Updated: 7-29-11, 1:25 a.m.
After an era in which the Bengals offense just never seemed to be on the same page, they officially turned the page to their new era when they signed rookie wide receiver A.J. Green to a lightning-quick contract that became the first first-round contract of the new rookie pool. These Bengals are as young as the new collective bargaining agreement and they hope to grow as rich as the deal.
"Young guns," said Jerome Simpson, the man who replaces Chad Ochocinco in the Opening Day lineup as the X receiver. "I know Bengals fans are going to be mad Ocho isn't here, but we're still going to be a great team. We've got some deadly combinations out there of guys that can run, are tall, can get vertical and go get the ball."
Green. Simpson. Gresham. Shipley.
Quarterback Jordan Palmer has seen the future and, as he said a few days ago, Green must be a great athlete but he'd be shocked if he's more athletic than Simpson.
"I think Chad has a lot of football left athletically, but it's a good move for us with these young guys coming on," Palmer said. "You don't need two really good X receivers. You can only play one and the other guy isn't going to move to Z because we've got a really good Z in A.J Green. We've created an atmosphere with young hungry guys with a lot to prove. It's a great environment, now."
Green had hoped he'd be teamed with The Ocho and thought about it often.
"Great to be a young guy coming into the league, a rookie and having a veteran like that teach you the ropes how he was so successful and learn from him," Green said." That's a loss, but we've got young guys that stepped up last year that can help me and I can learn from them."
It was almost as if head coach Marvin Lewis set up this day three months ago during the draft. As the humble Green performed as the anti-diva receiver, Lewis called him "a new breed." Last training camp, the Bengals lined up with nearly 2,000 NFL catches at starting receiver with The Ocho and Terrell Owens also providing an infinite amount of volatility and the Bengals went 4-12. This year it is 21 NFL catches between Simpson and Green, whose girlfriend complains he doesn't tweet enough.
"It's a young team. We're going to have to grow fast," Green said. "And I feel like we have the right guys in here and the right coaches to build this franchise."
Throw second-round quarterback Andy Dalton into the mix with his 0.0 NFL throws, and the torch has been passed. Joining Green in the fold were four other picks, leaving only Dalton, third-rounder Dontay Moch, and fourth-rounder Clint Boling unsigned as the club heads to report day at Georgetown College on Friday.
With Dalton's agent tied up with the Kevin Kolb trade, he and the Bengals played phone tag Thursday but it's believed the club thinks it can sign him before Saturday's first practice at 3 p.m. The Bengals opted to go by the NFL Players Association's outline for each pick rather than taking money from the bottom rounds and using them for the higher rounds, so a deal for Dalton could be fairly prompt.
Green, the fourth pick in the draft, is a tall, rangy playmaker out of Georgia more Friday Night Lights than VH1. When Bengals public relations director Jack Brennan thanked him for coming out of the locker room to do the interview, he said, "No, thank you."
Like Green, Simpson is also from the Carolina country, and is just looking for a shot and not a show.
"It's not going to slack up," he said of the X receiver spot. "It's going to continue. I know (the trade) shows confidence in me and I'm ready to play hard and win as many games as I can for this team."
Green says he's ready. Pressure? Used to it, he says. Rookie receivers are supposed to take at least a year, and maybe, like Simpson, three years to make the transition from college. But Green did it in college.
"A lot of people said it was going to take me a year or two to get adjusted in college," Green said. "I went into my freshman year and had a great season and led the SEC in receiving. Coming to the NFL, you have to work at it. It's your job. I've got more time. I feel like I'll be fine."
Dalton arrived Tuesday in the middle of the Carson Palmer retirement news conference. Green landed Thursday at noon at CVG, signed a deal for a reported $19.6 million guarantee over four years, took a physical, and when he emerged from a meeting with receivers coach James Urban he was suddenly an NFL No. 1 receiver and replacing one of the top players over the past decade.
The kids are growing up in sound bites.
"I've dealt with pressure. I've had pressure my whole life," Green said. "Being a big-time recruit coming out and being that guy at Georgia, it's no different. I don't let the outside world affect me (on) the field. I just go out and do my job."
It looked like this one had all the elements of a long holdout. It was the first bite at the new rookie pool and one of Green's agents, Tom Condon, is a major union player who, just like the Bengals has never been afraid to hold players out of camp. But with the new hard cap in the rookie pool making it clear-cut, the number had to be the number without voidable year or option bonuses. And Green was an engaged client.
"Very important because this lockout has pushed us behind enough. Getting in here and getting a grasp of the players, playbook and coaches," Green said. "I told my agent from the start that I needed to be here on time. The organization really helped out."
Green got the playbook the one day the lockout was lifted, a huge break for him.
"I had the playbook in my hands this whole time and I was just studying," he said. "We just had some meetings and I feel like I knew everything in there. I didn't run the stuff, but I feel I have a grasp of the whole offense."
This is a guy that has been so good, he's never thought about the NFL challenges lurking.
"I don't even know," Green said. "I've been playing football my whole life. It's the speed. To be able to play with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, guys you grew up and watched and now to be on same field with them … it's my job now, so get used to it."
Indeed, the new era fits hm.
"You just can't worry about the future. Just go ahead into what's there in the present," he said.
That could be the '11 logo.