Bengals’ first-round pick eager to put preseason struggles behind him

Cincinnati Bengals' Ja'Marr Chase (1) makes a catch against Chidobe Awuzie in a drill during an NFL football practice in Cincinnati, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Caption
Cincinnati Bengals' Ja'Marr Chase (1) makes a catch against Chidobe Awuzie in a drill during an NFL football practice in Cincinnati, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

CINCINNATI -- Ja’Marr Chase knows he left a lot to be desired during the preseason, but he’s ready to show he can be the player the Cincinnati Bengals expected when they drafted him fifth overall this spring.

The former LSU star wide receiver struggled with drops throughout training camp and finished the preseason dropping four consecutive passes thrown his way, including his lone target in the finale at home with no defenders near him.

Chase said he’s never had a stretch like that in his career, which included a national championship season with second-year Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow in 2019. Cincinnati is counting on Chase being a big part of a more explosive offense this season, Zac Taylor’s third as head coach, and that begins Sunday when the Bengals host the Minnesota Vikings in the regular-season opener at Paul Brown Stadium.

“I know I left a lot of stuff out there (in the preseason), but there’s a lot of time for me to get better, of course,” Chase said Monday in his first interview with media since Aug. 11. “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.”

After the draft, Chase exuded confidence, saying he wanted to break every record in the book with the Bengals, and that carried into his start with the organization in the spring and in training camp when he stated he wanted to top 1,000 yards receiving this season. He and fellow starting receivers Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins all have said they believe it’s possible for the trio to reach that feat.

Even after his recent struggles, Chase says his confidence hasn’t been shaken.

“I had confidence fully coming in, and my confidence never went anywhere,” Chase said. “I got hard on myself because I like to get hard on myself, and I’m a perfectionist. I want stuff to be perfect. I want stuff to be my way, of course. But when I first got here, and I was getting on myself too much, Joe (Burrow), told me that, so that helped me just to calm down a bit. And I haven’t been on myself so much because I know I can make those plays. That’s the only reason why I was frustrated.”

Taylor said he doesn’t feel a need to develop a “Plan B” in case the drop issues carry into the season.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Ja’Marr, and I see the way that he prepares in the building during practice, so I don’t have those concerns,” Taylor said. :And we’ll just move forward and I expect great things from him.”

Chase blames his drop issues on a “lack of focus” and not looking the ball all the way into his hands before look ahead to the run after catch.

The one against Miami in the preseason finale was especially mind-boggling to anyone that watched, coming on what was supposed to be a simple bubble screen on the second of three scripted plays for Burrow and the first team offense.

“I would just say it’s a lack of concentration,” Chase said. “That’s all it was. If you look back at it, I jumped in the air when the ball got to me. My eyes weren’t concentrating on the ball. I didn’t keep still, so that makes my eye adjustment for the ball move around and now my eyes get lazy where the balls coming in from.”

Players talking about moving on to the next play after making mistakes, but Chase didn’t get another chance and it will be two weeks after the fact when he gets another opportunity in a game setting Sunday.

Asked if that feeling of disappointment still lingers, Chase said he put it out of his mind as soon as he got off the field to join Burrow on the bench.

“Forget about it,” Chase said. “It’s one play. Can’t go back, can’t fix it. Literally have to move on and make the next play. Once I dropped it and got off the field, that was it. I couldn’t be on the sideline mad. I had to cheer the rest of my teammates on.”

Chase has been working with tennis balls to try to improve his concentration and reaction time, something that might have been lost temporarily during the 2020 season he sat out at LSU.

There’s also some adjustment to make with a different ball in the NFL, which is bigger and doesn’t have the two white stripes like the college ball. Chase said with the ball being all brown with just six white “strings,” it’s more difficult to see coming in from the tip of the point.

“I don’t want to make excuses but I just gotta be a pro and make the catch,” Chase said, noting he’s probably caught 5,000 tennis balls, 40 a day.

Chase spoke to media for 15 minutes and never wavered on the mindset he will be fine. Taylor doesn’t doubt that either.

“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. So again, I think he’s certainly heading the right direction.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Vikings at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 1047