The Bengals mandatory minicamp set for Tuesday through Thursday at the Paul Brown Stadium practice fields may end up looking a lot like this past Sunday's downtown Cincinnati celebrity waiter fundraiser and next month's Metroplex passing camp.
Both have the red flair of quarterback Andy Dalton, who along with wife Jordan hosted the second annual bash at Jeff Ruby's Restaurant for their foundation's sprawling effort to help all kinds of needy children in the Cincinnati effort. Then after this week's final three workouts of the spring, Dalton plans to host the receivers near his Dallas home before the Bengals reconvene for training camp the final week of July.
"If that's where everybody is, that's where I'll be," wide receiver Marvin Jones said.
Dalton's anticipated chemistry with Jones and Mohamed Sanu, his two sophomore wide receivers that are favored to flank two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green, is a pro on the list of pros and cons for a third straight Bengals postseason run. It was certainly on display Sunday, where Sanu served the Bruschetta and Jones went with the crab and cherries during happy hour as they joined forces with Ryan Whalen to take care of the receivers' trays.
But it is Sanu and Jones that are getting the spotlight because of what they did in the last two months of last season. The burly Sanu bulled for four touchdowns in his last three games before a season-ending foot fracture in a Nov. 29 practice. The fleet Jones started the next five games and had his career day when he delivered five catches for 65 yards in the Pittsburgh slugfest that yielded no offensive TDs and less than 500 yards.
Yet Jones has been watching tape of two almosts.
On Dalton's pass from the Steelers 23, Jones leaped over cornerback Keenan Lewis in the end zone and had the ball. But Lewis kept battling and the ball came out as they hit the ground. Then two weeks later early in the playoffs on a deep ball at the Texans 10, Dalton threw it a tad late and it was broken up by cornerback Kareem Jackson. Jones tips his hat to Lewis while scolding himself.
"Those are the plays that I'm looking to make 10 out of 10 times," Jones said. "Looking at it in slow motion, you have to give it up to him. He made a great play. But that's football."
The near miss in Houston that could have had a significant impact on a game that had just one offensive TD is one of the reasons the Bengals have immersed Dalton and his receivers in the long ball this spring.
"The long ball allows this offense to do what it does," Jones said. "We've worked a lot on that connection. It's all about feel. I think we've got that now. Last year when I first came in from college, it was an adjustment to learn to run through each (long ball). It was important to get multiple reps on back-to-back plays in big games."
As a versatile type that can line up in so many spots along the front and back, Sanu may not be perceived as a deep threat at 9.8 yards per catch. But the frontrunner to start opposite Green, as well as anchor the slot, he's been running his share of deep routes this spring.
"You can definitely feel the difference day by day. Every opportunity we get, we're running the nine route, we're attacking the deep part of the field," Sanu said. "Andy's making great plays, throwing the ball time after time to give us a chance to make the play.
"I think the emphasis has been (for the receivers), no matter the ball, if you can get a hand on it, it should be a catch."
A knee injury kept Jones out of the lineup until December. Sanu didn't have his first catch until Oct. 21.
"These guys have another year under their belt in the system. We all do, so we've got to make sure we're better," Dalton said. "They understand what they're doing and I'm comfortable with them."
Dalton says he'll try to get as many receivers as possible to Dallas next month to prep for camp in a brief get-together. He joked as he watched his receivers work the room Sunday night in aprons doing the dishing instead of him.
"This is the most important thing that they came to," he said.
It certainly was no joke for the Daltons' five-pronged approach to help families of critically-ill children with technological educational resources at children's hospitals, a date night for parents, free tips to Kings Island, medical equipment, and a holiday party. Along with a silent auction in the back room, diners paying $300 and $400 were treated to a five-star, four-course meal.
"I appreciate what you do man; this is a great event," Sanu said as he gave Dalton a hug on his way out the door. "I'll be doing it again next year."
Now they try to take the same chemistry on the field as spring slides into summer.