For the last six weeks Mario Alford has been hearing people talking about wide receiver being the most glaring need the Cincinnati Bengals have going into this week’s NFL Draft.
And while Alford, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound wide receiver, doesn’t agree with the assessment, he’s not troubled by it either.
“I didn’t play much last year, so those people out there haven’t seen me play any,” Alford said Monday as the Bengals began the second week of voluntary workouts at Paul Brown Stadium.
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“We’ll see,” Alford added. “I just can’t wait to get out there and show them what I can do.”
The Bengals drafted Alford in the seventh round last year, but the West Virginia product only appeared in one game last year, catching one pass for 15 yards in a 37-3 win at Cleveland in Week 13.
With Marvin Jones leaving for Detroit and Mohamed Sanu signing with Atlanta, the opportunity exists for Alford to get more playing time in 2016.
The Bengals knew Alford was fast when they drafted him. He ran 40-yard dashes of 4.27 and 4.32 at his Pro Day last spring.
But running fast is one thing. Playing fast will be the key to whether Alford not only sticks around but finds a way to be active on game days.
“We have to have a spring out of him where when we watch him play it says, ‘I know exactly what I’m doing, I’m going a million miles an hour and I’m fearless and I catch everything around me,’” new offensive coordinator Ken Zampese said of Alford during the NFL Scouting Combine.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing him make a big jump in his play speed, play after play,” Zampese added. “And the consistency of technique, the consistency of the hands. He’s certainly got a good amount of skill to do all that.”
Alford went from playing 1,015 snaps and leading the Big 12 with 11 touchdown catches as a senior at WVU to being on the inactive list in 15 of 16 games last year and playing just five snaps during the only game he dressed.
“I feel like I can play with anybody,” he said. “I know who I am as a player and I know what I can do. I feel like if I would’ve got more chances, I would have proven to everybody what I can do.”
While not getting those chances wasn’t an easy adjustment, Alford said it helped knowing other players on the Bengals roster went through the same thing, essentially redshirted during the rookie seasons.
“It’ just the way it works,” he said. “I don’t really know inside scoop but they say we don’t really play rookies unless it’s special teams, in terms of offense, defense. Unless you are A.J. Green and come in first round you will immediately play.”
Even first-rounders aren’t exempt. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard, the team’s first-round pick in 2014 whose locker is next to Alford’s, played just five percent of the defensive snaps as a rookie, while 2012 first-round corner Dre Kirkpatrick was in for four percent of the plays during his first season.
“Me and (Dennard) talked last week about it,” Alford said. “He asked if I was ready. He had a couple older heads in front of him and he was first round, so just get through it. Our time is coming. I think this is my time this year.”
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