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Hands me down to Caldwell

Andre Caldwell

Posted: 10 p.m.

Andre Caldwell, who thinks he's the next man up on third down, says T.J. Houshmandzadeh taught him everything about being a pro. From studying the entire body of work in the film room to working to take care of the body in the training room.

"I never took care of my body," Caldwell said after Tuesday's practice. "Now ... I feel 100 percent better than last year."

But that doesn't stop the 24-year-old Caldwell from believing he brings a few more things to the table than the 31-year-old Houshmandzadeh. As one of only a few of Carson Palmer's receivers that can play the slot that Houshmandzadeh vacated for Seattle, Caldwell knows he's got big shoes to fill and even bigger hands to mirror.

So it's nice to know he has at least one of Houshmandzadeh's attributes: Raging self confidence.

"I think I fit the T.J. form, but I think I can do more things after I get the ball," he said. "I'm a little faster, a little shiftier guy. I think I possess both of those qualities. I can also go deep just like Chad does."

Caldwell smiled because he knows the one thing Houshmandzadeh loves is arguing his own merits.

"He's probably not going to like it; he's going to disagree," he said. "He sees himself a certain way, I see myself a certain way."

But one thing that can't be debated is the huge void left by Houshmandzadeh, particularly on third down, and quarterback Carson Palmer knows it.

"He caught 300 balls over the last three years. That's a lot of possessions for one individual player," Palmer said. "We have to replace those 300 balls or 100 balls this year, so that's a whole new problem."

Palmer sees the potential as well as the inexperience and newness. Caldwell, he says, has picked up where he left off when he took Houshmandzadeh's place in the '08 finale and responded with 83 all-purpose yards to help beat the Chiefs at Paul Brown Stadium in the finale of his rookie season.

(It must be recalled here that Houshmandzadeh's breakout also came in the final game of his rookie year seven years earlier against the Steelers in a home victory.)

Chris Henry gets better and better, but has never played the "X" so much in his career. Laveranues Coles looked positively T.J.-ish Tuesday with two successive fingertip grabs pulled in over the middle and away from a beehive of defenders, but he's trying adjust to a new quarterback and offense.

All told on the field Tuesday there were just two wide receivers that Palmer has thrown completions to in an NFL game: Henry and Antonio Chatman.

Palmer admits he's still getting comfortable with his new corps and he doesn't have his five-time Pro Bowler practicing with him in Chad Ochocinco. But he says it's better than last spring when he didn't have any starting receivers on campus.

"That's why you're here; that's why we have OTAs," Palmer said. "We weren't very successful last year on offense. We need a lot of work. That's why it's so good we've got everybody here working and competing and trying to get better. We've got a long way to go before we get where we need to be when he open with Denver (Sept. 13) in this stadium."

Which is why it is nice Caldwell is here because Palmer can use him in so many ways. Not only does he play the slot that is so key on third down, but he can also play both outside spots.

"I'm out here getting better. I'm out there getting my timing with Carson trying to get better and he's doing the same," Caldwell said when asked of the Ocho absence. "That's something they're going to have to deal with when they get in, but the guys that are here are doing fine."

Caldwell's versatility was put on display in the final game of last year when he reversed his field on a reverse for a 26-yard run that featured his 4.3 40-yard speed and drew a Peter Warrick reference from Houshmandzadeh after the game.

Later Caldwell lined up in "The Wildcat" as the quarterback on a direct snap on a third-and-two from the Cincinnati 15. He only got a yard, but a facemask penalty on Chiefs end Jason Babin kept the drive alive long enough for Caldwell to catch a five-yarder over the middle out of the slot on third-and-five that set up Shayne Graham's 30-yard field goal that made it 13-0 with 1:47 left in the first half.

And he waved a little Houshian edge when he offered, "I didn't have big numbers but there were times I was open they could have got me the ball."

Caldwell ("I feel like any time I touch the ball it can be a big play") loved lining up as the quarterback. Now he's lobbying to throw and why not? He combined passing and running for 2,200 yards to lead Tampa Thomas Jefferson to a Florida state title.

"I think they're seeing right now in OTAs I can do some things other than catch first downs," he said.

But it is that five-yard grab on third down that the Bengals need. Last year Houshmandzadeh's 26 catches for first downs on third down were second in the NFL to Atlanta's Roddy White.

"That's what I'm looking for; when third down comes, my number be called," Caldwell said. "I think I can do that. I also think first and second down I can make plays down the field."

Even more than Houshmandzadeh.

"Those runs," he said with a smile, "will be a little longer."

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