If there's one guy on the Bengals roster that has a unique view of how they are trying to man up on offense, it is fullback Chris Pressley.
"That was Coach's message from the beginning all week. From the top down. Everybody has to play more physical," said Pressley as he rewound Thursday's most physical effort of the preseason. "We need to be the dominating team up front defensively, offensively and play that kind of football. It was just contagious."
When Pressley left the Bengals practice squad in his rookie season two years ago, the Bengals were 5-2 and just off a wondrous smashmouth win over the Bears with offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski overseeing a smooth transition to a power game. When Pressley returned last year, the Bengals were in the midst of a five-game losing streak on the way to 10 in a griping locker room.
"When I left in '09, Bratkowski was here and it was physical. He wanted that look, that push," Pressley said. "When I came in last year, I didn't get that sense. I think it's started to come back a little bit."
Pressley is doing his share. With new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden using a much larger percentage of two-back sets, Pressley is getting a lot of snaps as the first-team fullback and on Thursday he made several key blocks during running back Cedric Benson's 68-yard night on 16 carries. Particularly on short yardage.
And some big ones on running back Bernard Scott's 10.5 average on six cartoon easy carries.
It is not without some irony. Pressley was reportedly available at the end of last year's preseason and the Bengals needed a fullback, but in the scheme they were using they were content to go with three tight ends and use one as a fullback. Pressley ended up coming back Nov. 10.
"When I left, I knew it was going to be a good season," said Pressley, who signed with Tampa Bay in '09. "When I came back, you know how you feel culture as you're within something? You get the inside-outside perspective. I don't know what it was, if they were passing or what it was.
"I know (Bratkowski) started talking about it a little more a week or two after I was here. I started hearing more from (players) about it. 'We're losing every game, we have to just … .' And Ced B. was definitely talking, 'Let's get the run going, that's going to start everything.' "
No one in the current locker room is looking to bash Bratkowski because what coordinator could ever survive having Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens as wide receivers? What the current players are doing is taking their cue from Gruden, head coach Marvin Lewis, and a feisty band of receivers that treat blocking as preciously as a go pattern.
"The difference this year is that everybody is being physical, not just the offensive line," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "You can see that on the outside. It's just not eight of us blocking. It's all 11. And the fullbacks, too. It's definitely a team thing."
The boxscore from the 24-13 win over Carolina looks like it fell out of a stack of 2009 play-by-play sheets. The Bengals ran it 41 times for 191 yards at 4.7 per pop while shearing 34:13 off the clock. They threw it 27 times, just enough but not too much to get picked or sacked.
"Give Marvin credit for the quote," said right guard Bobbie Williams this weekend. "He told us, 'Take their breath away,' and we did. We were fast, explosive and physical."
Lewis gave them the word, but Whitworth and Williams did what leaders are supposed to do and passed it on during the week. And Whitworth gave them one final reminder in the huddle right after the opening kickoff.
"I just wanted them to understand it's not plays and it's not players," Whitworth said. "It's mindset and attitude and that's the way we played. I was talking to Bobbie and how the two of us can try and set the tone every single week. It's almost like we're the big brothers finding the biggest, baddest guy on the other team and taking him down."
Williams has been fired up watching the tape of the wide receivers busting it in the blocking game, a non-factor for the last few years.
"Oh my God. Some kind of light has to be shined on that," Williams said. "These guys are blocking their butts off. I'm watching film of (Andre) Caldwell coming in and laying a block. Jerome (Simpson), (Jordan) Shipley. A.J. (Green). The receivers were really blocking. They were helping us get big runs out on the edge."
And Williams couldn't help but notice Pressley.
"Like him. I like him. I like him," he said. "How couldn't you like a guy that always goes 110 percent? He's a beast."
The coaches say Pressley had the best game of his preseason when it came to technique. Pad level down, assignments up. And it got him thinking.
"I know I can do better than that," he said. "I did some good things, but I think to play the position in this league you have to do it day in and day out. I didn't even play a full game. I have to make sure I can sustain it drive after drive, play after play."
Pressley always goes in believing one of his blocks is going to be what gets it going.
"As the fullback, you and offensive line initiate things," Pressley said. "You get a good block, it sparks the energy. You knock a guy down everybody feels that energy. Like the way B-Scott made those runs, you could feel the energy. You have to find ways to do it throughout the game."
Or, as Williams tells them, "You have to give it out. You can't be on the receiving end … I think as a team we showed a lot of being physical, more as a unit. We showed a lot of speed and we can do better."
It looks like he's not going anywhere this year and Pressley sounds comfortable with Gruden.
"He puts it in our hands, which I really like," Pressley said. " 'Are you going to sit back or are you going to come with a new dimension?' It's a breath of something new and exciting. I think he brings that. It's not what happened in the past. It's, 'What are you guys going to create?' ''
Williams hopes they take that new breath and use it to take away the breath of the opponent. He could see "Take Their Breath Away" on one of those Marvin Motivational T-shirts.
"You never know. You have to give that one to the head man," Williams said. "We're listening to him."