Ja’Marr Chase’s struggles in his first training camp with the Cincinnati Bengals are well documented. The rookie has struggled to catch the ball during practice and in his first two preseason games.
Fortunately for Chase, he spends every day with two teammates who know what it takes to get through a rough patch. That’s fellow wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. It’s not uncommon for wide receivers to deal with their fair share of drops at some point in their career, Boyd and Higgins admitted on Monday.
There’s a reason why Chase’s teammates and coaches haven’t expressed the slightest of doubt. Boyd seems to think what’s going on with Chase isn’t physical, it’s mental.
“He knows what to do,” Boyd said. “He knows how to run his routes. He’s winning … it’s just he’s overthinking at the catch point. We know and he knows what type of guy he is. It’s more so the mental side. I think he’ll get over that, he’ll start making more plays because we’ll continue to go to him.”
Things appear to be trending in the right direction for Chase. The former LSU star didn’t drop a pass during Monday’s practice after a tough outing on Sunday. The Bengals are using the days leading up to their final preseason game as a mock game week. If Chase can continue to put together a strong week of practice, it could go a long way for his confidence level come Sept. 12.
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor has never wavered in his expectations or confidence for Chase. Following Cincinnati’s preseason loss to the Washington Football team in which he had three drops, Taylor made no excuses for his star wide receiver while also expressing optimism.
"By no means are we down on Ja'Marr," Taylor said. "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."
What’s different about Chase’s situation over Boyd or Higgins’ is when they were drafted. Both Boyd and Higgins were picked in the second round, Chase was taken as the No. 5 overall pick.
And while it might not seem like there should be much disparity between a first and second-round pick, there is. Expectations for players drafted in the first 32 picks are undoubtedly high. Social media also adds another element of pressure.
“When you’re the first-round pick, top-10, all eyes are on you,” Boyd said. “You’re a stud in this league. You’re looked at like a true No. 1 at that point. There’s so much expectation. I think it’s a little bit more pressure on the guys who get picked first.”
Chase isn’t a stranger to the big stage. He was the best wide receiver in college football in 2019 and played lights out in LSU’s 42-25 win over Clemson in the College Football Playoff national championship. His tape was so impressive he didn’t have to take one snap last year and was still the first wide receiver drafted. The 21-year-old opted out of the 2020 season and is getting re-acclimated to practicing with a team every day.
It’s also rare a rookie gets through their first season without any setbacks. Higgins recounted the costly drop he had last year in the Bengals’ Wee 3 tie with the Philadelphia Eagles. It comes down to how a player rebounds and that’s something Higgins did particularly well. Higgins caught 67 passes for 908 yards and six touchdowns in 14 starts.
“At the end of the day he has to catch the ball,” Higgins said. “We are going to stay on him. Can’t let it get to him. Everybody has drops. I had a few drops last year. Just have to move on them and get better and work on it after practice.”
If Chase follows Boyd and Higgins’ advice, Cincinnati has the potential to own one of the most dangerous wide receiver trios in the NFL. The role Chase will play in ensuring it happens remains one of the important questions the team faces heading into the season.