Updated: 6-14-07, 5:30 a.m.
HoushmandzadehT.J. Houshmandzadeh is thinking about those two games he missed again, only this time he's thinking about 100 catches and not 1,000 yards or even millions of dollars.
Houshmandzadeh led the Bengals with 90 catches and racked up his first 1,000-yard season last year despite missing the first two games with a bruised heel. In 2005, he just missed 1,000 yards after sitting out two games with a severely bruised hand early in the season.
"I'm thinking it could have been 100 catches, 1,200 yards, and 11 touchdowns," said Houshmandzadeh after Wednesday's voluntary workout at Paul Brown Stadium. "I'd like to shoot for 100 this year."
Several e-mails surfaced saying they heard on national radio last week that Houshmandzadeh missed the first three weeks of voluntary workouts because he's unhappy with his contract. Like he did back in February, Houshmandzadeh denied it.
"I'm not bothered about that, I'm really not," Houshmandzadeh said. "I'm going to go play football. It might have been on my mind in one point of time, but I'm not worried about it, honestly. It's out of my control. You might dwell on something, but if you can't control it, it's a lot of wasted energy, really."
Instead, Houshmandzadeh, 29, says for the first time since his rookie year he's working on agility drills, quickness, and route running, and insists even before all that he could separate from defenders.
"Even if they don't throw me a lot of deep balls for some odd reason," Houshmandzadeh said with a smile. "I'll score a touchdown when they throw them."
Three of Houshmandzadeh's nine touchdowns came on balls of at least 30 yards with his longest of 40. Four of Chad Johnson's seven touchdowns came from at least 41 yards.
When he wasn't working here, Houshmandzadeh said he was working out twice a day back in Los Angeles running routes against USC cornerbacks and CFL quarterbacks. He says he feels as sharp as ever and as hungry as the seventh-rounder who arrived thinking he was the best receiver on the team.
"You'll see when I get back to training camp," he said. "I'm not tired. The only thing I have a hard time getting back into is hearing the play calls and processing it quickly. As far as route running and catching the ball, I've been doing it, so it's not as big of a deal as people would think."
Houshmandzadeh has said the reasons he stayed home for the first three voluntary camps were personal as his two children finished up school, and he felt that he was staying sharp because of his two-a-days.
As far as the numbers, Houshmandzadeh is in the third year of a four-year, $13 million deal signed two years ago on the first day of free agency. His $1.925 million salary in 2006 and pro-rated $3.5 million signing bonus computes to about $3 million, compared to Johnson's $6.7 million, Lavaranues Coles' $7 million for 91 catches and 1,098 yards, and Terrell Owens' $6.6 million for 85 catches and 1,180 yards. The top 10 paid receiver's average for '06 was $7.04 million.
SPECIAL DAY: Houshmandzadeh and his teammates ended up having a powerful impact Wednesday on one of the team's special visitors to the voluntary practice.
Riley Herrera, 15, has been at Children's Hospital since February and a tour of PBS and a meet-and-greet with the players made up one of his first extended outings since a March 31 heart transplant.
Before Wednesday, Riley, of Helena, Mont., had been a Dolphins fan, but dad Ron Herrera said that is now in serious jeopardy.
"He loves football. He's a stat buff. He's got one of those minds that he knows everyone's stats," Ron Herrera said. "Everyone here in this organization has been great with us ... this has been awesome. I would say he's going to be juggling between the Dolphins and the Bengals now.
"It was to the point where they were telling us that with his old heart, he only had a few more days, or he wasn't going to make it. Then the next morning at 7 a.m. we got the phone call that there was a heart. That's all he needed. We're so grateful. He's a different kid."
After Bengals president Mike Brown flipped him a football, Riley got the full Marvin Lewis treatment. At the end of practice, Riley found himself in the middle of the team's huddle. Before practice, he spent some time talking to his favorite Bengal, Carson Palmer, and Houshmandzadeh spent some of the practice on one knee talking to him.
Riley also emerged with a couple of signed Chad Johnson cards from the post-practice locker room.
It capped off a huge day for Ron. Riley's sister, who has been back at their Montana home, arrived in Cincinnati on Tuesday to make the family complete.
How small and good is the world?
It turns out that Ron grew up with a guy that ended up coaching with Bengals secondary coach Kevin Coyle at Fresno State. When he found out Riley was headed to Cincinnati and Children's, he sent Coyle the family's e-mail so they'd have some kind of contact in the area.
Once Riley got his heart and his immune system was strong enough, the visit was in place with Coyle as host.
"You see a great kid like that and it makes you thankful," Coyle said. "Our players were tremendous."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
Everyone knows the Bengals are going to be 60 pounds heavier at left guard with the departure of Eric Steinbach in free agency, but whether it's going to be Andrew Whitworth or Stacy Andrews is the 350-pound question.
With Whitworth getting two starts at left guard as a rookie last season, along with 10 at left tackle, he would appear to have the edge since Andrews' three NFL starts have come at right guard.
But left tackle Levi Jones didn't take a snap this entire spring as he rehabs his knee, giving Whitworth most of the tackle snaps and Andrews most of the guard snaps on the left side.
"It's good (for Andrews) to get a chance to get in there and get some reps," Whitworth said. "Last year I would have to say I probably had the most reps there, so it was good for me, too, to get in there and play left tackle a lot. I kind of understand left guard already. Other than techniques, that's really the only thing I'm missing out on."
Right guard Bobbie Williams doesn't get too caught up in the positions along the offensive line "because we pretty much get work at every place. I've taken some center snaps," he said, in what may be the biggest center move in the league as a 350-pound snapper.
Palmer is also unmoved at what's taking place in front of him.
"You always hate to lose one of your best linemen," Palmer said. "But we've got two big guys who are extremely athletic. I mean, you look at a guy like Stacy and the only question is him getting used to playing football. He may be more athletic, and Whit is a guy that's already played so I think we're going to be fine there."
Houshmandzadeh wasn't very impressed by Johnson's 12-length win against a race horse this past weekend.
"Man, the horse looked like he was just chilling," Houshmandzadeh said. "The horse saw Chad and it was like, 'Ah, I'll catch him,' and then it was over. If it was a horse horse, like a Kentucky Derby horse ... but Chad only had to run 100 yards and the horse has to get going and Chad is already going. I guarantee (I would have won). Going backwards the way he beat him."
Houshmandzadeh also shook his head at Johnson's challenge to boxing champion Floyd Mayweather: "He doesn't want any of that."
The offense is still missing fullback Jeremi Johnson (hamstring) as well as Jones. Defensively, cornerbacks Keiwan Ratliff and Leon Hall worked with the first team given the absences of projected starters Deltha O'Neal and Johnathan Joseph. O'Neal has yet to appear at a voluntary and Joseph is nursing a foot injury suffered June 2 in the mandatory minicamp.
Safety Madieu Williams was at practice after missing some time with a hamstring problem.