As a rookie last year, A.J. Green paced the Cincinnati Bengals in receptions (65), yards (1,057) and touchdowns (seven). The offense also got sizable contributions from wide receivers Jerome Simpson (50 catches for 725 yards and four touchdowns) and Andre Caldwell (37-317-three).
But in the offseason, Cincinnati declined to retain Simpson and Caldwell. That leaves a crowd that includes Andrew Hawkins, Brandon Tate, Armon Binns and a pair of rookies to try to emerge as the team’s No. 2 wideout.
Hawkins caught 23 passes for 263 yards in 2011, but the rest of the players are mysteries. Tate was limited to kick and punt returns, Binns spent most of last year on the practice squad, and Mohamed Sanu (a third-round pick) and Marvin Jones (a fifth-round choice) are untested. Tate is listed as the starter opposite Green.
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It’s an inauspicious and unproven group to pair with Green, the first rookie wide receiver to get voted to the Pro Bowl since Anquan Boldin represented the Arizona Cardinals in 2003. But Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton expressed confidence in his teammates.
“The guys we have, I wouldn’t want anyone else,” he said. “They’ve come in and worked real hard and done everything they’ve been asked to do. They’ve learned on the fly. They have such a good understanding that I’m confident of everything they’ve done.”
“Whoever is out there, we have to cover,” he said. “We know No. 18 [Green’s jersey number] is going to be out there, and they have capable wide receivers. They’re great guys, this is the NFL, and I’m sure they’re going to be top-notch competitors. It’s part of the game. We can’t worry about who’s out there. We’ve just got to worry about us, and if we do that, we’ll be successful.”
The Bengals return tight end Jermaine Gresham, who caught 56 balls for 596 yards and six touchdowns, and still have Green, who should draw plenty of attention. But Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said there’s a risk for paying too much attention to Green.
“There’s certain situations that you find yourself in, and I think that’s when you’ve got to decide, ‘OK, when am I going to take somebody away and how can I hold up on the other guys? Is it going to be sound?’” Pees said. “Sometimes that’s hard based on formation. If you spend all your time doubling [No.] 18, [No.] 84 [Gresham] is pretty good at tight end. So you’ve got to keep it moving and you’ve got to make it so that Cincinnati doesn’t know when you’re doing it and when you’re not.”