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Gresham signs contract, vaults atop Bengals' TE depth chart

GEORGETOWN, Ky. -- Jermaine Gresham believes he belongs at the back of the line. There's no chance of that happening.

The Cincinnati Bengals' first-round draft pick finally arrived at training camp Tuesday, signed his five-year deal and hurried onto the practice field, where he caught a few passes, drew a few rounds of applause and missed a few blocks.

"I missed too many blocks," the rookie tight end said. "That's the one thing that stands out."

He'll have a few days to get into run-blocking mode before his first NFL game. Gresham is expected to play during the Bengals' preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys in the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday night, even though he has missed six days of camp and eight practices.

"Knowing what I do now going through the week, he should have a good opportunity to play in the game Sunday evening and go from there," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.

Even before he showed up, Gresham was listed as No. 1 on Cincinnati's depth chart at tight end, a departure from Lewis' custom of listing rookies as backups until they have won a job. It's a sign of how much the Bengals are counting on the 21st overall pick from Oklahoma, who was surprised to learn he's already at the front of the line.

"That shouldn't be," Gresham said. "That's stuff that should be earned, and I haven't earned anything here. I mean, I just got to camp and I haven't earned anything. For right now, there's four guys ahead of me, and they deserve to be ahead of me because they've been putting in the time and going through the (camp)."

The Bengals believe he'll catch up fast and bring their passing game a long-missing dimension.

Cincinnati's offense has featured wide receivers instead of tight ends for years, relegating them to more of a blocking role. The Bengals lost their top two tight ends at the start of camp last year when Reggie Kelly ruptured his left Achilles' tendon and Ben Utecht suffered a major concussion.

Third-round pick Chase Coffman struggled in his transition from pass catcher at Missouri to blocker in the NFL, splitting the season between the inactive and injured lists. J.P. Foschi and Daniel Coats caught 43 passes combined for just 410 yards.

The Bengals' passing game finished 26th in the league, and taking Gresham became a priority in the draft. The Bengals hope his ability to get open in the middle of the field forces defenses to focus less on Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens and the rest of the receivers.

Gresham flew in from Oklahoma on Tuesday, finished the contract paperwork, then rushed to the locker room to put on his No. 84 jersey for a workout in shoulder pads on a hot, humid afternoon. Tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes had just a few minutes to try to update Gresham on some of the things he had missed so far in camp.

Gresham participated in about a third of the snaps during practice. He caught a touchdown pass from Carson Palmer when the Bengals practiced their goal-line offense and defense.

"He hardly had any time with Jonathan, so he was kind of doing it on the fly," Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said. "So it was a struggle. He made some mistakes, but he did some things right as well."

Bratkowski believed the tight end stayed in shape during the holdout.

"It's hard to tell in one practice," Bratkowski said. "You'll see over time -- I'd say you give him three or four practices and you'll be able to tell. But he looked like he's been doing things. You can tell if someone's done absolutely nothing, and it's obvious he's been doing something."

Gresham worked out with quarterback Sam Bradford -- the first overall pick in the draft -- in Norman, Okla. Bradford signed with the St. Louis Rams last Friday.

"I worked out with Sam. That helped out a lot," Gresham said. "We knew we had to be in the best shape we could to come into both camps and try to compete. We got up early in the morning and we'd throw, lift (weights), run, everything."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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