The Bengals' secret weapon


Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
GEORGETOWN, Ky. -- There is a player flying under the radar that the Cincinnati Bengals' coaching staff really likes.

He wears No. 10. He has great size at 6-foot-3. He has quickness and reliable hands.

This receiver has made plays since minicamps and organized team activities, yet most NFL observers have no idea who he is.

"I love it," Bengals receiver Marcus Maxwell said with a smile. "I like when people don't know who I am. When I think about that, it makes me work that much harder. I want people to say, 'Who is that guy?'"

The fourth-year journeyman from the University of Oregon has one career reception but is quietly catching on in Cincinnati. He was cut three times in three years while fighting for a roster spot with the San Francisco 49ers. He also spent a year playing overseas in Hamburg, Germany.

But Maxwell has made such an impression in Cincinnati this offseason that he's currently working with the first-team offense. The Bengals cut talented but trouble receiver Chris Henry in the spring and starter Chad Johnson is recovering from right ankle surgery, which has given Maxwell an opportunity to show what he can do.

"We're counting on him to fill some roles," said Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. "Really, the ball is in his court. I think, as we speak right now, with Chad (Johnson) not here, he's the starting X [receiver] behind Chad. As the year goes on, he will determine his own role."

The No. 3 receiver spot is wide open for the Bengals. Maxwell is currently in competition with a pair of rookies in Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell, in addition to holdovers Glenn Holt and Antonio Chatman.

So far, Maxwell is winning the battle. Minicamps and training camps haven't seemed too big for him as Maxwell has been one of the steadiest players, including making several nice catches on Monday.

Maxwell says this is his first legitimate chance to make an NFL roster in four years and is "honored" that he's doing it while catching balls from quarterback Carson Palmer and lining up next to T.J. Houshmandzadeh with the starting unit.

If Maxwell makes the team and produces, he would be one of the biggest surprise stories in the AFC North this season.

"It's been a rollercoaster, but it's been good," Maxwell said. "You learn from the ups and downs that you go through. I was struggling to find a team last year and luckily I had a workout here. I worked hard for these workouts and it's paying off."