NEW ORLEANS — The way former Bengals running back Stanford Jennings tells it, when he returned to watch his old high school team play in Summerville, S.C., he phoned ex-teammate Ira Hillary at halftime to tell him he had just seen the next Randy Moss. Some out-of-the world freshman wide receiver named A.J. Green.
Green, like most every receiver born a decade after Moss, grew up idolizing him before he joined Jennings's old team in Cincinnati. And as the 35-year-old Moss related Wednesday, he's watching those young guys. An introspective Moss easily greeted the media, his 6-4, 215 pounds the blueprint of the tall, fast modern receiver that has spawned the 6-4, 211-pound Green, the 6-3, 220-pound Julio Jones, and the 6-5, 230-pound Calvin Johnson.
"I watch every receiver in the National Football League," Moss said a day after he shook up the 49ers Super Bowl Media Day here by declaring he's the best receiver of all-time. "I watch them. I study them. I don't think I can do all those things. A.J. Green, just looking at him. Julio Jones, just looking at him. Just looking at all those younger guys and seeing how fresh they are each and every game is very overwhelming because I said, 'Did I look like that early in my career?' "
Better. Moss's early career sprung his legend with 149 catches for 2,726 yards in his first two seasons for an 18.3-yard average that translated into 28 touchdowns. In joining Moss and former Bengal Cris Collinsworth as the only wide receivers to go to Pro Bowls in their first two seasons, Green had 13 more catches than Moss in one fewer game in averaging 14.9 per catch while scoring 18 touchdowns.
Moss didn't see Green catch three touchdown passes and 119 yards in last Sunday's Pro Bowl because the Niners were traveling. But he was on the other sideline in Atlanta when Jones of the Falcons went off for nearly 200 yards last week in the NFC title game.
"Oooh man, he's a dominant receiver. If he's not an all-around receiver, I don't know what he's lacking. He's got it all," Moss said of Jones. "He runs after the catch. He's out there taking hits (blocking). Julio Jones is a phenomenal receiver. He's got weapons around him with (Tony) Gonzalez and (Roddy) White, too. He's a complete receiver. He's a good receiver. The guy in Cincinnati, Green, is a great receiver. Calvin Johnson is a great receiver. There are a lot of great receivers out there in this league. Hopefully once these guys finish, they'll be another two or three guys and take their shoes."
But Green and Jones are going to have to perfect their blocking to surpass Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Houston's Andre Johnson on Moss's favorites list.
"I think he will be a complete receiver and I mean someday soon," Moss said of Green. "One of the things I don't think that we as receivers understand is the importance of blocking. If we couldn't catch the ball, we wouldn't be here. Early in my career I didn't really understand the importance of blocking. Now that I'm a little older, blocking is what comes with the territory of being a complete receiver.
"Not taking anything from those guys, but the receivers I love to watch are Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson. Those are guys my guys. The older you become, skills do diminish. But I still love watching Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson."
RAVENS BRACE FOR MORE BURFICT: It will be recalled in the last game of the regular season when the Bengals backups beat the Ravens backups, Baltimore had a couple of confrontations with Cincinnati rookie Will linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
But right guard Bobbie Williams and running back Ray Rice said Wednesday at the Ravens Super Bowl news conference they expect Burfict to have a big-time career.
"I like him. He plays hard," Williams admitted. "I respect him."
But not before the former Bengal pointed to a mark on his leg.
"This is where he kicked me in the shin. "I was like, 'you little … .' "
Williams showed his displeasure by flopping to the ground like he was shot and drew a 15-yard penalty. But he said after the flag he began talking to Burfict between plays.
"He's a good kid. He's really a good kid," Williams said. "He was like, 'What did I do?' You know me, I might be heated one minute, but then I'm going to calm down.
"As long as he keeps his head on and focused, he should be fine."
Williams agrees every defense needs a chippy, take-no-prisoners player like Burfict ("you need that") and predicted, "He's going to be an awesome player." But he also said Burfict owes (defensive tackle Domata) Peko a steak because Peko said, "Bossman, don't hurt him, he's a good guy.' And I had to remember I was a Christian."
Williams got over it and so did Rice after Burfict chose not to retaliate when Rice chopped out his legs as Burfict blitzed. With Burfict on the ground, it appeared Rice elbowed him in the head. That came after the two appeared to start jawing from the opening snap.
"I talked to him after the game and you know what? I was honest with him," Rice said. "He's going to be a great linebacker in the league. I just told him that if he ever got to the point where he let his pads do the talking, he'll be all right. I got carried away myself but he's a young guy. I didn't say anything until I went to three Pro Bowls. There's no need to leave things on the field. There's no hate. There's none of that."
Williams thinks Burfict has the perfect head coach Marvin Lewis, backer guru.
"Those are Marvin's babies," Williams said. "That's one corps you know is going to be right."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Former Bengals defensive end Justin Smith pointed to the 2011 win over his old club at Paul Brown Stadium as the first big win of the Jim Harbaugh era. The ugly 13-8 victory over the Bengals on Sept. 25 put the Niners over .500 and it came in Harbaugh's third game as coach, marking the first of an East Coast sweep the 49ers finished off after they spent the week in Youngstown, Ohio. That's an exercise Smith compares to this week's trip.
Heading into the season, both clubs had been picked to be terrible, but both ended up making the playoffs.
"It was our first win on the road. Nobody at the time had respect for that Cincinnati team," Smith said. "But we did when we watched the film, like the defensive line, offensive line. How Andy (Dalton) was playing, how Green was playing. A lot of media outlets were, 'Yeah, they beat the Bengals on the road.' But we knew in that locker room it was big win for us."
» Smith is one of 15 first-round picks flexing their muscles for the 49ers against the Ravens.
"It's sad to say, all the losing helped, too," said Smith, who didn't have a winning record in his first three seasons in San Francisco with the first one arriving with Harbaugh. "The high draft picks, that constant bombardment of top-tier guys. And then put this coaching staff with it all. There are so many guys that are comfortable in their own skin. They don't have to show it out. Winning takes care of it."
» When Rice was asked to name the best athlete that has ever been his teammate, he settled on the McCourty brothers (Devin and Jason) from his college days at Rutgers. But Bengals running back Brian Leonard, another college mate, figured heavily. After all, he saw one of the first Leonard Leaps.
"He's up there. He's one of the most athletic," Rice said. "He can run fast. He can jump over people. As far as great people in my life, he's one of the great people. I'll go to his charity (bowling) event and he'll come to my camp."