Chase says he’s motivated to have a better training camp than 2021

CINCINNATI -- Ja’Marr Chase received arguably the loudest cheers of anyone on the Cincinnati Bengals roster anytime he caught the ball or was shown on the JumboTron at Paul Brown Stadium during “Back Together Saturday.”

A large crowd of fans chanted his name at the end of training camp Friday, trying to get his attention for the post-practice autographs and drawing enough attention that his teammates paused to turn and see what caused such commotion.

Chase took the league by storm during an Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign and played a key role in the team’s AFC North title and run to the Super Bowl, but he’s focused on taking the next step in Year 2.

“I just want to do better than I did last year,” Chase said Saturday. “I know that’s gonna be hard, especially in Year 2. Everyone’s contemplating on some sophomore slump and stuff like that, but I’m just trying to be myself and produce for the team.”

The concept of a “sophomore slump” was something Chase said he had never heard of until a news reporter mentioned it to him earlier this year.

Chase caught 81 passes for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns during the 2021 regular season, while sharing targets with fellow standout receivers Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Repeating that will be a challenge, but he’s eying more this year.

The former LSU standout and 2021 first-round draft pick said he hasn’t written out his goals for this season yet and isn’t ready to share even his initial thoughts on what he hopes to individually accomplish, but he has good reason for expecting better in 2022.

For one, Chase feels better at the start of training camp than he did a year ago. He doesn’t expect to be answering questions about dropped passes this time.

“I am 100 percent sure it will be different,” he said. “That always kept me motivated the whole season. I think I’m more motivated than last year, especially with that stuff I went through coming into the season.

“I’m not trying to be seen like that ever again. I don’t know where that came from. And I was off a whole year (in 2020), so I’m already in rhythm with stuff going on, so I feel much better.”

Chase spent the offseason preparing for what he expects to be another long season, focusing on conditioning at the track.

As a result, he ended up dropping five pounds of weight but said he plans to get back to 205 pounds, where he’s been every season since his freshman year of college when he was at 200.

“I didn’t work on the field as much as I wanted to, but definitely made sure I got in shape,” Chase said.

Chase is hoping the offense gets off to a faster start this year. He’s expecting the new offensive line to make a big difference for Joe Mixon especially, which could open things up in the passing game more.

Defenses already tried to adjust to Chase last year and there’s “only so much more they could do” this season.

“If they rotate the coverage, then we’re gonna have Tee (Higgins) and TB (Tyler Boyd), you know, what I’m saying, and Mix (Joe Mixon),” Chase said. “So, like there’s a whole bunch of different things we could do now. We just got a new line, so the holes should be open a lot more for Mix. It’s a lot more they have to adjust to now.”

That’s partly why he’s not worried about a “sophomore slump.” He doesn’t believe in a drop-off between Year 1 and 2 because it would just mean opposing teams are adjusting, he said, and they’ve already tried that.

Chase has looked smooth so far in camp and pleasing the fans in the process. On Saturday during wide receiver drills, he caught a deep ball, then tossed the ball in the stands to do a little passing back and forth with some fans.

“I’m just enjoying the moment,” he said. “Living in a moment, enjoying it because I know when I was younger, I didn’t have a chance to do this, and I know I can probably change somebody’s life that fast. So, I’m just showing as much love as I can around these times, living in the moment and enjoying the process.”

NOTES: Nose tackle D.J. Reader had the day off Saturday, but he watched practice from the sideline. Tight end Mitchell Wilcox was back to work after being held out the past two days, and wide receiver Mike Thomas (left ankle) and defensive end Jeff Gunter (left knee), who were both tripped up in practice Friday, participated as well. Quarterback Joe Burrow still hasn’t been seen at the facility, though his car has been in the parking lot each day. Slot receiver Pooka Williams and right tackle La’el Collins, who is on the Non-Football Injury list with a back issue, also were missing Saturday.

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