Who is A.J. Green? Bengals dish on (mostly) silent superstar

Star receiver A.J. Green's unselfish attitude has been a force behind the Bengals' 8-0 start, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

CINCINNATI -- You have to watch closely to see, but each of the mainstream commercials A.J. Green has appeared in this past year feature something in common.

In them, the Cincinnati Bengals receiver doesn't open his mouth; not even once.

Don't believe it? Pull up the recent television ads Green has been part of for Beats by Dre, Nike and Champs Sports. He doesn't utter a single sound in any of them.

That's the image most have of the Pro Bowler: silent, stoic, reticent, reserved. That's the way Green likes it, too. He often dodges interviews with reporters in the days leading up to games, only adding to the mystique associated with his relative quiet nature and subdued persona.

While Green may come off to the outside world as an unassuming football player who wants people to know him for only how well he does his job, the people who work with him see a different person. They can see his depth. They know the impact tragedy had on shaping his character. To them, Green is genuine, gregarious, engaging and down-to-earth. One part class clown, one part meticulous grinder, Green's multifaceted personality is one those closest to him appreciate.

"Oh, he talks," Bengals receiver Marvin Jones said, laughing. "He's a guy that once we're all together, he always has something to say."

Green's statements to his teammates typically involve jokes or wisecracks. Receivers coach James Urban calls Green's sense of humor "witty," and the type that blends perfectly with others in the locker room. It helps make him seem more ordinary than his recent $60 million contract extension might initially indicate.

"He's not too loud and not too vocal, he's just a guy who's a normal player," said Green's locker room neighbor, running back Giovani Bernard. "He's not like Mr. Big-Time, I can't talk to anybody. He's not Mr. $60 Million, I don't want to talk to anybody in here."

But even if he now owns the Bengals' highest 2015 salary with a $14.76 million cap charge, Green still apparently has a problem getting his own locker room supplies.

"A.J. always steals my lotion and my soap and stuff, so he's going to have to start paying me for that," Bernard said. "I know he's got the money."

In addition to being a soap and lotion kleptomaniac, Green also is a daily cut-up in the group text that he, Jones, quarterback Andy Dalton, fellow receiver Mohamed Sanu and former Bengals wideout Andrew Hawkins are part of.

"There is some funny stuff in that chat," said Hawkins, a current Browns receiver. "Most everything I say in there, he threatens to screenshot and take it to the media."

Of course, the media-averse Green would never do that.

Green did take to the media a couple of weeks ago with comments Steelers safety Mike Mitchell made during the Bengals' win at Pittsburgh. It was just after Mitchell had knocked the wind out of Jones with a hard pass breakup that at first looked to be a significant injury, when the defensive back walked up to Green and said, "You're next."

"You can kind of sense when he's fired up and ready to turn it on," said Clint Boling, a Bengals guard who also played with Green at Georgia. "If you were a guy that had to go out and play against him, I probably wouldn't say a word to him because he's not going to say a word to you. But if you start jawing at him and he feels like you're stepping over the line, then he's going to turn it up a notch."

In the closing minutes at Pittsburgh, Green hauled in a go-ahead touchdown pass from Dalton that proved to be the game winner.

"Winning is more important to him than stats, contrary to what everybody might think," offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said.

Ask anyone affiliated with the Bengals about that, and they'll agree. Green lacks the requisite selfishness the receiver position has been known for having. In an offense like Cincinnati's, where five players already have more than 20 catches, and the tight end leads in touchdown receptions, unselfishness is a necessary trait.

"When your best player has an attitude and a disposition and a personality like that, it quiets down the diva in everybody," Bengals radio analyst and former offensive lineman Dave Lapham said. "It brings the better qualities and puts away the other things. When he's out working like he works -- it was like that when we played with Anthony Munoz; he was so great, but he worked so hard -- it's like everybody thinks, 'Man, am I doing enough?'

"A.J. sets such a high bar in the way he approaches it every day that it's like that. 'Am I doing enough in the offseason?' That's when everybody starts advancing, for sure."

All season, Jackson has credited Green's infectious unselfishness as one of the reasons why the Bengals (8-0) have had such a strong start.

So where does Green's humility come from? Perhaps a combination of factors. His tragedy-filled childhood and young adulthood was documented by ESPN's E:60 last year, and in this story four years before that. When Green was 4, his brother, Avionce, just five years his senior, was killed in a car accident in which Green and other family members were involved. An aunt was left paralyzed. A.J. walked away unscathed.

Many years later, when Green was preparing for his senior year of high school, he lost his coach and mentor, Louis Mulkey, to an accident of another kind. A firefighter near Green's hometown of Summerville, South Carolina, Mulkey died battling a blaze, leaving Green without another person he had looked up to.

Consider these comments Mulkey's wife, Lauren, made to Lisa Salters in the E:60 piece. You can see how they shaped Green's philosophy as it relates to avoiding the limelight.

"He really would say, 'So what you're A.J. Green, so what you caught the ball. That's your job,' " Lauren Mulkey said, relaying her husband's words. "I think A.J. appreciated just being treated as one of the guys and not being always singled out for his amazing abilities."

Regardless of his past and regardless what his future has in store, that's exactly the way the Bengals treat Green.

Who, then, is A.J. Green?

Apparently he's just an ordinary guy who happens to have extraordinary talent.

"Like he says, 'I'm just a country kid from South Carolina that loves his parents and that loves his family,' " Lapham said. "That's pretty much the fiber and the fabric of him."