First-year Bengals wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell, who played tight end for his father at Boston College and went on to coach receivers on two continents as a tight ends coach, wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator, came off the practice field Wednesday having a hard time finding words to capture A.J. Green
"It's awful not having A.J. around," Bicknell said. "Best player, best athlete, best person I've ever been around in this league. It's hard not to have him here. I can't even begin to explain the way I feel about him as a person, as a player. A guy that goes out and plays like that. Probably wasn't totally healthy, but he's going to go out and play for the city, the team, all the coaches. Special, special guy."
The Bengals put Green on injured reserve Tuesday, but head coach Marvin Lewis wouldn't confirm surgery for torn ligaments in his big toe. It would be Green's first surgery ever and the Bengals are aware of wide receivers that have bounced back from the procedure with no problems. Like any operation, though, it's unclear when he would get back on the field, although the first snap of training camp would appear to be more than doable.
But Bicknell can feel Green's influence among the receivers left and with four games left he's quite excited to see a guy like John Ross take the path of a guy like Tyler Boyd, 62 yards from becoming Bicknell's fourth different 1,000-yard NFL receiver.
("Green) has built that room. The room I walked into had a professionalism and understanding that, 'This is a way we're going to do things,' and it was all based on him," Bicknell said. "It's a room I love being in. Great guys. I love every one of them. It's their time. I think they see some of what T.B. has done now. For all of them, they have to use this as their opportunity."
The guy that is looking at Boyd is Ross. He says it's Boyd's turn to do what Green did in being first in the receiver line for drills. It's always been by seniority, he says, but Ross says he's looking at Boyd for other reasons. He's broken through in his third season. He smiled when he observed, "Except if you're A.J. Green or Odell Beckham," wide receivers need time to develop.
"Last year no one knew who Tyler Boyd was," Ross said. "Guys from Pittsburgh knew and guys around here, but now he's in the top (16). I look at that as a chance for anyone. I've been patient …I tell myself every day it has to happen. I've figured some things out. I think I've got the mental part down. What I do well. I kind of get out of my own head. I'm starting to feel really good where I am."
Where he is in his second season is 16 catches for 189 yards at 11.8 per catch with five touchdowns, three of them in the last four games. He wishes his second season were better and that's what he's shooting for in the last four games. But he also says he's simply so much better than a rookie year of no catches. And he's looking at Boyd whom "had a good rookie year and a so-so second year.
"I saw it since I got here. It's his time right now," Ross said. "He tries to get better. He works hard. He never complains about anything. Guys like him always seem to flourish ... Not too many guys can cover him. His ability to separate, not too many guys can do that."
Ross admits, "I'm still finding my way." Bicknell has always maintained this season that because the college game doesn't develop wide receivers for the NFL, many don't break through until their third seasons. On the current list of the NFL's top 50 receiving yardage leaders (Boyd's 938 is 16th) there are five second-year wide receivers and four rookie wide receivers and only two (Pittsburgh's JuJu Smith-Schuster and Detroit's Kenny Golladay) are in the top 20.
Bicknell says he has confidence in Ross and likes his progress. He certainly has come a ways since that Carolina game he stumbled into two interceptions.
"To be honest this is really John's rookie year," Bicknell said. "Just the way he goes into every game now, he's different, the way he's been catching in the games. There haven't been the long ones and they always haven't been the flashy ones, but there have been some touchdowns and he's been a factor. I've got a lot of confidence in him now. He'll be better next year."
Exhibit A is Boyd. Bicknell, who coached 1,000-yard Eagles receivers DeSean Jackson and Jordan Matthews to career-highs, calls 1,000 "a great accomplishment in the National Football League." He's still shaking his head over the two leaping catches Boyd made last Sunday over the middle.
"Unbelievable. Great competitor," Bicknell said. "It takes courage to go up and out over there. Impressive … He was down when I first got here, I think, and trying to find himself. I'll tell you one thing, from the very first day, I noticed a guy that separates and make plays and toughness. He's been great."