A.J. Green played with Matthew Stafford at Georgia and trains with Calvin Johnson. (David Kohl / Associated Press)
Allen Park — On a normal week, when his team wasn’t playing the Lions, Bengals receiver A.J. Green might shoot Calvin Johnson a text, ask him how he’s feeling, how the knee is coming along.
This week, Green knows that text would get no response.
“We mostly would talk about things that are going on in the season,” said Johnson, whose relationship with Green has gone from training partner to big brother the last couple of years. “Everybody has their struggles, either personal or the team. But, yeah, we’re not talking too much this week.”
Green, who played at Georgia, spends part of his offseason with Johnson and other elite receivers at a workout camp at Georgia Tech run by trainer John Sisk. Both have offseason homes in the Atlanta area. Green went there specifically to train with and learn from Johnson.
“I think Calvin has been a great mentor to A.J.,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said “They’re very close and from talking with Jimmy (Schwartz) a bunch about Calvin, they share very, very similar personalities.
“I think it’s been great. The way Calvin carries himself as a pro and as a man is very similar to A.J. He’s been a good mentor for him.”
Johnson, though, might want to hold back on some of the lessons. Green, a two-time Pro Bowler and first team all-pro last season, is threatening to unseat Johnson as the top wideout in the game.
“He had an outstanding first couple of years,” Johnson said. “I’ve been telling him that he has to come over and take the reins.”
While Johnson’s sore right knee kept him out of one game and limited him last week, Green is coming off a six-catch, 103-yard game against Buffalo. Green has 37 catches for 464 yards; Johnson 24 for 337. And both have four touchdowns.
“Green has great leaping ability, a little bit like Calvin,” Schwartz said. “He’s not quite as big as Calvin, but there’s some of the similar dynamic between him and the quarterback where A.J. Green doesn’t have to be open for the ball to get thrown to him. The quarterback trusts him to go up, high-point the ball and take it away from defenders.
“I think the similarity is he’s a guy that doesn’t have to be open to still be able to have the ball thrown to him.”
Lewis sees another similarity — unselfishness.
“They’re selfless as far as they can handle the game where they might only catch three passes and the guys opposite them have seven or eight catches because coverage rolled their way,” Lewis said. “They’re able to go about their job just the same way each and every week, with the same temperament.
“They understand that you play a position where if they want to keep you from catching the football they can, by standing guys around you all day. But the other guys then are working one-on-ones and they have to make it work. Ultimately the team wins and sooner or later, you’ll get your opportunities.”
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has thrown at the Georgia Tech camp, and he and Green were teammates one year at Georgia.
Few know the similarities and differences of these two elite receivers better than he does.
“Both are good in their own right, they’re just different,” Stafford said. “They get the same (defensive) attention, the same coverages and all that stuff. They are just going to beat it differently.”
Johnson, he said, is bigger and more physical. Green has freakish body control in the air.
“We’re just kind of on an even level,” Johnson said. “We’re just so cool (with each other) now — he’s like a brother.”
Johnson continues to make progress with his knee. He has been on the practice field Wednesday and Thursday, though limited both days. He did run skeleton drills with the first team offense on Thursday, which is something he hadn’t been doing.
“It’s definitely coming along,” he said.
“We’re doing a lot of things to get this thing right. It’s definitely getting better.”
We will never know how much better he is because Schwartz doesn’t want the Bengals to find out until Sunday.
“There is a reason I’m such a jerk when it comes to injury information,” Schwartz said. “There is a competitive advantage to knowing exactly what an opponent’s health situation is. Whether he is full speed or not full speed, the opponent will have to wait until Sunday to really find that out.”
Johnson knows the Bengals will make him prove he can do damage against them before they roll extra coverage to him.
“They play a lot of single-high anyway, so I expect that for sure,” he said. “They are definitely going to see what’s going on. We will be ready.”