INDIANAPOLIS - The Bengals preseason grind of five games in 25 days ends Thursday in the 7 p.m. finale here at Lucas Oil Stadium (Cincinnati's Channel 12) and maybe the best thing about it besides it being nearly almost over is that No. 1 pick Jermaine Gresham has shown up.
Again and again. And, as advertised.
Big at 6-5, 260. Athletic with 10 catches for 11.6 yards per ball, a number that Bengals tight ends have come up with in just three seasons in the previous decade. Willing blocker as evidenced by his appearance in all kinds of formations.
"Let's state the obvious," said Bengals tight ends coach Jon Hayes, which he loves to do loudly to his players. "We know he's talented. We know he can catch. The thing that he brings is his presence. His body presence. Things like that. It's just going to make him a better player."
What better guy to monitor Gresham's progress than Hayes with his 12 NFL seasons and 153 catches in 184 games?
Unless it is current Bengals tight end Reggie Kelly, heading his own 12th season with 184 catches in 152 games and seven seasons in this system.
"He's obviously learned the system," said Kelly, who has been struck by one major part of Gresham's game.
"The way he plays at such a fast rate, a fast pace," he said. "A lot of times when rookies play in the preseason, they're so shell-shocked because of the speed of the game that in turn it slows them down. Instead he's playing as fast as veterans on the other side of him. He's been doing a tremendous job of playing fast, making big plays, making big-time blocks. Very impressive. Very encouraging."
The alluring aspect of Gresham's game is his availability over the middle and down the field for a big-play starved, big-arm quarterback named Carson Palmer. What Gresham can do in the red zone for a team that failed to score touchdowns on 17 of its last 24 red trips last year is incalculable. The Bills failed to cover him on his one touchdown, in the red zone, and one of his other three catches also came in the red.
Gresham reminds Kelly of two of his peers at the position over the past decade. Daniel Graham and the man the Falcons took in the second round in 2001 two years after they drafted Kelly in the second round, Alge Crumpler. Since the Pats took Graham in the first round in 2002, Graham has 204 catches for 24 touchdowns and 11.4 yards per catch while Crumpler has 367 catches at 12.8 for 37 touchdowns.
The closest the Bengals have come to numbers like that at tight end in the 21st century are the 24 catches for 13.8 and two TDs that Matt Schobel had in 2003, but he was seen purely as a receiver.
"Crump is a guy that could run, good feet, great hands," Kelly said. "He blocked tenaciously, he could catch, he could do it all. Gresh reminds me of that type of guy. He can hold down the corner with strength, but he can also get out and stretch the field. He's the total package."
Hayes, known primarily as a blocker as is Kelly, wasn't all that upset about the holding call Gresham picked up Saturday night in Buffalo.
"Giminney," he said. "If that was the case there should have been a couple more over there on them. But because they called it, we have to keep working on our hand placement and getting our hands inside."
The motion penalty on the Bills 1 got Hayes a little more heated.
"Can't have them," he said. "Unfortunately we had a bunch of stuff going on. He just got antsy. His kid stage is over. We can't have that. He's still getting used to what we have in our formations and getting out of his habits he had in college."
Gresham may be fretting about his blocking, but the one thing Hayes wants to see improve is his route running.
"More discipline in his routes, but he's progressing," he said.
Both Hayes and Kelly were and are great veteran leaders. Solid locker-room pros and they like what they see so far.
"He's kind of a quiet guy; stays to himself a little bit," Kelly said. "That's fine. We all have our own personality. He's a good kid. He's willing to listen. He's a kid that's willing to learn. ... Right now, he's like a sponge soaking up all the information from Coach Hayes, Carson, all of us. He's tenacious in his approach to the game. He wants to be a great tight end."
Hayes was known for carrying a lunch box to the plants in Kansas City and Pittsburgh, where he blocked for some of the league's most powerful running games. This kid has a little more spice for lunch, but he brings the same lunch box.
"I like his finish," said Hayes with a big smile. "He's going to wear your butt out. I love that about him. Blue collar. Hard worker. Even though he's got all that talent, you'd think he was fighting for that roster spot and that's what I love about him."
Making the roster?
Hayes has done it again and stated the obvious. It looks like Gresham will become the first rookie to head into Opening Day No. 1 on the depth chart since fullback Jeremi Johnson in 2003.
"We're very fortunate to have him on the team. He can do both; block and catch," Kelly said. "He can play on all three downs. That's what you want, to have weapons on the outside and inside and on the offensive line, that's rare and I think we're going to use them."
For a first-round pick when sometimes things aren't so clear, obvious is good.