By Joe Reedy
CINCINNATI — During his first press conference in front of the Cincinnati media, new Bengals WR A.J. Green said he was just a country guy who didn't have a lot to say and didn't tweet much.
As Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said later, "He's a different breed of receiver."
That might be an understatement considering what Bengals fans are used to.
"I'm more of a low-key, behind-the-scenes kind of guy. I just try to do my job," said Green, who played collegiately at Georgia and was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 draft.
After an offseason that has seen QB Carson Palmer demand to be traded and threaten retirement and WR Chad Ochocinco say and do anything other than wanting to play football, less headlines and more of a focus on results would be welcome news.
Lewis and new Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden got their new passing combination quickly in the draft with the selections of Green and QB Andy Dalton, the 35th overall selection.
After 10 seasons in Cincinnati, Ochocinco's time with the Bengals appears to be at an end. Lewis' frustration with his petulant receiver has manifested itself publicly with a slew of critical comments.
During the NFL owners' meetings in Indianapolis in May, Bengals president Mike Brown joined the chorus of critics, wondering if Ochocinco still had the focus to be a productive receiver. In an offseason where players have tried to stay out of the public eye during the lockout, Ochocinco has seized the spotlight at every turn, trying out for a pro soccer team in Kansas City, riding a bull and now snake wrangling.
"He's always up to some stunt. They amuse me in a way," Brown said. "They concern me, because let's face it, we want a football player. We aren't hiring a bull rider, a dancer, a soccer player. We want a football player. It's simple. And that should be the focus, not on other things."
Ever since demanding a trade in 2008, Ochocinco's penchant for making headlines off the field has increased and his on-field production has decreased. From 2002-07, Ochocinco averaged 88.5 catches for 1,339.3 yards and eight touchdowns. The past three seasons, he has averaged 64 catches for 806 yards and 5.7 touchdowns.
Last year, after winning the AFC North in 2009, the Bengals took the ultimate gamble by signing Terrell Owens. In the long run, the T.Ocho Show ended up bombing. Owens led the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns but most of that came in the first half of the season. Over his last six games as a Bengal, Owens had 17 receptions for 213 yards and scored only two touchdowns. Meanwhile, Ochocinco had one of his worst seasons as a starter (67 receptions, 831 yards and four touchdowns).
In another albeit subtle hint as to how much things will change, Green will wear No. 18, which is the opposite of Owens' famed 81.
"We got a chance to change the atmosphere of our offensive meeting room, and with those first two picks (Green and Dalton) we really established what kind of character we're going with on the top end," Bengals QBs coach Ken Zampese said. "When you go with two guys that are highly accountable, highly motivated guys, it helps reinforce what you're saying at other levels of the hierarchy."
For those who wonder what it would be like to see Green and Ochocinco together, NFL Network's Charley Casserly tried to douse that.
"I don't know how long it would take me with my one-finger typing to type 'Ochocinco' on a waiver wire, but however few seconds it would be, gone," Casserly said. "You don't want him around A.J. Green. The guy hasn't committed to the program, all he's done is caused you problems, the guy isn't the same player that he used to be."
Even though there were some who thought Julio Jones might be a better fit in Gruden's West Coast scheme or that the Bengals had to go with a quarterback in the first round, Green was the top player on their board all along.
"He's a unique player when you take into account the size, the speed, the ball skills, his natural ability running routes, the complete player that he is," Bengals WRs coach James Urban said. "He's a blocker, he plays hard. I think he's rare. That's why you take a guy like that with the fourth pick. Everything we've seen shows that he's one of those once-every-couple-years kind of guys, and that's the way we feel."
While some consider Green's hands and his ability to catch the ball in traffic as his greatest assets, Gruden considers him a complete player. Besides extending the field as a deep threat, he also can excel in underneath and crossing routes. Some gave Jones an edge over Green as the better fit in the West Coast scheme because of his physicality in blocking, but Gruden lauded Green's blocking skills and said "our running backs are going to be happy because he'll be blocking downfield for us, and he'll do a great job at that."
It's also the quality of competition faced during Green's three seasons at Georgia that could give him an edge. During this past season, the 6-3 5⁄8, 211-pound Green was covered by Colorado CB Jimmy Smith and LSU CB Patrick Peterson, both first-round picks.
"He handles the bump-and-run very well. He has size and very long arms, and he uses those to his advantage," Urban said. "He knows coverage recognition, he understands quarterback progressions, he understands how his route fits into the pattern. We were very impressed with him."
For the most part, Green acknowledges that he has a little bit of a learning curve ahead, saying that he has to improve on reading coverages. But the one thing that might help him is that he played for three different quarterbacks in three years at Georgia. Considering the upheaval at quarterback with the Bengals, that is a huge asset.
"I'm just ready to get to work," Green said. "I feel like I still have a long way to go to get to where I want to be in this league. Like I said, I've just got to keep working."
With the addition of Green, the Bengals have one of the more formidable and younger receiving units in the league (minus Ochocinco). Andre Caldwell is entering his fourth season and would have the most experience, but he could be the fourth receiver.
Jerome Simpson, who was lightly used for most of his three seasons, finally showed what he could do over the final three games last year with 20 catches for 277 yards and three touchdowns. However, the season finale against Baltimore showed the good and bad of Simpson. He had 12 receptions (tied for second most in a game in team history) for 127 yards and a touchdown, but he also had two costly fumbles.
Jordan Shipley, who will enter his second season, is locked in as the slot receiver as he led AFC rookies in receiving yards. There's also TE Jermaine Gresham, who tied Shipley for most receptions among AFC rookies (52) in 2010.
Zampese noted that this crew reminded him of what the Bengals had when he arrived in 2003. At that point, Palmer was just drafted and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Ochocinco were just starting to emerge.
"It's been tough," Zampese said of the offseason. "It's been a kick in the groin and we had our first chance to make it better and we did."
Joe Reedy covers the Bengals for The Cincinnati Enquirer.