Cincinnati Bengals rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase spoke to the media for 15 minutes on Monday. The No. 5 overall pick didn’t once shy away from answering questions about his dropped passes in training camp practices and preseason games.
Chase dropped four passes in two of Cincinnati’s three preseason games and said he didn’t accomplish what he was hoping to in his first NFL training camp.
“I know I left a lot of stuff out there, but there's a lot of time for me to get better of course,” Chase said. “I'm not afraid to get better. That's what I'm here for, to put in the work and get better, make the team better, make the organization better, so that's all part of the plan.”
No one could have anticipated a player who entered the league with no history of drops to come to Cincinnati, where he has familiarity with his quarterback Joe Burrow, and struggle to do his job consistently.
Burrow, head coach Zac Taylor and several offensive players never expressed concern for Chase’s inconsistency, rather they continuously reiterated their confidence in the 21-year-old. There’s a reason he was able to not play in one game in the 2020 college football season and was still the first wide receiver taken in the NFL Draft.
“His approach has remained unchanged in terms of he still has a lot of confidence,” Taylor said. "He comes to practice ready to work, he's on top of the details that we're asking him to do, and the rest of it comes with it. I think he's certainly heading in the right direction."
The expectations for Chase in the Bengals’ offense are undoubtedly high and the reason for why his drops have been magnified.
While there’s certainly been a lot of questions regarding Chase’s drops, the good thing is Chase seems to know what’s behind the drops. Now, the question remains: Can he make catches when the games count?
“Lack of focus … I didn't look the ball all the way in, lack of concentration,” Chase said of the reason behind his dropped passes. “Just watching the ball coming into my hands, that's what I lacked and catching and it showed.”
Chase refers to himself as a “perfectionist” and has added things to his daily routine to help him get back on track. He’s started catching 40 tennis balls before practice to work on his hand-eye coordination. After practice, he gets on the jugs machine to catch more passes.
He’s committed to perfecting his craft and isn’t making excuses for himself. Chase knows what his role on the team is and why the Bengals drafted him.
“Just catch the ball,” Chase said. “That’s my job. My only job. Catch the ball.”
It’s not uncommon for wide receivers to go through slumps in which they struggle to catch the ball. Both Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins said it happened to them in their careers.
Chase also hasn’t played in a regular season game since Jan. 14, 2019 as he opted out of the 2020 season. Neither Taylor nor Chase said it’s an excuse for his drops, but the wide receiver did cite it as a potential reason for his inconsistency.
“I don't want to blame it on me sitting on my butt the whole year, but it probably had something to do with it of course,” Chase said. “There's a bigger ball adjustment, so I don't want to make excuses but I just (have to) be a pro and make the catch.”
The Bengals drafted Chase with the vision he would be the explosive playmaker Taylor needs in his offense. Higgins and Boyd put together an impressive 2020 season and the idea of adding Chase to an already potent unit seemed like a no-brainer for Cincinnati.
One of the areas Taylor is looking for Burrow to take the next step in his game is ability to create explosive plays down the field. Chase is expected to be on the end of many of those plays and his ability to do so will be critical to the Bengals’ success.
“To make explosive plays,” Taylor said of Chase’s role. “Those are the reasons, he's a top ten pick, top five pick is for all the reasons. He makes those plays down the field. He's explosive after the catch, (he’s) got a really strong lower body, strong hands. So again, those are expectations we have for him, as he continues to develop, is to attribute all those areas.”