When the Bengals drafted Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley in the third round, special teams coach Darrin Simmons thought it was going to be "Groundhog Day" for Quan Cosby, his prized rookie punt returner that played with Shipley for four seasons in college.
Simmons thought Cosby had to be thinking, "I can't get away from this guy," but now that he has seen Cosby and Shipley remain close during the most intense of roster wars, he may as well be watching "Friends" without the angst in Friday night's 8 p.m. preseason game against the Eagles at Paul Brown Stadium.
Bob Shipley, Jordan's dad and coach in high school in Burnet, Texas, could have told Simmons that. He was there when his son and Cosby first met at the Texas state track meet back in '01 and Cosby, out of Mart High, was wondering who in the heck "the skinny little white kid" was running the 100 meters against him.
"I can't even remember who won," Bob Shipley said. "They probably can't either. It's not important. But they developed a bond."
It turned out they were born three years apart on the same day, Dec. 23, and that they would become two of the most prolific wide receivers in University of Texas history while playing opposite each other.
Nine years later and they are still running against each other in the most heated track meet there is, an NFL preseason. But they are ripping off long runs like they are still Texas schoolboys. Cosby answered Shipley's 63-yard return in the opener against the Cowboys with a 43-yarder last Sunday against Denver that Simmons says defines his passion and intensity.
"He broke seven tackles; the eighth guy got him," said Simmons, shaking his head after Wednesday's practice. "Seven guys had an opportunity."
Simmons has watched Cosby and Shipley greet each other after each one. Even though it looks like they are competing for the same roster spot. Cosby also had a 17-yarder Sunday. Shipley threw back a 21-yarder like a heavyweight flurry. Both play the slot receiver. Both return punts. Can both make it?
"That's not really a fair question," Cosby said. "It's not my decision. I think we're both doing well. He's making plays. I think I'm making plays. If we're doing well, then the Cincinnati Bengals must be doing well and that's what counts."
It just sounds too old-fashioned in this tabloid age. Where are the birth certificates? But it doesn't surprise Bob Shipley one bit. He saw the attitude every Saturday at Texas and thinks Longhorns head coach Mack Brown has a lot to do with it.
"Jordan would always be the first one to congratulate Quan after he scored and Quan would do the same for Jordan," Bob Shipley said. "They just bonded. Quan is an awesome guy. Very unselfish. They both are. Mack Brown does a great job fostering a family-type atmosphere. That's the kind of kids he recruits. You (media) guys probably don't like having Jordan around. He doesn't have much to say."
Which may be one of the many reasons they get along so well. Not only do they have the same birthday (Cosby was born in 1982, Shipley in 1985), they've got the same personality. They hand out quotes like fumbles and they are two of the most sure-handed guys around.
"They're both quiet. They don't say much at all," said Sharon Shipley, Jordan's mother. "They just go out there and do their job. They're not flashy."
Sharon became close to Cosby and his wife after a lot of barbecues and tailgates and Saturdays sitting in the same row. Mothers don't put together rosters. One of the first things she thought about when she heard her son was going to Cincinnati was that Quan could look in on him.
"That was reassuring," Sharon said. "Quan has a lot of responsibilities with three children and he's not going to be out and about like the single guys, but I knew they would probably have him over for dinner once in awhile."
There was plenty of bread broken in Georgetown, Ky., during training camp, where they were roommates.
"If we had a break, we'd go out to eat," Cosby said. "That's what best friends do. Since I'm two years out and he's one year out, we talked a lot about our college experiences. It's fun. We got close in college. We'd have cookouts and our families spent a lot of time with each other.
"It's a blessing to know such a good family and to be friends."
Shipley, 24, looks at Cosby, 27, as sort of a mentor as well as "one of my best friends. Quan is just incredible returning punts. He's fun to watch."
Indeed, Bob Shipley says that Jordan called home after the Denver game raving about Cosby's punt return. He was shaking his head when he saw cornerback Adam Jones check in with a 28-yarder that very night.
"Jordan had a 21-yarder and that was the worst one," he said. "No one is pulling for Quan more than Jordan. And they don't view it as a competition. I think they just see it as two friends doing the best they can for the team. That was the attitude at Texas. Jordan and I talked a lot about that, how there could be a lot of egos but guys still did what was best for the team."
Simmons, quite naturally, would like to keep them both. He can't get enough of Cosby's computer-like decisions catching (or not catching punts) as well as his fearless play. He called Cosby's blocks 70 yards apart on Bernard Scott's kick return TD against the Steelers last season "the single biggest effort play" he'd seen in 13 years of NFL coaching.
"They're both very, very trustworthy with the ball," Simmons said. "Both catch the ball extremely well. Neither are the fastest guys. Quan, every opportunity he gets, continues to amaze me with the effort he plays with.
"Quan is a strong runner. He can break a lot of tackles. Jordan can elude people. I think that's one of his strengths. And he has a natural feel for running the ball in the open field. We just have to continue to work on him making all the decisions. Whether it be plus 50s or minus 50s, what about the fair catch, going through all those different things. Both have been well coached coming out of college. Both are really confident and really, really good guys."
The money says that Shipley has made the team while Cosby is grinding. At 5-9, 190 pounds, Cosby's knock is that he's too small and too slow to play receiver. But offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski says not so fast. He looks at the three passes for 47 yards Cosby caught against the Chargers last year, including the huge 23-yarder that set up the tying field goal in the dying minutes. Simmons looks at Cosby's 11.9-yard return average as a rookie, the Bengals' best in 25 years.
But if Shipley is the best punt returner, Simmons wants to roll him out there even if he's playing a lot of snaps at receiver.
"We're getting ready to play a team where the punt returner is a starting wide receiver," Simmons said of the Eagles' DeSean Jackson. "The best guys play."
Cosby agrees with the assessment that any of the top three Bengals returners can probably play in the league.
"Right now," he said, "everybody is putting it on film so everybody can see it. More important, no matter who they are, there are 10 other guys working really hard so that we can get it done."
Two of his biggest fans are related to the guy next to him. Cosby says it's not hard being in such close competition with a friend.
"It's not tough at all," Cosby said. "It's a business."
What a business, huh?
"We're just hoping," Sharon Shipley said, "they both make it and we can see each other at the games again."