A.J. Green is Just Getting Started

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John Sleezer / Kansas City Star / Getty Images

In his first three NFL seasons, Cincinnati Bengals star receiver A.J. Green made the Pro Bowl every year, broke the team-record for 100-yards games in a season (six last year, including five straight), and caught more passes than any other player to this point in their career. But he’s still looking to improve: "I still got a long way to go, man," Green admits. "I’m just going into my fourth season and trying to get better every year — never regress."

The lanky wideout talked about his transition from the SEC to NFL, his take on the new contact rules, and why the future of the NFL is up in the air — as a passing league. 

Did you have mentors on the Bengals?
Not me. I had to learn everything on the run. I think my being a little more mature than my age — the way I approach my game and the way I prepare in the off season — really helped me going in. But I had the opportunity to work out with Calvin Johnson during that lockout year, my rookie year. The way he worked and then goes about his business. He told me to just go out there and play football. It’s still football.

How was your transition into the NFL?
The biggest thing for me was the speed change, then the complexity of the playbook and being able to play multiple spots. A lot of people said it would take a couple of years for me to get the flow, but I just had to get the plays down and then let my God-given natural ability take over. The biggest thing for me was getting the playbook down so that I can go out there and play without thinking.

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What do you think about the new rules to prevent helmet-to-helmet hits?
I think it’s tough either way because if you get a guy low in the legs and they tear an ACL, they’re out for the season. But if you hit a guy high, you can give him a concussion. That’s going to affect you in the long run, the brain. So it’s a lose-lose situation. It’s tough. You’ve got to keep your head on a swivel and try not to get hit.

Do you see the future of the NFL as a passing league?
Yeah, I think how much this game evolves in the years coming is going to be a little crazy, because it is going to be a passing league now. You can’t just be a running back that’s going to pound anymore — you’ve got to be able to catch the ball. These tight ends now are just another big receiver out there.

What about on the defensive side?
I feel like a lot of people are looking for that long, lanky cornerback that can defend a lot of the jump balls. Because when you look at a lot of the play, you gotta have some height to defend those big receivers. When you have a 6-3 corner like Richard Sherman with a 6-3 receiver you like your chances. Those guys can get up and contest any kind of ball. 

What separates you from other receivers?
I can run pretty good routes. I can get it off the line real quick like a little guy. That’s what separates me from a lot of other guys. I feel like I can run a little man route, getting in and out of my breaks quickly. But you also see Calvin Johnson and Larry [Fitzgerald] who can do the same thing like a little guy, so that’s what makes them great.

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Compared to previous generations, how are offenses changing?
I think a lot of the old stuff was a lot shorter — a lot of two-receiver sets, a lot of single-receiver. Now we’re going to a three-receiver set at a minimum, so that spreads the field a little bit more than what they used to have. It gives you more options and defense can’t single out one guy. I think that’s the biggest thing.

The game is built for guys who make big plays, and the passing league is all about that — trying to get those big-chunk plays. I think there are going to be a lot more guys breaking records like Peyton Manning because the league is set up for that. He threw over 50 touchdowns last year and I feel like there’s going to be other guys who can also do that.

What about you, are you going to break any records this year?
I still got a long way to go, man. I’m just going into my fourth season and trying to get better every year — never regress. I don’t believe in having doubts. Just get better each year and that’s what I’m trying to do to improve my stats from last year.

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