TRAINING CAMP 2008 INDEX: Features, news, notes, video, photos, schedule and more* * *
Posted: 5:10 p.m.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. - T.J. Houshmandzadeh's sixth sense has made him one of the NFL's top receivers and now it is telling him that the Bengals are concerned how their once automatic-pilot passing game has suddenly swerved back to pre-Carson Palmer days.
"It's tough. We've gone from having the best receiving corps in our first couple of years to now having question marks," Houshmandzadeh said after his Wednesday morning lift. "They're probably concerned because they're used to the passing game just always on point. But I like to think it's because I haven't been practicing. When I do come back to practice things will change."
When Houshmandzadeh arrived at Georgetown College as a seventh-round pick in 2001, he promptly announced he was the best receiver on a team with Johnson and Peter Warrick. After he compiled exactly 0.0 catches in 2003 and then nearly caught 1,000 yards the next season when Warrick went down, he offered, "I'm surprised that people are surprised."
So no surprise now.
After back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and the NFL receiving crown in '07, Houshmandzadeh believes his presence can get the passing game right. If Chad is known for sassy, Houshmandzadeh is known for savvy.
"I try to do things the right way in practice. I try to run my routes precisely so guys can see and watch and learn from me," he said. "They haven't been able to do that. Guys would just get better by seeing another guy visually."
Houshmandzadeh hopes the receivers can start doing that again in Thursday afternoon's practice. They haven't seen him in about two weeks because his hamstring tightened after the first couple of workouts in training camp.
Without Houshmandzadeh, the team's most reliable receiver, and with its most explosive receiver, Johnson, not yet fully recovered from ankle surgery and the others trying to find consistency, the concern meter went up another notch when nobody could get open Monday night against a Green Bay team working without starting cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson.
But Houshmandzadeh says not to worry.
"We have a lot of weapons. With me, Chad, (Ben) Utecht, Chris Perry, you've got a lot of guys to choose from," he said. "Yeah, the passing game has looked a little different. But I figure when I get out there, things will change. I could be wrong, but I figure once I get out there it won't be like that."
He's not worried about being rusty or going into the season not being timed up with Palmer despite not attending the voluntary workouts. He went to the Pro Bowl last season after not attending last spring. And he says the hamstring pull came from dehydration, in part from a heavy travel schedule, and not from a lack of working out.
"I kind of ignored it," he said. "But now that I know, it won't happen again."
He's convinced that sixth sense is going to carry the day again.
"I know where I need to be when I need to be there," Houshmandzadeh said. "When you're not practicing, you watch practice, you watch the tape and you try to learn from what others guys are doing wrong.
"The only thing will be Carson feeling my movements again. We've worked so much, it's not a problem. I've just got to get used to tight coverage again and get my conditioning right."
Houshmandzadeh says that won't take long, either. One of the differences he's noticed in this camp is that Marvin Lewis isn't having guys play four or five straight snaps.
"When I come back," Houshmandzadeh said, "that's what I'm going to do because that's what you do in a game."
Houshmandzadeh saw the report that the Bengals have had recent discussion about re-signing the troubled Chris Henry and while he doesn't think Henry would disturb team chemistry ("Slim is real quiet") and he's surprised no one has picked him up ("I guess they feel they don't want to babysit"), Houshmandzadeh wonders if the Bengals need him.
"I think we can win without him and I think we can win with him. Chris can play football," said Houshmandzadeh, who also observed, "We've lost with him, too."
Houshmandzadeh looks at Perry, in particular, and thinks the Bengals already have a third-receiver type even though he's a running back.
"You can flex him out like a receiver and he catches the ball like a receiver and he' s going to damn near run routes like a receiver," he said.
He also thinks Utecht, the tight end from the Colts who caught a 14-yard touchdown pass in his Cincinnati debut Monday night, can benefit from a couple of practices watching him and they spoke Wednesday morning after watching tape.
"I'm trying to help him out on certain routes because some of the routes we run are different than what Indy runs," Houshmandzadeh said. "If he can see me do it, it will be easier for him. From talking to him and from what I've seen, I like Ben. He's a good dude, a good teammate. It's a good thing for us."
Meanwhile, Houshmandzadeh thinks it all can change.
Maybe as soon as Thursday.
"I know some people may not think that's true," he said, "but I do."
Seven camps later and what else is new?