A.J. Green is so big that when he celebrates his 30th birthday Tuesday, everybody gets it off because it's the first open day of Bengals training camp.
Of course, that's just the way it worked out. But Green is still big. How big? So big that when Bengals president Mike Brown gave his annual introductory speech to the team to open training camp Tuesday afternoon, he put Green, his seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, in select company. Brown's recent messages have been thumbnail sketches about great Bengals from the past who had successful post-football lives in effort to let his players know they are and can be part of a long tradition.
When it came to Isaac Curtis the other day, Brown put Green right there with Curtis at the top of his list of wide receivers and that gave Green a thrill.
"An honor," Green said. "You know I love hearing about the old guys and what I have to do to get to that level … I didn't know that much about (Curtis) before I got here. I look at his highlights, see the stats, see how long he played. He's one of those guys that changed the position. He's one of a kind during that time with that speed combined with great hands, you don't really see that that much."
Green certainly looked nowhere near 30 on Thursday during 18's first practice of '18. "Getting better with age," he'll tell you, and he's hoping the same thing about an offense that finished dead-last in '17 and has some young guns returning at wide receiver that hopefully are better with age, like 22-year-old wide receivers John Ross and Josh Malone, and you can throw in running back Joe Mixon after he just turned 22 the other day.
"There's pressure on a lot of guys this year. There's a lot of pressure on this whole team, especially the offense," Green said. "Last in the league last year with all the talent we have. That's unacceptable. I think it's going to be much better."
The offense did what it wanted to do on the first day Thursday. It took the long ball out of moth balls while the running game planted its foot in the ground behind an offensive line focused on moving defenders instead of moving with them. You can't say much about the running game until the pads come on Saturday. But like Dalton said, "I thought it was a great first day of camp to see the ball flying all over the field, not only in the passing game, but the run game, too. We hit a couple e of runs that were big. We're expecting a lot out of this offense. We expect to be better than last year."
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's idea is to make the defense react to the offense by tempo, personnel groups, formations and big plays. Hence the emphasis on the long pass after a season Dalton posted his fewest yards per pass (6.7) since his rookie season.
"We had a lot of movement on offense, which is a good thing," Lewis said. "It makes the defense have to respond and we picked up kind of where we left off."
The svelte Mixon ran swiftly like a guy that dropped 12 pounds to 218 and if you thought running mate Giovani Bernard looked good the first day of last year's camp coming off an ACL, he looked twice as good Thursday. But, let's face it. All eyes are on the young receivers trying help out the old man Green. Certainly that's what Lewis is looking at when he observes of the nine-year vet Brandon LaFell, "He feels the heat."
And the kids offered some with Ross and Malone making tough, contested catches down field and third-year slot receiver Tyler Boyd dominating. If you don't think Boyd looks like their second best receiver, think again.
"(This spring) he thought he was the best player out here. That's why we picked him," Lewis said. "He went through some ups and downs his second year. But he fought through it … He has attacked this offseason like nobody's business."
Malone skied to reach a ball over the middle and he held on when cornerback KeiVarae Russell accidently took out his legs. And, of course, Ross made the play of the day when he outfought cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick on a go route and then flashed by him at the last instant before hitting the invisible finish line with a catch over his shoulder. No, Ross said, he didn't push off with a little move with his hand on Kirkpatrick's hip just before the closing burst.
"That was just a technique to propel myself," Ross said. "I didn't push off."
There was enough going on around him that Dalton thinks they can take off. In talking about Ross, Dalton saluted the old man when he said, "John has a good one to look up to in A.J."
"We expect big things from him. He's so talented," Dalton said. "He can help us win a lot of games … he's starting to show why we took him so high."