Update: 8-14-12, 1:30 a.m.
Jamaal Anderson and Mike Zimmer roll into the Georgia Dome on Thursday full circle when their Bengals play the Falcons (8 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) in a reunion that could only happen in the NFL.
Five years ago, both were key figures in the new Bobby Petrino Administration with Zimmer as the defensive coordinator and Anderson, a sackmaster at Arkansas, Atlanta's first pick in the draft at No. 8.
It took just 16 games but it all blew up. Petrino stole away in the middle of the night late in the season to coach Arkansas, a move that left the coaching staff one-year lame ducks, and Anderson finished with 0.0 sacks.
Now Zimmer returns off his second extension with the Bengals that probably makes him the highest-paid assistant in club history and a perennial head coaching candidate. Anderson, working on his third team as a backup right end, most likely starts at the left end position he played under Zimmer in 2007, as knee injuries to left ends Robert Geathers and Carlos Dunlap have suddenly made Anderson very relevant.
"He's a great kid. Good family. He's tough, he's got good size," Zimmer said. "He had 14 sacks as a junior. We thought he'd be a better pass rusher than he was and he didn't pan out. If you get picked that high, you better be a good pass rusher. (What he is) is a good left end. A first- and second-down player and when he moves inside in the nickel, he can do some things."
This is what Zimmer does best: taking guys that were on the outs elsewhere (Chris Crocker, Brandon Johnson, Thomas Howard, Reggie Nelson) and getting production out of what they do best. Anderson, 26, smart and versatile, fits the profile. Maybe he's not a 14-sack guy. But five sacks out of 400 snaps would be nice in the effort to fill the absent 10 of Frostee Rucker and Jon Fanene.
Of course, the problem is the Bengals have to get Dunlap and Geathers back and that may not happen until the second or third game of the year.
Anderson has bounced around some different schemes since Zimmer left Atlanta, but he likes the familiarity coming from the Colts.
"In Indy we didn't do as much scheming (as Zimmer)," Anderson said. "We did it in Cover 2, run up the field, pass first, run second. This one he's definitely more concerned about stopping the run. We play a little bit more over technique than the under. But then when it's time to rush the passer, we get after it."
The 6-6, 280-pound Anderson knows exactly what Zimmer seeks out of him.
"He looks for tough-nosed defensive ends. He wants guys that are going to stop the run and then get after the passer," Anderson said. "That was probably one of the biggest things he instilled in a lot of defensive ends, was getting after that run and being tough-nosed, and then once you stop that run you can get after the passer."
Anderson spoke with Zimmer before he signed and while he felt it made sense to come to a familiar scheme, the talent is what drew him here.
"I looked at what was the best situation for me and for me to win a championship. I felt collectively that this is the best team that has a chance to do something very special this year. That was a huge factor in my decision," he said.
"It was the team overall. The head coach, the coaches, all the players here. I knew a few of the players here already. I really feel like this team is trending up. I feel like we have a chance to definitely win this division, and that's what I came here for, to win."
Both Zimmer and Anderson have checked their anger about what happened in Atlanta, and are saying all the right things.
"It was definitely an odd year. Looking back on that, I kind of used that maybe as a scapegoat for what happened to me in particular," Anderson said. "Now in 2012, that wasn't a scapegoat. The simple fact was I didn't produce at that time. I thought everything around it was a scapegoat for my production. But now that I'm much more older and mature, I realize I couldn't use that as an excuse. It was simply on me. I had to produce, and I didn't live up to where I was drafted."
If it sounds like we're dealing with a unique individual here, we are. Anderson's father, Glenn, deaf since nine years old, teaches sign language at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and his son is fluent in the language.
Once he signed with the Bengals he checked in with his father to find out where he could best help deaf children and Glenn, a former president of the board of trustees at highly–acclaimed Gallaudet University immediately steered him to St. Rita School for the Deaf in suburban Cincinnati. He has already made contact with the school and plans visits during the season.
MIND OVER MATTER: Yes, even the big-leaguers make mistakes and have a hard time letting go. Just take a quick tour through the Bengals locker room before Monday's practice.
Over here is Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green saying he watched his dropped touchdown pass about 20 times on Saturday's off day on his iPad.
Over there is cornerback Adam Jones reiterating what he said back in the spring when re-signed for a year. He often thinks about the double move Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson used to beat him for a killing 40-yard touchdown catch in last year's Wild Card Game that made it a very tough 24-10 with 16 minute left in the game.
"I don't like to drop anything. Once it hits my hand, I figure I've got to catch everything," Green said. "It was good to get back out there and catch some balls (Sunday), just to get it out of my mind. It's still in the back of my mind."
On second-and-goal from the 4, Green put a hellacious, big-time release on fellow Pro Bowler Darrelle Revis to make himself wide open, but he dropped quarterback Andy Dalton's bullet standing wide open in front of Revis.
"Just attack the ball a little more. Just relax a little bit. That's the biggest thing," said Green, who acknowledged the release was unique against Revis.
"I know. Exactly. I just have to be able to finish, right? It was a great ball. It hit me right in the hands."
Meanwhile, Jones says the Johnson play is the one that convinced him he had to commit to the technique defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer had been trying to hammer into him for two seasons.
"I've watched it three times," Jones said. "When I got back here I wanted to put it behind me."
Zimmer said he thought he saw the start of something Friday night.
"Adam was tentative at times, but finally I saw some of the technique we've trying to get from him," Zimmer said.
Jones says it's all about footwork and reading keys. He says he's dealing with more than a hamstring issue, but says he's close to 110 percent and won't elaborate. Because he sat out several of the practices various muscles pulls, Jones said he's spent time getting the rust off since he returned to practice this week. And he sat out Monday's practice, but indications are he'll play.
His return to the Georgia Dome for Thursday's second preseason game (8 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) is sweet-and-sour. The last time he played in his hometown, Oct. 24, 2010, he scooped up a fumble he forced on Falcons wide receiver Roddy White and ran it back 59 yards for a touchdown to give the Bengals a short-lived 25-24 lead in a game they lost, 39-32. Later in the game while covering a two-point conversion, he suffered a season-ending herniated neck disk.
"They've got a good group of guys and a great quarterback. It should be fun," Jones said. "These are games that playmakers show up in. These are the games you look for. These are games you pray they're throwing it your way most of the game."
The Falcons challenge the Bengals with the NFL's No. 8 passing game that was part of last season's No. 10 overall offense, Lewis called White one of the best NFL receivers and says the big trio of White, Jones and future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez forces DBs to come up and tackle them with screens and quick passes.
It's also a homecoming for Green, a University of Georgia product who moved into his new home in Atlanta during the offseason. Last year Green was drafted fourth overall while the Falcons traded up with the Browns at No. 6 to take Julio Jones. Green says the two are friendly, but he doesn't understand why they are going to be compared for the rest of their careers since other rookie receivers had pretty good years in 2011.
"That's how it's going to be. Like Kevin Durant and LeBron (James). There's always going to be that comparison somehow, somewhere," Green said.
"I think it's a lot of media hype. There's a lot more receivers that came out of that class like Greg Little and Torrey Smith, but you don't have those guys compared. But I just go with the flow."
PRACTICE UPDATE: Although cornerback Adam Jones sat out Monday's practice with an unknown ailment, it's believed he'll play Thursday in Atlanta (Cincinnati's Channel 19). But the corners remain thin. Jason Allen, who has been battling a muscle pull, hasn't worked in more than a week. And rookie safety Tony Dye, who has been moving to corner in practices and last Friday's game, was out for a second straight day for unknown reasons.
Wider receiver Ryan Whalen (hamstring) hasn't worked in 11 days and defensive tackle Pat Sims has yet to work. Also out Thursday with an unknown ailment was SAM linebacker Dontay Moch while running back BenJarvus Green Ellis (foot), middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (knee), and left end Carlos Dunlap (knee) were resting their injuries from Friday night and don't expect to play Thursday. Left end Robert Geathers (knee) is working on the side but he's just 10 days removed from a knee scope and may not be available until the opener or the last preseason game.
Safety Taylor Mays, who was cleared to play Sunday after on Friday suffering what is believed to be a concussion, returned to practice Monday.
Kickers Mike Nugent and Thomas Weber each had three field-goal attempts and made them all.
The Bengals worked in overcast 75-degree weather on the practice fields in shoulder pads and shorts and had some popping early in practice.
SLANTS AND SCREEENS
» Andrew Hawkins was gettling plenty of advice after he fumbled his first punt return of the preseason Friday night. Special teams coach Darrin Simmons said Hawkins can't have the same mindset of the guy covering the punt, which is what Hawkins did last season as one of the team's top gunners.
"You're going all-out as a gunner," Simmons said. "But you can't do that returning. You have to more patient."
Jones told Hawkins to carry the ball high when you catch it, not low because you saw what can happen.
Jones says Simmoms has revived his punt-return career. If there was one guy pushing for Jones's return in free agency, it was Simmons.
"I feel very comfortable back there. I caught some but when we're in practice, it's catch it and go, throttle down. You know how it goes," Jones said. "Darrin does a great job getting me prepared, getting everybody prepared. I've caught more balls here than I've caught anywhere else. As far as catching the ball, I feel pretty much comfortable.
"He's helped me a lot, mainly with trusting myself. There were some punts I didn't like to catch. I got over that. As long as I stay healthy I think it will be a nice year back there at punt return."
» It turns out Green is on the lookout for Lakers tickets, pumped at the new additions for his favorite team.
"I'm a Lakers fan. I'll be at some Lakers game this year," Green said. "I'm trying to work on my tickets now. Early. Don't know anybody yet. See if my agent can pull some strings and get some floor tickets or somewhere. I think Kobe's got two more rings in him."