The Bengals scrimmage for the first time Saturday at 3 p.m. at Paul Brown Stadium and the one thing we know about the No. 2 receiver and which six receivers are going to make it is that the Bengals are still not any closer to figuring it out after a week of practice. It might as well be an hour after the draft.
The horse race starts this weekend, capped by Sunday's 6 p.m. Mock Game, but offensive coordinator Jay Gruden indicates it is a month-long haul when trying to pick the final corps. If someone goes off Saturday and Sunday, wait five days until the Jets come to town for Friday's preseason opener.
"You don't want to make any judgments on any receivers until the final preseason game is done and all the practices are over," Gruden said after Thursday night's practice. "Guys are going to be up and down. We want guys that are steady, reliable and perform on a consistent basis. Not just one great day."
He agrees that the one guy that is set—Pro Bowler A.J. Green—along with slot receiver Andrew Hawkins heading the most consistent list. But Gruden also quickly mentions second-year man Ryan Whalen off a four-catch season and four-year vet Brandon Tate looking for his first catch as a Bengal.
Tate returned Thursday after missing all week with a pulled hamstring, but Gruden said Whalen appeared to pull a hamstring in the same practice.
"They've all done things on tape that make you go, 'Wow, they all belong,' " Gruden said. "It's a tough call at that position. If we had to do it right now I wouldn't want to be in the room because they are all making plays right now."
The next guy in line to Green when it comes to catches even though he has just 56 is slot receiver Jordan Shipley, but Gruden says, "He's a little behind, not mentally but physically," as he comes off his torn ACL. That may be difficult to overcome in a field that is bunched so close together and where Hawkins and Whalen have caught everything in the slot and third-rounder Mohamed Sanu looks like he can play in there.
"He has to get in better shape and get more reps. I don't think he's where he was before the injury yet," Gruden said of Shipley. "I'm not saying he won't be in a week or two or three. It takes a while to have that confidence to explode off of it. The more he works in individual and team it will come."
And then there is the other question hanging over that spot. Can't Pro Bowl tight end Jermaine Gresham be Green's running mate by splitting more outside as a receiver? It sounds like Gruden is going to use him more outside, but it won't stop Gruden from relying on Gresham as a traditional tight end.
"We called it quite a bit last year toward the end," Gruden said of splitting Gresham. "He got a better feel for different personnel groups putting him out there. He knows the offense well out there. He knows the pass concepts. He didn't have any (mistakes). He's probably more at home out there. He doesn't have to block, but he's such a good blocker we have to put him inside, too. It helps our running game, so he's got to do both. Tough luck for him."
In a remarkable media session before Thursday's practice, Gresham ripped himself for not producing like his 2010 draft classmates, fellow Pro Bowlers Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Jimmy Graham. He did say he loves lining up outside, but he also realizes that in the AFC North he has to block big-time people and that the coaches like the way he blocks.
Gruden has no intention of turning Gresham into a full-time receiver.
"He's going to have great games. He's going to have games where he doesn't catch as many balls. And maybe the receivers catch more," Gruden said. "But I know this: He's going to be a major factor in the run game."
Gruden says concerns over Gresham grasping his offense are "overrated," and that he's attentive in meetings and "doing everything he has to do." He also downplayed any comparisons to the guys catching 90 balls for 1,300 yards.
"There's no reason to compare him to anybody. He's his own person," Gruden said. "He can block, he can catch, he's a good solid tight end. Guys might have better stats and better highlights and dunks over the goal posts, but Jermaine's a very solid tight end in the NFL."
Which means Gresham may be the No. 2 option, but not the No. 2 receiver. That still is a tractor pull between Tate, Sanu, Whalen and Armon Binns. Rookie Marvin Jones, the fifth-rounder from California, has also looked good lately after a slow start and it looks like he'll make it whether he plays or not.