Owens, Ochocinco setting example of what Bengals want


Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco have been complaining, but that's more than OK with their Cincinnati Bengals teammates.

"They complain every time they don't get a rep in practice," offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "They want every rep. They fight young guys for reps. We sit there like, 'These guys don't ever get tired.' You can say whatever you want about them playing around, having their fun and doing what they do, but those guys work their tails off. That's something you want your young guys to see."

I spoke to Whitworth, the unofficial team spokesman, about a lot of things Bengals-related after their 22-9 victory over the Eagles, and one of the main things he addressed was how T.O. and rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham have changed the complexion of Cincinnati's offense. As for Owens, who had three catches for 67 yards against Philadelphia -- including a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch on a deep ball from Carson Palmer (see it for yourself here) -- Whitworth said the receiver's most noticeable distinction thus far has been his work ethic.

"He'll run a deep route in practice, not get the ball, run back and try to get right back in line," Whitworth said. "You don't know how much that has affected the young players on our team seeing him work like that."

Whitworth doesn't seem concerned about Owens' penchant for grousing if he doesn't get the ball enough because it hasn't happened yet. We'll see if it does, particularly if the Bengals hit a tough patch. Owens didn't cause too much of a ruckus in 2009 during Buffalo's woeful season but the stakes are much higher this year, especially since his open letter to Bengals fans appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer last week, in which he stated: "This team will restore power and respect. We're focused on playing in Texas on Feb. 6."

Nobody's concerned at this point about there not being enough balls to go around either, Whitworth said. That's a good thing, because watching what the Bengals have done in the preseason, running back Cedric Benson and Gresham might end up being their two most formidable weapons.

Gresham, the first-round draft pick (21st overall) from Oklahoma, has looked unstoppable with the way the Bengals are using him. He's played on the line, flexed wide, lined up as a standup flanker and as a motion tight end. At 6-foot-5 and 261 pounds, he's an unfair matchup for any defender and he'll almost always be in single coverage because of Owens and Ochocinco on the edges.

"Even though he was a first-round pick, it feels like we got a steal," Whitworth said. "He's big, strong, has great feet, he's an efficient run blocker, and he's scary running routes. He's never off his feet unless he's getting tackled, and that shows how good of an athlete he is because a lot of players don't always keep their feet. He's going to be special. You look at a lot of successful offenses in the NFL and they all have marquee tight ends."

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The Bengals haven't altered their playbook, said Whitworth, which sounds odd because last season, with their tight ends injured and wide receiving corps limited, they were boring and fairly predictable. Instead, they're running plays that were shelved because of the personnel shortcomings.

And, Whitworth added, "We're comfortable at the tight end position doing things we had hoped to do before.".

Remember Week 2

If owners and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had their way, this most recent round of preseason games would have been the last before the regular-season kickoff. The proposed "enhanced season" would curtail the preseason to two games and extend the regular season to 18.

NFL owners, league executives and Goodell will discuss -- and maybe vote to ratify the proposed format again at league meetings this Wednesday in Atlanta. Even if the owners move forward with an 18-game season, Goodell has said the league does not plan to enact an enhanced season without the players’ approval. That part still needs work.

NFLPA President Kevin Mawae told me league officials haven’t offered anything in exchange to make players believe adding two additional regular-season games -- namely in terms of compensation and health benefits – would be beneficial. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league is "providing the union with more information and the 'enhanced season' concept will continue to be an important part of our discussions."

Opinions remain varied on the enhanced season but based on what has transpired the first two weeks of the preseason -- solely on the field -- you can understand why shortening it to two games would work but also why there could be the need for a longer preseason.

"Our starters played about a half the other night and we'll probably (play) into the second half next game and that's like a real game right there. So, in a sense, we're playing a 17th game as it is," Whitworth said. "With the way the offseason is, with all the OTAs and minicamps, by the second or third preseason game, you're ready. At some positions, though, like running back, it's harder to play a full 18 games. That's a lot of wear and tear."

That wear and tear is a big concern for players, Mawae said.

"Guys could be taking 120 more snaps a season and that's 120 more opportunities to get hurt or to compound potential long-term injuries or illnesses" Mawae said of an 18-game schedule.

The level of intensity during the first two games has been high. Whitworth said Cincinnati's game with Philadelphia -- at least with the starters in -- was played at a regular-season tempo, with the Eagles doing a lot of blitzing and stunting on defense, as if the game really counted. While teams tend not to show their entire playbooks, they are getting ready for when things do matter.

The preseason, at two weeks, wouldn't be enough time for several teams this year because a number of players are recovering from recent injuries. From Seattle tackle Russell Okung to Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman to Falcons defensive back Dunta Robinson, injury issues could cost some teams early this season, even with another two weeks to get ready.

Some of that could be stemmed in the future by not playing key contributors at all in two preseason games, but in the case of a player still recovering from an offseason procedure, there could be concerns. Some of the conjecture about having an 18-game regular season is maintaining the start date where it currently stands -- in early to mid-September -- and adding a bye week after the two preseason games to allow more time for injured players to heal and for teams to prepare.

There is a lot to be worked out regarding the enhanced season, with money -- and possibly health care -- being the main issue(s). Players want to be compensated for playing the extra regular-season games and have health benefits enhanced. Owners, meanwhile, likely won't have half-empty stadiums as can be the case for preseason games if the contests have meaning, generating revenues during a time of economic hardship.



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