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Tate has early lead as Bengals compete for WR spot

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CINCINNATI (AP)

Armon Binns didn't have to learn the Bengals' system all by himself. He had a companion in the same situation.

Like Binns, receiver Brandon Tate was learning things on the fly last season. Neither caught a pass in a game. Both spent a lot of time in practice on the scout team, imitating the opponents' receivers to help the defense.

They had so much in common that they became close.

''We were with each other with the `look' team against the defense, so we were always hyping each other up, trying to make plays,'' Binns said on Wednesday. ''It was kind of the same deal. But this time, it's for real.''

This time, they're competing for the same job.

Tate is listed first on the depth chart when the Bengals (No. 14 in the AP Pro32) open their preseason on Friday night against the New York Jets at Paul Brown Stadium. It's the first chance for the Bengals' inexperienced group of receivers to start sorting itself out.

Finding a complement to receiver A.J. Green is one of Cincinnati's priorities in the preseason. The Bengals have little experience at receiver with Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell gone from last year.

Andrew Hawkins led the group of backup receivers last season with 23 catches in 13 games. The 5-foot-7 receiver is trying to win a role.

Like Tate and Binns, Hawkins spent the first part of last season just learning his way around. The Bengals signed him during training camp after St. Louis waived him.

''I don't know if there's one big thing I've tried to improve on,'' Hawkins said on Wednesday. ''It's little things, like noticing the coverage earlier, getting on the same page with the quarterback.

''As a receiver, I think that's the No. 1 thing. Whether you're fast, slower, taller or smaller, if you're on the same page with the quarterback, you can elevate your game.''

Tate has the most NFL experience in the group. He played for New England in 2009-10 and caught 24 passes for 432 yards and three touchdowns. He was a kickoff returner for the Patriots and quickly moved into that role with the Bengals after they claimed him off waivers at the start of the season.

Tate returned 42 kickoffs last season, averaging nearly 24 yards, and had 51 punt returns for an average of about 11 yards, with one touchdown. He didn't get to catch a pass.

This year, he gets the first shot at a starting receiver spot as well.

''That doesn't mean anything,'' he said. ''There's a lot of competition ahead.''

Binns was a star at the University of Cincinnati. He signed with Jacksonville as an undrafted free agent and was waived in September. He signed onto Cincinnati's practice squad and got Chad Johnson's old jersey No. 85, but wasn't on the active roster as the Bengals won a wild-card spot. He was added to the roster for a first-round playoff loss at Houston but didn't catch a pass.

By the time training camp opened, his college city felt a lot like home again.

''I'm real comfortable,'' Binns said. ''I know a lot of guys around here. I'm not the quiet kid that nobody knows just sitting around here. I'm real comfortable with the system, the quarterbacks. I'm on the same page with them. It's been a good transition.''

For now, he's No. 2 on the depth chart.

''I'm not really worried about that,'' Binns said. ''I think I'm going to get an opportunity to play.''

NOTES: Coach Marvin Lewis said top draft pick CB Dre Kirkpatrick is improving. Kirkpatrick hurt his left knee before the start of camp and hasn't been cleared for practice. He's working out on the side of the field. ''Dre Kirkpatrick is doing very, very well,'' Lewis said. ... Tate is listed as the top punt and kickoff returner again, with Hawkins as the backup at both. Hawkins has never returned punts. ''Repetition gets you more comfortable, so we're going into the first preseason game and I'll get an opportunity to work on the punt return game,'' Hawkins said. ''I'm a work in progress. I'm new to it.''

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Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Tagged: Bengals, Brandon Tate, Andrew Hawkins, Armon Binns, Dre Kirkpatrick

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