Despite opting out of the 2020 college football season, Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase was still the first player selected at his position in the 2021 NFL Draft, a product of his elite playmaking skills and acceleration.
With an opportunity to reunite with former LSU quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow in Cincinnati, it appeared that Chase would provide a much-needed boost to the team’s offense. That could still be the case, but Chase is yet to find a rhythm on the field.
Through the Bengals’ first two preseason games, the No. 5 pick in the draft has recorded just one reception for 16 yards. On Friday against the Washington Football Team, Chase had three drops on all three of his targets, including two that could have kept drives alive on third down.
According to Enquirer Sports reporter Kelsey Conway, Chase followed that performance with two more drops in the Bengals’ Sunday afternoon practice. She also reported that Chase had no drops in Monday’s practice.
Despite those issues, Bengals coach Zac Taylor said before Monday’s session that he doesn’t think Chase is “short on confidence.”
“Guys are building him up,” Taylor told Jay Morrison of The Athletic. “Just talking to (fellow wide receiver Tyler Boyd) and all these guys, these guys all struggled with coming in as a rookie. The expectations are so high that you expect him to be a star right out the gate. But it takes work. You gotta put in the work.
“That consistency comes over time, and by no means are we down on Ja’Marr. He’s just going through some of the things rookies go through in training camp, and we expect him to improve over the course of this week.”
Still, the question begs to be asked: Are Chase’s drops a concern?
The 2019 Fred Biletnikoff winner had almost no struggles with loose hands during his final season with the Tigers, according to Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic. Citing statistics from Pro Football Focus, Dehner said Chase had just five drops in 2019 on 118 targets. However, three of those came on passes ranging from one to nine yards.
On Aug. 10, Chase told Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson that he has to “take it slow” in terms of learning a next-level offense. Combined with returning to high-level football competition after sitting out for a year, Chase said he wasn’t “going to be so fast getting back to my normal self.”
“It’s all mental,” Chase said. “It’s all mental right now.”
Thankfully for Chase, he has resources around him that he can utilize. Along with Burrow, tight end Thaddeus Moss was also one of Chase’s teammates at LSU and has been especially encouraging with his development.
“Thad just told me to relax,” Chase told Hobson. “’Rome wasn’t built in a day.’ That’s exactly what he told me. ‘Keep a level head.’
“(Burrow) was saying how we both were out for a year and we have to come back completely different, stronger, faster. The main thing is about being on the same time and getting our stuff together.”
That process is not a quick one, something that former first-team All-Pro wideout Dez Bryant mentioned in a tweet on Chase’s performance on Friday.
It is still the preseason, so Chase has time to refine his schematic fluency of Cincinnati’s offense and put himself in a position to succeed during the regular season. His coaches and teammates have expressed confidence in his ability to recover.
However, there is no doubt that Chase’s progress will be monitored more closely, given his status and expectations from Taylor.
“We really were excited that he was available,” Taylor said after Chase was drafted in April. “It gives us a chance to add some explosiveness to our team and to our offense. I’m excited to see him hopefully score a bunch of touchdowns for us.”
Chase and the Bengals will have one more preseason game Aug. 29 against the Dolphins before opening their season Sept. 12 against the Vikings. Burrow has not played in either of Cincinnati’s preseason contests after recovering from a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee.
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