CINCINNATI — Bengals receiver A.J. Green was looking for a chance to work out in Atlanta during the NFL lockout heading into his rookie season. Cleveland Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi — another former Georgia Bulldog — invited him to join his group.
Also in the workout group?
Green got to know Detroit’s Calvin Johnson that summer, learning a lot of things about what it takes to excel in the NFL. They have kept at it, working out together five days a week during each of the last two offseasons.
They talk about what it’s like to be the focus of an opposing defense. They watch each other’s moves. They push each other to grow.
“I take note of what he has done on and off the field and try to apply it to my own,” Green said.
On Sunday, the two Pro Bowl and All-Pro receivers will meet again in Detroit, when the Bengals (4-2) play the Lions (4-2) in a game that will have a bearing on first place in their divisions.
A little friendly competition to see which one does better, perhaps?
“I don’t think so,” Green said. “I just go out there and play my game and he will do the same. I don’t try to get caught up in all that stuff.”
Both are having a bit of a tough time this season.
Johnson had one of the most prolific seasons in NFL history last year, his sixth in the league. He led the league with 1,964 yards on 122 catches and set a record with 10 consecutive 100-yard games.
An injured right knee has forced him to miss a game and slowed him in others. Johnson has been limited in practice this week but is expected to play. Even at less than full speed, the Bengals consider Johnson the best there is. Johnson has 24 catches for 337 yards and four touchdowns.
“If he’s not the best, he’s definitely way up there,” cornerback Leon Hall said. “He’s big, but he can run really fast. He jumps probably better than anybody in the NFL. So you’ve got to be smart about what you do out there.”
Green’s chances to catch the ball have been diminished this season as defenses lock onto him. Andy Dalton has been spreading the ball around more.
Johnson said he and Green are close and help each other get through the challenges of their positions.
“More so, we talk about the things that are going on within the season,” Johnson said. “ Everybody has their struggles.
“We’re just kind of on an even level. We’re just so cool now. He’s like a brother.”