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June 27, 2013
As A.J. Green takes his game to unexpected places in 2013, he can carry your team to unexpected heights
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June 27, 2013

Deep Thoughts

As A.J. Green takes his game to unexpected places in 2013, he can carry your team to unexpected heights

THIS SPRING, AT A SECRET LOCATION NEAR GEORGIA TECH'S ATLANTA CAMPUS, A GROUP OF ELITE NFL WIDEOUTS GATHERED FOR A RECEIVING MINICAMP OF SORTS. THERE, THIS JUSTICE LEAGUE OF LEAPERS and catchers—the Lions' Calvin Johnson, the Broncos' Demaryius Thomas and Andre Caldwell, and the Bengals' A.J. Green—worked out, practiced routes and exchanged tips about their craft. As the youngest and least experienced of the group, it's understandable that the 24-year-old Green absorbed the most from the session.

"We worked a lot on cutting [during routes], being able to get in and out of breaks faster, cone drills—stuff like that," says Green. "There were a lot of ... little technical things, like making sure your feet are underneath you [when you make your breaks]. Not letting your legs get sloppy."

That's not to imply that Green needed the most improvement of the bunch. Last year he caught 97 balls (on 164 targets) for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns, making him one of only two receivers (alongside Chicago's Brandon Marshall) to rank among the top 10 in each statistic. It's worth noting that those numbers came after a very positive 2011 rookie season that earned Green top target status among opposing defensive coordinators in '12.

"As a rookie I still hadn't proved myself, so defenses were playing me one-on-one," Green recalls of those slightly easier days. But "last year, defenses tried to take me away from the game, rolling safeties over to me."

As a remedy, Green says that he tried to work different spots on the field, preventing defenses from keying on him in any one area. "Now we're going to have to [build on] last year and get me involved when opponents roll coverage to my side—move me inside or outside. I'd like to work inside, in the slot, more. Year three is all about freedom."

That adventurous spirit should be welcome news to Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, as well as to fantasy owners—although it does carry with it the danger of injury from big-hit-hunting linebackers. It's a risk, admits Green, "but it's still football. If you want to be that great receiver, you've got to be able to do everything."

Above all, that means stretching the field for a Bengals offense that produced a middling 237.9 receiving yards per game last season, good for just 17th in the league. Proof that Green has room to grow in contributing to that total: He averaged just 13.9 yards per catch in 2012, 36th in the league, behind the likes of such C-listers as Leonard Hankerson, Jeremy Kerley and Rod Streater.

But Green and Dalton, who hooked up for only 15 completions of more than 20 yards last year, know that it's a priority to connect more often on deep throws, and they've spent the off-season addressing it. "It's all about chemistry, all about timing," says Green. "That's one thing Andy and I are going to be working on."

In two seasons together, the duo has developed a comfort in communicating, one that allows Green to suggest openings worth exploiting and Dalton to call the routes that will be run. Given his commitment to improving his game, Green could be just the guy to take you deep, deep into the playoffs.