CINCINNATI — The chant sounded remarkably familiar, especially to football fans from the Tennessee Valley.
"BeeeeeJaaaay! BeeeeJaaay!" the green-and-gold clad Cheeseheads shouted as Green Bay rookie quarterback B.J. Coleman exited Paul Brown Stadium's football field following Thursday night's 27-13 victory over the host Bengals.
"We love you, BeeeeeJaaay!"
All this for a seventh-round draft pick who has yet to throw a touchdown pass in less than 10 total minutes of action through three exhibition games.
No wonder the McCallie School and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga product said of the Wisconsin town and team that's at least momentarily his home: "I love everything about this place."
No one yet knows if Coleman will make the Packers' roster for the upcoming NFL season. Teams must slice rosters to 75 players by Monday evening, then slash that total to 53 by Friday night.
Even then he could wind up on the eight-man practice squad rather than the 45-man active roster.
"I can't control that," Coleman said. "Some teams keep three quarterbacks. Some keep two. I just work as hard as I can every day in practice and try not to worry about it."
The exhibition numbers have been nothing to encourage Coleman to sign a long-term apartment lease. Through three games heading into Thursday night's exhibition finale against visiting Kansas City, Coleman has completed five of 11 passes for 44 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
But all the Packers may have needed to learn about UTC's all-time leader in touchdown passes may have come during a two-minute drill a couple of days before the Bengals contest.
On the final play of that drill, the clock under four seconds and a Pack defense consisting of first- and second-teamers poised to smother the rookie QB, Coleman hit fellow rookie Jarrett Boykin for a touchdown from 8 yards out.
"As you evolve in quarterback play, to be able to convert in the two-minute drill is definitely a big shot in the arm," Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said after that score. "[B.J.] did a good job of taking what the defense gave him. It was well done."
Added McCarthy after Thursday's game: "B.J.'s doing well. You see him getting better every day. If he keeps working hard, he'll be just fine."
Coleman said his footwork has improved the most under Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo and offensive coordinator Tom Clements, the former Notre Dame QB great.
"[McAdoo's] definitely brought in a mobility piece," he said. "They're trying to bring more athleticism to my feet."
If they're successful, Coleman said, they will have found a way for him to move more like his father, Bryon, who routinely clocked 4.6-4.7 40-yard dash times at UTC despite playing offensive guard.
So how has B.J. been timed so far with the Packers?
"We're not talking about that," he said with a laugh.
What he's only too happy to talk about is his weight, which has dipped from 236 pounds before camp began to under 230 today.
"Lots of vegetables and fresh fruit," Coleman said. "They felt like dropping the weight might make me a little quicker. I just want to try to do everything they ask. This is a business and they're the boss. I can promise you this: I'm a completely different player than before I was drafted."
He may be a different, stronger player, but to his teammates he remains the same gentleman we've known for years in the Scenic City.
"Oh, he's definitely a Southern guy," said rookie running back Marc Tyler, whose father Wendell played in the NFL. "Everything's 'Yes, sir' and 'No, sir' with B.J. He's just a really nice guy."
Every day since training camp began he has ridden a youngster's bike -- "It's the same kid every day, always holding up a No. 9 (Coleman's jersey number) sign" -- from the practice field to the locker room while the boy carries the player's gear.
"It's just an awesome experience," Coleman said of the Packers tradition that began in the early 1960s. "It's such a great way for the whole city of Green Bay to interact with us. It's very much a college-like feel here. Tailgating begins at 7 a.m. Everybody's always dressed in Packers colors. The atmosphere's very much like a big SEC game."
Thursday night was at least a little like a UTC scrimmage, however. Especially when Coleman went back to throw with about four minutes left on the clock and former Mocs teammate Chris Lewis-Harris playing cornerback for the Bengals.
"I was going to run it," Coleman said. "But then I saw Chris out there and I knew I had to throw it."
Countered a grinning Lewis-Harris in the Bengals locker room afterward: "I really wanted to intercept that pass, but B.J. threw it too high. I told him he should have tested me. He told me, 'If I'd really wanted to, I could have thrown it in there for a completion.' He probably could have, too."
Said Coleman: "I'll let Chris say what he wants to. I'm just glad he's doing so well. And if he doesn't make it there, he's got lots of film to show other teams. I think he was on the field the whole second half against us."
If the Packers choose just two QBs to be on the field for active duty, Coleman may almost never dress this coming season. But that doesn't mean anyone's ignoring him.
"Aaron Rodgers has been great," he said of the former Super Bowl MVP QB. "He's always quizzing me, always asking me stuff like, 'Do you like that route adjustment?' or 'Did you see that read?' We sit one chair apart in the meeting room, and he's really helped me."
So has former Kentucky star Randall Cobb, a Knoxville-area native who has opened his home to Coleman.
"We played against each other twice when I was at McCallie and he was at Alcoa," Coleman said. "He won them both, but they were good games. Randall couldn't have been nicer or more helpful since I've been here. He's been a great friend."
To help return some of that Southern hospitality, Bryon and Anita Coleman will drop in for the Kansas City game with some home-cooked goodies, much as Anita cooked a huge spaghetti dinner for B.J., Cobb and Co. a few weeks ago.
But it's something Coleman's rookie buddy Tyler said that is surely giving Packers coaches food for thought as the exhibition season comes to a close.
"B.J. just has that leader's mentality," Tyler said. "He's very vocal in the huddle. He comes in there and says, 'Let's go, boys. Let's move the ball. Let's score here.' He's completely in charge. You can tell he's a born leader. and you don't see that very often."
At least you don't unless you've watched Coleman work his magic at McCallie and UTC much of the last decade.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...
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