* BENGALS WR A.J. GREEN VS. FALCONS WR JULIO JONES*
A draftnick's veritable Super Bowl. The two best wide receivers from the class of 2011 NFL Draft have not disappointed and on Sunday in Paul Brown Stadium's 1 p.m. opener, No. 4 Green goes against No. 6 Jones.
In this corner is the long, lean willowy Green at 6-4, 215 pounds, who floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. In that corner is the powerful, physical 6-3, 220-pound Jones, who runs like a missile and hits like a tank. If Green is Ali, Jones is Frazier, and PBS is Madison Square Garden because this is their first matchup and it comes with Green coming out of his shell and showing his exuberant side as he settles into his fourth season.
"I think coming out they were very similar," allows Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "The difference is, Julio goes to a team that has another experienced wideout (Roddy White) and an experienced quarterback (Matt Ryan). He went into a different situation than what A.J. came into. A.J. came in as the bell cow of it all. He was the most experienced guy. It's good to have a good leader."
Certainly Lewis won't say why the Bengals made Green the first pick of their re-boot in '11 and not Jones, although Green's 260 catches that are the most by any player in his first three seasons are a pretty good clue. So are last Sunday's AFC-leading 131 yards, 77 of which bailed the Bengals out of a 16-15 hole with 4:58 left on a touchdown that has safety Darian Stewart still planted in the Baltimore turf from Green's hellacious jukes.
Jones had a good start, too, last week with 116 yards on seven catches in the overtime win against New Orleans. Yet Green has him in every career category but yards per catch (15.8 yards to 14.9) because he has missed just one game in his career and has started 33 straight. Jones has missed 14 games, including the final 11 of last season with a foot injury.
That's not just a local note when it comes to those that charted that draft, like Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com and CBS Sports.com.
"Jones just overmatches defenders with his physicality and it makes him a little bit different than A.J.," Rang says. "But at the same time, it makes A.J. the safer player. One for his health, two for his speed. Unfortunately, Jones has some of the durability issues that followed him out of college. That was the concern. He plays a physical brand of football.
"But both teams have been fortunate," Rang says. "Any time you pick a receiver that high it's perceived as a gamble. But A.J. was viewed by some people as the best player in the draft and taking him No. 4 was a solid move and how he's played since has proven it."
But Jones is a monster, too. If Green has the most yards in three seasons than anybody but Randy Moss, then Jones is the only player to have at least one 80-yard touchdown catch in each of his first three seasons. If Jones has eight TDs of at least 25 yards, Green has 11. If Jones has 32 career catches of at least 25 yards, Green has 39. If Green had 152 more yards in 2012, Jones had 53 more yards after catch. This year, Jones has 15 yards more after catch.
Of course they're probably sick of being compared to each other. Green went to Georgia and Jones to Alabama. It's like breaking down Lee and Longstreet. But it probably started back at a high school All-America game when they were seniors in high school.
"No, no, no, no," says Jones, when asked in a conference call with the Cincinnati media Wednesday if he ever found himself comparing Green to him. " We just play the same position. He's a good friend of mine. When we see each other and stuff we don't just talk about football. Just hang out.
"I really don't get to watch A.J. play right now. We're playing Cincinnati this week and we're watching their defense right now. But his numbers don't lie at the end of the year. He's always at the Pro Bowl. He's doing great things over there."
OK, so like Green, Jones isn't loquacious. Dre Kirkpatrick is and the Bengals cornerback figures he's the only one that has played against both Green, in Cincinnati, and Jones, at Alabama.
"I'm probably the only person who can give you that knowledge on the both of them because I'm the only person that actually played with both of them. It's a lot of similarities but a lot of differences too," Kirkpatrick says. "Both are great blockers, both catch the ball, run after catch. Julio looks for that hit. He's looking for you. He turns up and looking to make contact with anybody in his way. There's really not a lot of differences but as far as the grittiness and want to get in there and want to be an impact player on making big blocks, catching the ball, throwing the shoulder, that's who Julio really is."
"He's one of those guys he works hard in the weight room. He pride himself on being a tough competitor, catching the ball, making plays off the catch, breaking tackles. That is just his whole M.O. That's just who he is. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. We have to be physical with him because he's a physical guy."
As for Green, Kirkpatrick talks about his range,
"Big hands, target is humungous because he can go get the ball anywhere in space and both obviously fast," Kirkpatrick says. "It's not a lot of difference it's just the physical play where A.J. is more finesse guy, he puts his body in position where Julio if he is out of position still wants to go get it because that's the type of player he is, he likes contact. "
And Green isn't a wallflower in the weight room. There are many days he goes in there in the morning and then has another lift after practice.
"A.J. is a leaner guy, but I've personally been in the weight room with A.J. and I know he's not weak at all,' says Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey. "He's extremely strong."
He's also starting to become little more vocal, not minding any more if he shows a little heart on the sleeve. He was very emotional when the Bengals fell behind the Ravens last Sunday and he stood up on the sidelines calling for the ball on the next series. And he got it.
His draft bookend, quarterback Andy Dalton, has noticed Green emerging and says it's probably because of the comfort level.
"I think it's just being around for a while. It's not new to him anymore," Dalton says. "We have a lot of the same guys that were here when we first got here. Most of the coaches are the same. And so I think it's just the comfort level of being here and being around. I wouldn't say there's one reason why he's the way he is. But it's fun to see."
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth has been listening to offensive coordinator Hue Jackson implore his players to let it all hang out.
"It's good for him to let it loose and for it to mean that much to him. It's one of the things Hue's encouraging guys is to let their personality show. That's not going to hurt us," Whitworth says. " Step out and be who you are and let your passion and excitement for the game of football just like when you were a little kid show. Some kids came out and had a million different wristbands and color coordinated and some kids didn't. Whatever it was that made them who they are and their personality is what makes them great and so he wants you to come out and show that."
It's no coincidence that Green's passion is emerging with Jackson as the coordinator. That's how Jackson coaches and when he was coaching another set of Bengals wide receivers 10 years ago, he helped bottle passion and emotion for guys like Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh that took them to break-out seasons.
"It's in him. It's in him. He wants to be good," Jackson says. "He understands and recognizes to be that you have to push yourself above and beyond. That's what he's doing. What he did last week is just a start of the season. I want guys who want the ball and can believe they can make those plays in games that can change things."
With Ali-Frazier on the way, there should be plenty more passion where that came from.