Young man hurried


Jermaine Gresham

Jermaine Gresham is the classic young man in a hurry. He has spent the last six weeks listening to elders like Carson Palmer, Reggie Kelly and Jon Hayes counseling him to let the big plays come to him because it is the only way with a playbook bigger than you've ever seen.

There is no question everyone down at Paul Brown Stadium feels Gresham is a tremendous talent who is going to help. In their 22 workouts since the draft, Gresham and wide receiver Jordan Shipley are the two most important guys that have flashed the things the Bengals thought they had. But when they do it for real is everyone's guess, too.

Palmer, the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback, says to Gresham, "Young buck, just slow down. It will come eventually."

Kelly, the 12th-year tight end battling with the kid for the starting job, tells him, "You know what, young buck? Rome wasn't built in a day. You don't go to the Super Bowl in a day. We'll get better every day. You'll get better every day. You just have to make sure you understand what we're doing."

Hayes, the Bengals tight ends coach who played the position in 184 NFL games in a dozen seasons, pulls Gresham aside and barks, "We're not going to burn the boats. Don't panic. We're doing this for a reason. We want you to understand it."

But Gresham is just 22 years old and conscientious. So you know how that goes. It is almost like he has gone in motion flush into the Bengals fan base and knows the last time a Cincinnati tight end went to the Pro Bowl was, well, 20 years ago.

"I haven't made enough plays to help the team out," Gresham said after Thursday's last practice of the spring. "The big problem for me is I want it to come so fast I want to make the big play right now."

So do Bengals fans. Palmer has never had a tight end catch more than 31 balls in a season (Kelly in 2008). Or 254 yards in a season (J.P. Foschi in 2009). Or average more than 12.1 yards per catch in a season (Kelly in 2006). Or catch more than four touchdowns in a season (Matt Schobel in 2004).

The consensus is that because of his talent and the way offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski is going to use him, the 6-5, 261-pound Gresham is going to shatter those numbers. The question is "When?" with the subplot of Gresham's ability to grasp a position that save for Palmer himself has the most responsibilities and assignments on offense. Hayes, like everyone else around here, has a pretty good idea the Bengals have a fine player on the move but he's not doling out timelines.

"We're in a good situation now because when you give him as much as we've given him, you reach a saturation point and we're about there," said Hayes, who has Gresham one more week before he goes on summer vacation. "Now is a good time for him to go back and look through his notebook when he goes back home. And I told him, 'You have to take it upon yourself. You have to quiz yourself. When you're running a route, you have to say, What is going on with this play?' "

The nice thing is that Gresham will do all that because he cares. There are three things that have stood about Gresham: His size. His hands. His earnestness.

You've got to like his honesty, too. When asked if he'll hold out, he makes no billboard "Absolutely Not" pronouncements. He says, quite rationally and maturely, that he wants to be on the field but that is up to his agent "and the people upstairs."

"I just care about football," he said. "Everybody needs to know I'm getting ready to play football.

"I can tell right now it's not the same as college. You can't just use the brute strength. You have to be smart about the game technique-wise. You've got to be sharp on those things."

Gresham says the playbook is completely different than what he had at Oklahoma. He says he never shifted or moved like this before the snap, not even half the time like this in college. In fact, he says, everything is twice as much up here.

"I had problems with it early," Gresham said. "But now I think the repetition and Coach Hayes and Coach Brat showing me a lot of different things and Carson talking to me all the time, I think it's going real well."

He says Palmer has been constantly in his ear about formations and routes and with pass protection such a key part of the tight end's job, Gresham has been all ears.

"Great quarterback; one of the best," Gresham said. "Hasn't disappointed me. He has a real strong arm. I didn't know it was that strong."

Palmer may be Gresham's biggest fan but Kelly is his biggest mentor. And more than just football. Kelly married his high school sweetheart right out of Mississippi State, has two kids, and thinks a big night out is getting a babysitter. Gresham thinks they're similar.

"He tells me don't live that fast life," Gresham says with a smile. "It comes and it goes. Just focus on football. We're country. He's Mississippi. I'm Oklahoma. Back woods."

Hayes smiles, too.

"Yes and no," he said when asked if they're similar guys. "(Gresham) has a little bit of fox in him ... but he's a great kid. The one thing about this kid: He loves football. He loves to be on the field."

By all accounts the 33-year-old Kelly has come back from his ruptured Achilles in fine form. It looks like the one year off has done him wonders and he's been telling Gresham how to take care of his body.

"I'm surprised not how much he tells me, but how much he knows," Gresham said. "You ask him about anything and he's got an answer for you. He tells me, 'Young buck, get in the cold tub. Take care of your body. It's a long season. See a massage person. See a chiropractor.'

"Reggie tells me what to do in this formation. What to do on this play. How to block this level right here. He tells me things you wouldn't expect to know as a rookie, but he's already done it."

What the Bengals want Gresham to do is continually win the mismatches that their last Pro Bowl tight end did when Rodney Holman roamed the middle. And how Gresham wreaked havoc at Oklahoma. What they like is his confidence in those matchups.

"They put me on a backer down the field or out on a safety with a wiggle move or someting like that," he said. "Football is football. It's mano on mano, so I feel good about it."

In six weeks Hayes has seen enough to think Gresham is going to be OK, but there is always the qualifier: "You never know until we get out of pajamas and get into pads," Hayes said.

But, he also says, "He's a stout blocker and one thing about this guy is that he's a physical player."

And the young buck appears to be figuring it out.

"If I just learn the offense," Gresham said, "the rest will eventually come."

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