Rookie center Russell Bodine (R) has the physical mindset fitting Hue Jackson's offense.
You know your offense is morphing into a physical presence when the offensive line coach comes out of the game raving about a block from the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver.
It happened on the play just before Andy Dalton threaded a 46-yard touchdown on a post to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu to start the scoring in last Saturday's preseason game against the Jets at Paul Brown Stadium. Running back Giovani Bernard scooted around right end for what would have been an obscure three-yard gain buried in the play-by-play except for what happened at the end of it.
"The most inspiring play of the game was A.J. Green getting one of the best blocks I've ever seen," said Paul Alexander. "He kept pushing his guy into the sideline and almost right on Coach (Marvin) Lewis."
Lewis avoided the body of the Jets' Antonio Allen, a 6-1, 210-pound safety and former college linebacker that couldn't solve the tenacity of the 6-4, 210-pound Green. But Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson made sure his players saw it Monday morning.
"We're going to celebrate physicality and toughness because that's the way the game is meant to be played," Jackson said after Monday's practice. "When A.J. is doing it, everybody can do it. It's just not Andrew Whitworth or Andre Smith or (Kevin) Zeitler or (Clint) Boling."
Jackson has been talking about being physical since he became the coordinator back in January and what still sticks in his craw from last season when he was the Bengals running backs coach is how the short-yardage failures became long-term problems.
In 2012, the Bengals were third in the NFL in first down success rate on rushing attempts on third and one. They were nearly 81 percent on 21 of 26. But they were 25th last year on 11 for 19, or just below 60 percent.
"It's no different,' Jackson said, "than a turnover."
When the Jets dropped Bernard for a two-yard loss on third-and-one on the edge of the New York red zone early in the second quarter, Jackson was livid. Yes, the Jets changed up their look and the Bengals had a missed call, so no one got blown up physically.
"You've got to make that. You can't be anywhere on the field and not make third-and-one," Jackson said. "I can recall so many times we didn't a year ago. It costs you. I was able to bring that to their attention and hopefully the next third-and-one we'll be ready for."
So then if Jackson celebrated Green's drilling of Allen, what do you think he did with Bernard's third-and-one touchdown run on a third-and-fourth effort from everyone involved against a Jets defensive front that has been one of the stingiest in the league?
"To see this play didn't start off the way we wanted it to, but everybody's second reaction was just get behind it and push it into the end zone. That is the kind of mentality you need to get a third-and-one at the 50-yard-line, much less the end zone," Whitworth said. "It could be something else as well. A ball on the ground or anything along the lines of picking up a block for somebody. The split-second reaction is 'I got to do whatever it takes for us to get this first down. ' "
While the Bengals had two prolific and accomplished coordinators under Lewis before Jackson in Bob Bratkowski and Jay Gruden, physical was never the first word that described the best of those offenses. "Physical,' would eventually get into the lexicon, but only after words like "explosive," and "dangerous," and "high-octane." Jackson likes all those things, for sure.
But he wants "physical,' first and that is why he has been hammering his offense this training camp about finishing plays and blocks.
"To me, that's who we are," Jackson said of Bernard's run. "We're going to scratch, claw, whatever it takes to get in. We were stopped, but the guys found a way. That's the mentality. That's the mental toughness and physical toughness I think you have to have to play….it comes down to who wants it more and at that particular point on that play I thought we wanted it a little more than they did."
Whitworth, the left tackle who has played for all three coordinators, says it's a mindset that has been around at times.
"I think there have been times it probably hasn't, but…that is the point of emphasis," Whitworth said. "That's the No. 1 thing. If I said every single day what do I know I'm going to hear in the offensive room right now? It's going to be every single player better be around the football when the play is over. Whether that's practice or a game or anything. It's just a point of emphasis."
Check the tape. There are the guards, Boling and Zeitler, busting it down field on a nine-yard screen pass to tight end Jermaine Gresham.
"In meetings and practice he's always preaching for us to finish and running to the ball after a play," Boling said. "He puts a lot of emphasis on it."
Green has obviously been listening. As he has been prone to do, he planned to do an extra lifting session Monday after his work in the morning. He was still smiling about the block.
"I sometimes like that better than a great catch," Green said. "I don't want to be that guy that only catches passes. You have to block in the running game… The attitude is different than last year because I think this is Hue's attitude. Knock everybody in the mouth."
Bernard knows what it means when No. 18 is throwing his three Pro Bowls around.
"If he's doing it,' Bernard said, "that just means the whole team has really kind of bought into it offensively."