Dezmon Briscoe gets in some work at Bengals rookie minicamp. (AP photo)
It just goes to show you how long the dominant personalities of the Bengals have been around.
Rookie wide receiver Dez Briscoe has been following the Bengals since he was 14. So imagine when the 20-year-old walked into Paul Brown Stadium on Friday and met quarterback Carson Palmer. Briscoe and rookie defensive end Carlos Dunlap are the first Bengals born in 1989, the year the Bengals nearly won the Super Bowl.
“Carson is one of the elite quarterbacks with Tom (Brady) and Peyton (Manning); I put him in that category,” says Briscoe, on a first-name basis even though he never met any of them until Friday.
"I never thought in the world I would shake Carson Palmer’s hand and now I’m on his team,” he says, still in amazement a week after the draft. “They were my favorite team and I just love being part of the organization.”
Briscoe found the Bengals on Nov. 16, 2003 while watching at home in Dallas. That is the accepted date of the birth of Cincinnati's modern renaissance under head coach Marvin Lewis, when the Bengals knocked off the undefeated Chiefs at PBS. To a generation of fans like Briscoe, they aren’t the sad-sack Bengals but the Bengals of Palmer and Ocho with some always dangerous pop.
He had been looking that Sunday because that week on ESPN he had seen some clips of a certain wide receiver. Asked how he became a fan, it was easy.
“The statement Chad made when they played the Chiefs when they were (9-0) and about how he said they were going to go out and beat them and they beat them and since then I’ve been a Bengals fan,” Briscoe said. “That’s a long time. I didn’t know it was that long. I remember they came out and played with a definite swagger. I remember the big plays. I don’t know what the score was (24-19) but it got bad. I liked the way they did it as a team and came together and went out and did it.”
The 6-2, 207-pound Briscoe has more in common with the other receiver he has watched, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, than the Ocho. Houshmandzadeh was an end-of-draft guy, too. The Bengals liked him, but right before they picked him offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski made a call to Oregon State head coach, Dennis Erickson, an old friend, to double check that even though he was a junior college guy with little big-time experience that Houshmandzadeh had the requisite NFL tools. Erickson passed muster and the third-leading receiver in franchise history was born.
Fast forward nine years later to another receiver slipping down the draft board for different reasons.
Briscoe had scored 31 touchdowns in 37 games at Kansas and 24 in his last 24, but he had some off-field issues. According to published reports when he was a freshman he was arrested for shoplifting and then was suspended for last spring’s practices and missed Kansas’s season opener for violating unspecified team rules.
(More Bengals history: Then receivers coach Hue Jackson was drawn to Chris Henry, in large part, because he scored 22 touchdowns in 23 college games.)
The Bengals liked Briscoe’s size (Houshmandzadeh was 6-1, 197) and his knack for getting into the end zone. They had already checked him out and didn’t think he had major problems, but as their sixth-round pick drew closer tight ends coach Jon Hayes called a good friend to reinforce the evaluation. Hayes had worked with former Kansas head coach Mark Mangino at Oklahoma and he told Hayes that he believed Briscoe was past his problems.
Which is one of the reasons Briscoe became the 21st wide receiver chosen with the 191st pick. Remember when Houshmandzadeh was named to the 2007 Pro Bowl and he named all but three receivers that were drafted before him?
“After I got drafted my head coach called me, say, 10 minutes later,” Briscoe says. “He told me he went to bat for me through a whole bunch of things. I appreciate him for it. I’m a grown man now. It’s a business, a job. If I want to play in the NFL long, I have to put all that behind me.”
Bratkowski says Briscoe needs to get about 10 more pounds behind him, as well as a lower body fat if he wants to get a spot on the roster because he says after The Ocho and Antonio Bryant, the receiver position is “a free-for-all.”
While impressing the Bengals in the first practice of rookie camp, Briscoe strained his groin. He said he could have worked Saturday, but the coaches shut him off for the last four practices so he can be ready to go May 11 and the start of the on-field work with the veterans.
“I was impressed. He did some things extremely well,” Bratkowski said. “Route-running and catching the ball. He’s got a real good feel for the game and that’s hard to teach. Just an understanding of angles and holes in zones and setting people up. Sometimes you either have that or you don’t and he’s got it. But he’s got to get in better shape to compete at that spot.”
Who gets it age 20? But Briscoe sounds like he knows what he has to do.
"Coach Mangino is a great guy. I went to his office when I was in school every week or every two weeks,” Briscoe says. “We’d talk about different stuff. He always told me I was a great guy. What people see, it’s not really me. If you get to know me, you’ll think I’m a real good guy.”
He says he doesn’t chatter like the Ocho even though Ochocinco's words drew him to the Bengals.
“I don’t think I have that demeanor at all,” Briscoe says. “I don’t talk on the field. I let my actions do the talking.”
But he says he can’t wait to meet him.
“I really (do),” Briscoe says. “I want to see what kind of guy he is. Just off the field meeting him and talking to him face-to-face.”
Yes, he did look up to The Ocho as a kid.
“Him and some of the other guys. I like Andre Johnson’s game and Larry (Fitzgerald) and I used to like T.O. a lot,” Briscoe says.
But it was the Bengals he always seemed to end up following or trying to find the highlights when he had a chance.
“What really got me was the jersey change,” he said of ’04. “When they came out in a different style. And Marvin Lewis a great coach and bringing in players left and right and developing into one of the premier programs in the NFL.”
Now, he has both hands in it.