Just putting on a helmet again felt good to Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green.
Despite being fully recovered from toe surgery, Green had been limited to side work during offseason workouts up until this week when the Bengals allowed him to begin individual drills with the rest of the team Tuesday with the start of minicamp.
He did not participate in team drills or do anything matching up against a defender Tuesday or Wednesday but only because the new coaching staff didn’t want to push him too hard. Regardless of limitations, minicamp has been a big step forward for him.
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“I’ve been doing this a long time, so Zac (Taylor) pretty much knows what I can do so that’s great not to rush me back,” Green said. “I would love to be out there (doing everything) but I respect the decision. It felt good just to get out there.”
Green missed nearly half of last season with a torn ligament in his right big toe, an injury that initially occurred in a Week 8 game against Tampa Bay. He tried to come back in Week 12 but re-aggravated it two steps into a route in the second quarter against Denver and was shelved for the rest of the season.
The seven-time Pro Bowl receiver finished with 46 catches for 694 yards (both career lows) and six touchdowns, and the Bengals finished among the worst offenses in the league.
Taylor confirmed during his Tuesday press conference that Green has been cleared to do everything, and that in itself is a big deal for Cincinnati.
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“I know what to expect from A.J., so it will be good just to see him catch balls from the quarterbacks,” Taylor said. “But we’re not going to give him too much work.”
Green said he will be ready for the start of training camp. He reported no soreness after the first day of minicamp and looks forward to being fully involved again.
Despite being limited, Green has been around Paul Brown Stadium the entire offseason, working out and learning the new offense Taylor brought from the Los Angeles Rams, with input from coordinator Brian Callahan and the rest of the staff.
While it was an encouraging step to be able to participate the first two days of minicamp, the main focus, he said, is getting his timing down with quarterback Andy Dalton and understanding the routes in the new system. Callahan is the Bengals’ third offensive coordinator in the last three years.
“We have a couple different routes I haven’t run before so training camp is going to be big for me just to get out there, everything is live with the defense going, so it will be good,” Green said.
Up until this week Green had been running routes with Director of Rehabilitation Nick Cosgray serving as his quarterback. Tuesday and Wednesday were the first days he got to work with Dalton.
Although Green hasn’t been able to fully participate in offseason workouts, Dalton thinks their eight seasons together will compensate for the missed time.
“I understand how A.J. runs routes,” Dalton said. “There’s obviously going to be some new stuff that we’re doing now, but it’s easier with guys like that. It’s easier with guys I’ve thrown to and I know how they work.”
Green said he will learn more about the offense when he’s actually lining up against a defense, but he has a good feel for the playbook just from the studying he has done on his own and in meetings.
“When the receivers are up there watching the meetings, me and (assistant quarterbacks coach) Dan Pitcher are walking through all the plays, walking through all the stuff, install (No.) 1 to install (No.) 7 so I’ve been up to speed with the plays,” Green said.
He also has picked up some things just by watching practices, but that’s been a bit frustrating at times, too.
“(I was) just sitting in meetings, watching practice, so I couldn’t hear the defense talking crap when they make plays,” Green said. “I just missed stuff like that, just being out with my brothers and being able to contribute to the team and just have fun.”
Meanwhile, as Green is working back into the fold, rookie first-round draft pick Jonah Williams is left standing on the sidelines as he recovers from an undisclosed injury that Taylor only referred to as Williams being “dinged up.” A team spokesperson would not allow reporters to ask Williams about the injury Wednesday, but Williams acknowledged it is frustrating not to be able to participate.
“I’m just doing what I can right now,” Williams said.
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