CINCINNATI - There was a time last fall when Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, still very much a kid, found himself standing in a late-night line of a couple hundred to buy the new shoot-em-up video game that was hitting the shelves.
Green remained relatively anonymous to the other gamers. By last December and January, with the Bengals scrambling to secure a playoff berth and ultimately landing one, Green enjoyed no such low profile.
Everywhere he went on the football field, at least two defenders followed.
He'd better get used to it.
What Green does this season for an encore will go a long way towards determining how the Bengals as a whole handle a new season, new expectations and a brutal schedule. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft spent last spring waiting out the NFL lockout and last fall pushing his team not only into a spot few predicted, but one that allowed the franchise as a whole to move on.
Chad Ochocinco's theatrics were quickly forgotten, and Green's 65 catches for 1,057 yards and 7 touchdowns in 15 games were among the primary reasons why. Carson Palmer never showed up, and by the time he was traded in October Andy Dalton had just begun to settle in as the new franchise quarterback.
Green helped that, too.
Now, the Bengals have a full offseason to tinker with and tweak the offense, mix in some new pieces and try to get Dalton and Green to take things to another level. When four weeks of organized, on-field team activities kicked off Tuesday, Green was not only the primary target but the first guy in every line for every wide receiver drill.
"I feel like I just want to be that leader that I know I can be," Green said. "I really don't lead by (being) vocal, I lead by example. I always want to be the first one in a drill and doing everything to the best of my ability. Some of the young guys can actually come along and watch what I do.
"You want (the best player) to be the hardest worker. (That) always makes it easy, man. You just come with that mentality every day that you are a professional and you come to work every day. I take pride in that. That's why I push myself to be great."
Green had 19 catches of 20 yards or more in his rookie season, seven of 40 yards and 43 of his 65 catches went for first downs. He was exhausted by the time the Texans eliminated the Bengals on the first weekend of the playoffs, and his time away started with some of those shoot-em-up video games and a trip to the Pro Bowl.
His checklist for his second season includes another one of those trips and a longer stay in the postseason.
"It was good to get back and reflect on the season because everything was just quick, quick, quick," Green said. "Just reflecting on my season, I had a pretty good season. My ability, my foundation is set high and everything is set high off my first season.
"I've got to always go out there and compete. Compete every game. My biggest thing is consistency this year, just going out there and being consistent every game 16 games through the season."
The eyes of the NFL, especially those of opposing defensive coordinators and defensive backs, will be on Green from the start in 2012. But he's used to not only making highlight reel catches but making them in plenty of traffic -- "I've been doing this my whole life," he said -- and relishing extra attention.
The Bengals' ability to develop reliable pass-catchers to take pressure off of Green will be an ongoing storyline and, eventually, a key to success. But Green said he feels much more excitement than stress for what's ahead, both individually and for his team.
"I don't believe in pressure," Green said. "It's just playing football, what I've always done."
When the Bengals took their first snap in full team drills Tuesday, first-unit offense vs. first-unit defense, it's no surprise that the play was a quick Dalton pass in the right flats to Green, who caught it easily and glided a few extra yards up the sideline.
Assistant coach Hue Jackson, back in Cincinnati as an assistant with the secondary and special teams, yelled to Green: "Hey, anybody can catch that one." Jackson was joking, but the message underscores the importance of Green carrying himself as a superstar, not one in the making.
Green knows he's not just anybody. The catch -- pardon the pun -- is to keep performing accordingly.