With as much as A.J. Green and Andy Dalton accomplished their first year in the NFL, they might be even better in year two.
During the Bengals' offseason conditioning program, coaches have been impressed with the strides both players have made not just in grasping the offense but in showing their leadership.
"They've grown and experienced a lot. They're not the wide-eyed rookies anymore," head coach Marvin Lewis said.
Green remains soft spoken and doesn't say a lot, but other receivers and coaches have said that Green is in incredible shape and has come back even more determined. Last season Green became the first rookie receiver in eight seasons to make the Pro Bowl as he had 65 receptions for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns.
If he can reach 1,000 receiving yards again, Green would become the first receiver since Marques Colston to reach that plateau his first two seasons in the league.
Said receivers coach James Urban of Green: "I'm very happy with A.J.'s approach to the offseason. I'm very pleased with what he has done physically. He looks great and he's taken that role as a leader. There's no doubt he has control of that group."
Lewis has called the receivers room Green's room and has gone as far as to say it is also his offense. That might be a little bit of a stretch before you consider that the Bengals were 5-2 in games where Green scored a touchdown.
For Dalton, his big moment to exhale came at the end of last season. Without any added pressure this offseason, the only things Dalton has had to focus on was honing his footwork and expanding his knowledge of the playbook.
Even Lewis admitted that Dalton did not come into the ideal situation last year, saying that the situation had some tension built into it because of Carson Palmer's "retirement." Once Palmer was traded though in Week 7, that tension was replaced by trying to lead the Bengals into the playoffs.
"Going to the playoffs is a great accomplishment but he led a team which is bigger," Lewis said. "He's been through a lot, from the perception of being passed over in the draft to having the opportunity to be the starter from the opening day of training camp."
During free agency and the draft, the goal has been giving Dalton and Green more tools. They significantly upgraded the guard position, which should help jump-start the running game, and added running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who excelled in short-yardage and red-zone situations. The Bengals are hoping to diversify what Green-Ellis can do by putting him in more receiving situations out of the backfield.
With teams expected to double-team Green, the third-round selection of Mohamed Sanu and the return of Jordan Shipley, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, that should give Dalton more options.
Said Dalton: "I'm excited for everyone to get out there and throwing. We've got a good group. It is going to be a lot of competition out there."
NOTES, QUOTESSigning of Burfict considered low risk, high reward
--There was a lot made of the Bengals signing of undrafted linebacker Vontaze Burfict, but for a team lacking depth at the position and with three players entering the final year of their contract, it is a low-risk, high-reward move.
Burfict's first weekend as a Bengal, which took place at the rookie minicamp, went well for the most part, but coach Marvin Lewis acknowledged that if Burfict is to make the final 53-man roster he is going to have to show something on special teams.
"He's a better conditioned athlete now than he was at the Combine and at ASU in March. If he continues to go down that path, he seems bright enough to learn. He seems willing to want to change this image people have of him," Lewis said. "He can be a good football player. Learn to bend his knees, play behind his pads, strike people within the whistles and life is good."
Burfict said that he wrote letters to all the league's coaches and general managers but that Lewis was the only one who answered.
--Lewis said that if the season began this week that the competition for the second receiver to line up opposite A.J. Green would be between Brandon Tate and Armon Binns.
While there were some who were surprised by that statement, if you follow Lewis' past trends it is not that shocking. Unless the rookie is a first-round pick, he is not immediately elevated to first-string status, which takes Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones out of the equation. Jordan Shipley also has not been cleared by the team to resume full activities as of yet either.
One of the standouts of the rookie minicamp was Sanu, who many predict will be the starting receiver opposite Green when the season opens in Baltimore on Sept. 10.
Sanu, who was selected in the third round, wasn't flashy but he was solid in gaining separation inside the numbers.
"I was just trying to make the play every time the ball came my way and know my assignments," Sanu said. "The key now is to just continue learning the system and master as much as I can."
--With the selection of Devon Still in the second round, many have wondered if he has the versatility to play both defensive end and tackle. Still said that right now he will be playing tackle more as a three-technique player, which means he is staying at tackle for the foreseeable future.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The offense didn't let him rest at all that first practice so they got after him pretty good. I just told him just watching his work through the weekend and how we see a change in some of the things we're asking him to do in his play. What a difference being out there for five practices and all of the repetition makes." - Coach Marvin Lewis on first-round cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick's rookie minicamp.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Following the rookie minicamp, the Bengals signed linebacker Emmanuel Lamur and fullback Jourdan Brooks. Neither one are expected to make the roster. The roster currently stands at 87, which includes the team's five unsigned draft picks.
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: PK Mike Nugent (tendered at 2.654 million; signed April 25).
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--RB Cedric Benson has three straight 1,000-yard seasons with the Bengals but offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wants to go more with a running back by committee approach which Benson has balked at. Expect both sides to have a mutual parting of the ways.
--CB Kelly Jennings was mainly the corner in nickel situations once Leon Hall went down due to injury.
--LB Brandon Johnson has been a key backup at weak-side linebacker and has been one of the top players on special teams. He is looking for a multi-year deal after three straight seasons on one-year contracts.
--TE Bo Scaife spent all of last season on injured reserve after injuring his neck. He is not expected to be back.
--OG Bobbie Williams went into last season with the team's longest streak of consecutive games but ended up serving four games for a violation of the league's policy on performance enhancing substances then fractured his ankle late in the season and missed the last three games. Going into his 13th year despite being entrenched at right guard, he is not a priority to re-sign.
--S Gibril Wilson saw a mix of defensive and special teams snaps after missing 2010 due to a knee injury. Could be back eventually on a one-year deal.