Dave Rayner, a day after he was placed on the depth chart behind Mike Nugent and went 6-for-6, hit his first five field goals (30, 34, 38, 40, 43) then missed wide right on his last Tuesday a 47-yarder ... Nugent, who didn't kick Tuesday for the second straight day, has a lower body strain and is questionable to kick Sunday ... SAM linebacker Rey Maualuga didn't work with a strained hamstring, but says he'll play Sunday.
» Special teams coach Darrin Simmons was happy the cut to make room for Gresham didn't come from the two long snappers or the two kickers.
"The best way to get a true evaluation of someone is when the real bullets are flying," he said, alluding to rookie long snapper Mike Windt out of the University of Cincinnati. "How he handles situations. How he handles the crowd. It's going to be different. ... He's not playing at UC but he's playing in front of a bunch of Hall of Famers. ... The guy has played in big games. I expect him to handle it and be fine."