|Calvin Johnson (left) gave A.J. Green some pointers on what it takes to become an elite NFL wide receiver.|
A.J. Green was devoted to improving this past offseason. He turned heads as a rookie wide receiver, helping lead the Cincinnati Bengals to a surprise playoff appearance. His reward was a trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.
Yet Green wanted more. He wanted to learn from one of the best, which is why the former University of Georgia star pushed aside his college allegiance and joined a star-studded workout crew at Georgia Tech.
"I was not allowed to wear red over there," Green told NFL.com, laughing. "That's one thing. But I can live with that if I get a chance to work out with Megatron."
Green, who keeps an offseason home in Atlanta, did his part by not wearing his red and black. Johnson did his part by making sure Green did his part. Because if he didn't ...
"I wouldn't have even had to kick him out," said Johnson, who left Georgia Tech after the 2006 season to be the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. "He wouldn't have even made it to the doors."
Green and Johnson were far from alone. As Georgia Tech trainer John Sisk describes, there was a rotating group of as many as 22 NFL players who would spend time at the Tech facility, including Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, ex-Miami Dolphins receiver Chad Johnson and San Diego Chargers running back Ronnie Brown. They'd come in at 10 a.m., leave around 1 p.m., and work around the schedules of the students using the equipment.
They'd run, they'd lift and then Sisk would open the indoor football facility so they could run routes. With Stafford and Green Bay Packers rookie quarterback B.J. Coleman, there were enough passes to go around. Defensive backs like former Yellow Jacket safety Morgan Burnett covered the receivers. In addition, defensive linemen could do their drills on the side.
"All those guys that came here, they were very respectful, respected our facility and athletes and coaches," Sisk said. "For our guys to see how hard they work, that does a lot of things for us. It worked real well. Talking to them, picking their brains, gaining some insight on how they stay sharp -- and then we can use that for our kids. I like having players come back and train with us, I think it's important. I like that we have an open-door policy."
Both Green and Johnson described the sessions as beneficial. They aren't exactly the same as receivers. Johnson is much bigger and more experienced, while Green might be faster and is two years younger. Yet the Lions star has so much to teach, and Green has so much to learn. The NFL's leading receiver with 1,681 yards in 2011, Johnson tutored Green in fundamentals and technique.
Different alma maters. Different NFL teams. Same team in that gym.
"[I like] taking the coach's position and being able to coach them up," Johnson said. "Taking the things that I've learned since I've been in the league. Though I might not be able to do everything perfectly, I know how to coach it up because I've been coached since I've been here the last five years."
As Green works to mold himself into a perennial Pro Bowler for the up-and-coming Bengals, he's begun taking bits and pieces of each elite NFL receiver and trying to add it to his game.
He examines how Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald runs his routes. He studies the way Buffalo Bills receiver Stevie Johnson releases. He looks at how Megatron goes after the ball in the air. And that's not all.
"Just the way (Johnson) works, man," Green said. "Just the way he goes about his business, the way he's stayed humble and kept his head down. He leads by example."
Green hopes to benefit. After a productive rookie year, he looks to refine his route running and fundamentals to help him further thrive with quarterback Andy Dalton.
"I just want to go out there and win," Green said.
Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @rapsheet