MASON, Ohio -- Adam Jones' reputation follows him as closely as the tattoos blanketing his upper body.
Stories of incident after incident with the law define the perception of his NFL career. Strip clubs, arrests and guns hold the conversation well before punt returns, interceptions and tackles.
A pinball journey with pit stops in Tennessee, Dallas and Roger Goodell's doghouse came to rest last season in Cincinnati. Jones said the right words. He focused on football. Before a season-ending neck injury in Week 7, he provided a pleasant surprise for the disappointing Bengals.
|Adam Jones' workout attire illustrates the informal nature of the Bengals' gathering. (Cincinnati Enquirer)|
But anyone concerned about Jones' location hasn't been paying close enough attention. Or at least, not visiting Ignition Athletics Performance Group facility in the Cincinnati suburb of Mason.
"I never left," Jones said on Tuesday, following a player-organized workout with the defense featuring roughly two dozen Bengals at the facility. Another workout, featuring two dozen more Bengals, took place across town at the University of Cincinnati.
Many of the Bengals flew in from their homes across the U.S. for the weeklong event, but Jones is among about 10 Cincinnati players who have already been working out together under the supervision of Clif Marshall, the performance director at Ignition and a former Bengals strength assistant.
Jones didn't have to be there. None of them did. But even if Jones couldn't talk to his coaches, he wanted to deliver a message.
"This is where I want to be," said Jones, entering the final season of a two-year deal signed last summer. "I don't want to be back in Atlanta. I do love Dallas, but this is where I want to play football at probably for the rest of my career. I am just trying to show the people at the stadium and my teammates and the city of Cincinnati, this is where Adam Jones wants to be."
Surprisingly, to those who've read headlines dominated by a quarterback uninterested being in Cincinnati, very few Bengals share Carson Palmer's feelings. Most follow along with Jones. At least, judging by appearances at this week's workouts. Between the offense and defense, 47 players made their way to town for Day 1 of training. Five of eight draft picks arrived, including Andy Dalton, the second-round pick and clubhouse leader to start at quarterback.
Defensive tackle Domata Peko and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth led the way in organizing the players, even going so far as to put up rookies and practice squad player in hotels since they are yet to cash in financially.
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Some equipment was offered up by a local high school. Peko and his wife stapled together playbooks. Michael Johnson wore a yellow mesh helmet cover over top of his dreadlocked hair.
This was far from a Wednesday practice at Paul Brown Stadium. But it probably means more when viewing through the long-term lens of this franchise in transition.
Not only did players show enough commitment to come to Cincinnati voluntarily, they joined the group of about 10 working out together nearly every day at Ignition. Rey Maualuga, Jerome Simpson, Bobbie Williams, Robert Geathers, Peko and Jones are among the core group. It's one growing larger seemingly by the day.
"Me and Rey and Jerome were the first ones to come up here seven or eight weeks ago, we started spreading the word and more people came," Peko said. "Now it's getting bigger and bigger. It's really important to get guys and keep it together. It's a team, it is not a one-man sport. You got to keep that camaraderie and build that chemistry."
A common misunderstanding about the demise of the 2010 Bengals was that the locker room fell apart and caused the drop from first to worst in the AFC North. Coaches and players alike swore by the central leadership and that showed in the late-season surge this team is basing its 2011 hopes on.
The impressive turnout for this week proved the point once more. Evan Brandon Johnson showed up, despite possibly being an unrestricted free agent depending on what CBA rules the league operates under. The dedication didn't elude Marshall, who stood in the middle of Tuesday's workout running drills and facilitating the program -- just as he has done since March with the smaller group of players.
"These NFL players, they don't have to be here," Marshall said. "This is not a mandatory situation. The feeling I get is they want to be here. They want to be as one unit and training together and running together and lifting together. At the end of the day the NFL is such a business, right now, you are seeing this is for the love of the game, the love of teammates."
Temporarily, they are changing the conversation -- from an off-the-field past, from Carson Palmer, from the lockout. They are returning the focus to the structure of football amid a landscape lacking any of it.
"You got a lot of teams who are at home or on the beach, not really worrying about football," Jones said. "As you see, we are missing one or two guys and everybody else is here. I think it's a great time to get the guys back in the city of Cincinnati, to let them know we are here and this is what we love to do."