Updated: 3:25 p.m.
If there is any doubt that No. 1 pick Jermaine Gresham is going to be the Opening Day tight end, he went a long way this weekend in showing that he's well on his way during a very encouraging rookie camp.
The Bengals would still like to re-sign veteran tight end Reggie Kelly if the money is right for one year, but they walked out of drip-dry Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday with a pretty good idea that the future is in good hands. While head coach Marvin Lewis said he was pleasantly surprised at how far along Gresham is figuring out the football, tight ends coach Jon Hayes got an eyeful of his athleticism.
And this from a guy that hasn't played since he had knee surgery in early September.
"We understand we've got a lot of work in front of us, but it's only going to get better," Hayes said. "He's been out for eight months, but I was very impressed. His suddenness, his power, his ball skills, movement skills are the things that just flash and stick out to you. From a football aptitude and athletic standpoint, he did a great job."
Like most of the other rookies, Gresham is expected back the week of May 16 after their school graduates. While he'll miss those first three on-field sessions held May 11-13, Lewis says he's ahead of schedule. In deference to his layoff, Lewis cut down Gresham's reps Sunday morning during the fifth and last practice of the weekend held in a downpour.
"Being able to understand and learn the football portion is ahead of where we expected," Lewis said. "I feel good about his prospects as we go forward right away."
Gresham left the coaches impressed not only with his ability to pick up nuances, but also with a no-nonsense approach they think will serve him well when he works with the veterans.
"He's a very competitive guy with talent," Hayes said. "Whoever you put in front of him, he's going to continue to progress and play against his talent. Because of where he played his college ball and the experiences he's had there, he's not scared of competition. He thrives on that and it just makes him better. That's what you like about him."
NEW NICKNAME: Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer doggedly and hopefully charted Georgia defensive tackle Geno Atkins' quickness off the ball during the scouting process and he wasn't disappointed when he got a look at him up close in the workouts. Some may have had concerns about his size, 6-1, 293 pounds, but Zimmer covets quickness more because it so important in the pass rush. He has given Atkins the ultimate compliment along with a nickname.
Short for Tasmanian Devil.
"That's what he looks like. Short guy that runs around like crazy," Zimmer said Sunday. "He's quick. Maybe even a little quicker than I thought. Yeah, he works hard. He goes hard. He seems like a good kid."
He certainly has the best nickname of the rookies.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Another guy that impressed Lewis is one of the third-rounders, physically-gifted cornerback Brandon Ghee. But Lewis also said Ghee can expect his name to be heard often as the coaches concentrate on marrying his abilities with the pro game. Ghee and second-rounder Carlos Dunlap may replace Rey Maualuga and Michael Johnson as the guys Zimmer is going to ride and push because they have so much talent. Lewis said Ghee is going to hear his name called when he's sleeping.
"He's special physically," Lewis said. "He comes in here with all kinds of abilities. I'm anxious for him to get back and to get going. He's got a great opportunity to be a big contributor as a young player. He's in a pretty good situation. He's got to be able to handle it. We're not going to slow the belt for him."
» The 6-0, 192-pound Ghee is no dummy. He'll be here May 18. He walks May 17 at Wake Forest to get his degree after majoring in communications and theology.
» Except for Gresham, Lewis said the picks were what he expected. Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley, the other third-rounder, showed the good hands. Particularly Friday afternoon when he fought a strong, shifty wind and caught all the punts headed his way.
» Linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy, a fourth-round pick, should be OK when he returns. He missed Sunday with a foot problem but Lewis indicated he's OK.
» Lewis made it sound like there is little interest in cornerback Pacman Jones. He says the extent of the conversations has been his agent calling. Jones worked out in February but there have been no talks about a contract and if there is, the Bengals will want to see him work out again.
» The Bengals didn't sign any of the 25 tryout players Sunday, but that doesn't mean they won't in the next few days. There are background checks and other research involved before a paper would be tendered. Lewis did say the club is going to continue to look for free agents to add depth.
» On Flying Pig Marathon Sunday, Lewis says that's just what the rookies can expect.
"They've been kind of training for almost an Olympic event … prior to the draft," Lewis said. "Now it's time to get training for more of a marathon in football. I think it's a good shock to their systems when they're here to see what it takes and the conditioning level it's going to take to go through NFL practices."
» Left tackle Andrew Whitworth stopped by for a bit Friday and Saturday and, like most everyone else, he liked the first glimpse of right guard Otis Hudson, 6-5, 320, the fifth-rounder from Eastern Illinois.
"He seemed to have pretty good feet and he's a strong kid," Whitworth said.