One of the many things Bengals rookie receiver A.J. Green proved Sunday in Tennessee is that his versatility is going to help get him open even though defenses are gearing their coverages toward him. Despite constant double-teaming in a two-deep zone, Green was able to catch all seven passes thrown his way for 83 yards and when he did break out against one-on-one coverage he drew the game-changing 45-yard pass interference penalty.
"They move me around, put me in the slot a little bit and keep them on their heels," Green said before Thursday's practice.
The previous Bengals No. 1 receiver, Chad Ochocinco, wasn't nearly as versatile in the old system. While The Ocho was more comfortable in the X spot and played the majority of his snaps there, Green, the Z, moved around to all three spots at some point against the Titans, a ploy offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has said he'll use more and more as Green gains experience.
"I've played different sides," Green said. "They want me to get singled up with a short corner(back) sometimes because a lot of corners play (only) right and left, so if they want to single me up they'll put me at X sometimes."
The Steelers like to play bump and run with the safeties running behind for help (they didn't get there in time for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco's game-winning throw last Sunday night), but no one knows what defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is going to fire up for this one.
One of the reasons The Ocho never had a 100-yard game against LeBeau is because the head coach that drafted him in Cincinnati went to great lengths to make sure he didn't hurt him with his speed, often bracketing him with big bodies while cornerback Ike Taylor manned him up. It was a tactic made easier by being able to find The Ocho at X most of the time.
No doubt LeBeau is going to find Green. The challenge for the Bengals is to make it hard for LeBeau. One of the other things that Green proved in Tennessee is that he's ready for a physical AFC North game. When he made the 20-yarder on the third-and-18 that made the winning drive possible, he held on to the ball despite a massive collision between two DBs. No, he said he doesn't hear footsteps on a play like that.
"I'm going to get hit regardless," he said. "It doesn't matter."
INJURY UPDATE: One day after returning to the field, cornerback Adam Jones and tight Jermaine Gresham were out of uniform for the Bengals Thursday practice. Also out for the second straight day were left end Carlos Dunlap (hamstring) and tight end Donald Lee (foot). Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (ankle) was dressed but limited for the second straight day, as was right tackle Andre Smith (toe) and wide receiver Andre Caldwell (groin). Running back Brian Leonard (knee) was limited Thursday after sitting out Wednesday.
Gresham and Jones, each with a hamstring issue, were limited Wednesday. The key day for everyone is Friday. It's rare for a player to miss a Friday practice and then play in the game.
Cornerback Nate Clements (knee) and safety Chris Crocker (knee) returned after being held out Wednesday.