Ross has played in just 24 of 48 possible games the last three years, but gradually has showed his potential. The Bengals didn’t pick up his fifth-year option for next year, so he’s in the final season of his rookie deal and needs to show he can be consistent and stay healthy.
In 2018, he proved efficient in the red zone, scoring seven touchdowns on just 21 catches with 58 targets in a career-high 13 games. Last year, he was starting to show he could be effective between the 20s as well, as he got off to a hot start with 270 yards and three touchdowns over the first two games only to suffer a freak sternoclavicular joint injury in Week 4 at Pittsburgh. He ended up returning eight weeks later and finishing with 28 catches for 506 yards and three touchdowns.
Now knowing he has to earn a new contract, Ross is especially carrying a chip on his shoulder.
“I always think about that, but I also think it’s 100 percent on me,” Ross said. “The more I take care of my body, the better I feel and I notice that. It’s OK to take two hours out of your day to do some self improvement. I met a lot of good people this offseason and I learned a lot of things about my body just being with a chiropractor, being with some PT guys back in California and my city in Long Beach. Now I do some of those things and they help me going forward and I feel a lot better through the days when I’m working out then I used to feel. And I’m a lot smarter. I will say that.”
Ross said the coaches and front office were understanding about him having to leave camp, but he made sure to get work in while away – even when it meant 2 a.m. runs in a park nearby that probably left him looking suspicious to any passersby. He said the first couple days he didn’t want to leave his son’s side, but as he and the boy’s mom started to feel better, he would sneak out at night to work out.
Although he knew it was a risk caring for his son, Ross did take precautions to try to avoid getting COVID-19 himself. That was the most difficult part, he said.
“I just wanted to see him get well,” Ross said. “That was the most important part. The stressful part was me having to wear a mask, not being able to hold him, kiss him and let him know that I’m here for him. Just not being able to physically touch him and things like that.”
Ross said it felt good being back with the team after almost two weeks away, but he did feel the effects of being out of football-related activities for so long.
The speedy receiver still believes he can establish a rhythm with rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, as he really only missed four days of training camp. The team was limited to walkthroughs and conditioning before helmets came on Aug. 16, and players put on pads for the first time Tuesday.
Ross had worked out with Burrow three or four times in California during the offseason, and they were practicing timing of throws and routes before Ross left to care for his son. For Ross, the biggest concern is just staying healthy and showing his value to the team.
“For one, I need to play all 16 games,” Ross said. “I need to stay healthy and I need to make plays in every single game. It’s on me to do that. The thing about it, I wouldn’t have picked up my option, either. It guarantees (pay) if you get hurt. I’ve been injured every single year. That’s not a bad decision by them. And now it’s on me to show them why I should be here longer. That’s how I look at it.”