Bengals’ A.J. Green might not have anything to prove, but he trained like it

CINCINNATI — Based on how A.J. Green sprinted, lifted, and attacked the past offseason, his longtime trainer got the sense something was different for the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver.

Curtis Winters, a 61-year-old former bodybuilder whom his 32-year-old client refers to as “Mr. Curtis,” said he has worked with Green off and on since he entered the league in 2011. For years, Green has traveled to a strip mall in an Atlanta suburb to train at Winters’ nondescript, “‘80’s-style gym” located between a laundromat and a dollar store.

But this offseason, Green wasn’t there to merely train. He was on a mission. Despite injuries that have kept him off the field in recent years, including the entire 2019 season, Green was working to show he was still one of NFL’s best wide receivers.

“Even though I don’t think he has anything to prove, I think he wanted to prove to everybody he is the person they thought he was originally,” Winters said.

When healthy, Green has been one of NFL’s most productive receivers. Green ranked fourth in the league in receiving yards from his rookie year in 2011 to the end of the 2018 season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

However, injuries have plagued him in recent years. Between a toe injury and an ankle injury that cost him the entire 2019 season, Green has missed 23 of Cincinnati’s past 24 games. It’s a major reason the Bengals again declined to give him a long-term deal this offseason and opted for a one-year franchise tag worth $18.2 million.

Everything Green did this offseason was with intent.

He started working out with Winters a week after the season ended. Winters promptly started testing Green’s left ankle that required surgery after the first practice of the 2019 season. They did drills such as stability holds and single-leg box jumps to see how the ankle was going to respond.

“Within a few weeks, I realized his ankle was as strong as it’s ever been,” Winters said.

Winters incorporated his old-school approach into Green’s regimen. They went to a local high school stadium for sprints — 200 meters, 300s, 110s. Eventually, they included resistance runs up a 55-yard hill at the stadium. Green even bought a Peloton this offseason so he could get in extra conditioning work.

But this offseason isn’t just about getting strong and building confidence in the ankle. It’s also about doing everything he can to maximize his remaining years in the NFL.

With that in mind, he added a new-school approach to his offseason plan. Green linked up with Reza Hesam, a former acquaintance from his days at Georgia who co-founded Adapt Physical Therapy, which focuses on injury prevention in addition to working on performance. Hesam said they worked on Green’s body control and landing when he comes down, which is a staple of Adapt’s training with their NBA and NFL clients.

“We did more stuff in testing those ankles, strengthen those ankles, strengthen these toes, learning how to land better,” Green said on July 17. “Just little things like that I didn’t do in previous years.”

Whether it was at the facility with Future’s music bumping in the background or at a nearby park close to their homes north of downtown Atlanta, Green worked out with Adapt for five days during sessions that lasted up to two hours.

Green didn’t need to tell anyone what was on his mind throughout the workouts. As he continued to show up each early for each workout and go through the drills without turning down reps, Green’s mindset was clear.

“He doesn’t need to verbalize it,” said Hesam, who also worked with the Falcons’ Calvin Ridley and the Chiefs’ Mecole Hardman this offseason. “You can just tell. He is very competitive. You can tell he has a chip on his shoulder.”

After signing his franchise tag on July 17, Green initially said he wasn’t one to get caught up in where he ranks among the league’s top receivers. But eventually, he admitted he’s ready for the chatter to stop once he gets back on the field.

“I’m tired of seeing everything — ‘A.J. should be a top-10 if he would’ve played,'” Green said. “All right, let’s get the season started and we can get this thing settled.”

Green, who turned 32 on July 31, believes he has at least four elite years left in his career considering how good his body feels after this offseason. If the season is played and everything goes well, Green could position himself for a long-term deal with Cincinnati, where he could envision himself retiring.

When Green started working out with Winters several years ago, one of the end goals was to have a career that puts him in the Hall of Fame. Recent injuries have hampered that progress. But after the work Green did this offseason, he and those around him believe he is on the verge of showing why he belongs in Canton.

“That’s still the mission to this day,” Winters said. “To be that receiver that when his career is over, that we’ll be there at that ceremony to receive that jacket.”

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