Many teams across the NFL last year employed a pass-catching tight end that was crucial to their passing game. The Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints, both Super Bowl teams often used their dynamic tight ends to get to that stage, and other AFC playoff teams followed suit, but not the Bengals. In fact, since Bengal offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski has been with the team, Cincinnati has never featured much of a receiving threat at tight end. The last time the team addressed the position with any kind of notable name was when they signed Reggie Kelly way back in 2003. Yet all of that is expected to change for the Bengals in 2010 thanks to the addition of their first-round pick, Jermaine Gresham.
Leading up to the draft, Gresham was widely predicted to end up in Bengal stripes. After a remarkably lame showing by last year's tight end tandem of Daniel Coates and J.P. Foschi, the position was listed at the very top of 'team needs' for Cincinnati, and, in spite of a knee injury that cost Gresham his senior season at Oklahoma, he was still ranked as the best available prospect at that spot. So when the Bengals pick was up, they chose Gresham over receiver Dez Bryant in a move that indicated the commitment to power football the team has adopted.
Up until last season, the Bengals offense was always a vertical-passing one. Once the move was made to a power-rushing offense, new weapons were needed. Many of those weapons were already in place, but none with the skill set that Gresham possesses. With Gresham, Carson Palmer has a tall, wide target who is fast and powerful. Defenses will be forced to show him extra attention in the red-zone and on third down, which should free up space for the revamped receiving corps.
There were times last year when Palmer was forced to improvise out of the pocket. The biggest knock on last year's receivers was that they couldn't get open on the fly. Gresham is the perfect player to maneuver away from defenders when the play goes off-script, and can pick up the yards that went wasted a season ago.
Another knock on the passing game was its lack of explosive plays. Gresham also has the ability to stretch the field deep down the middle, challenging slower linebackers or smaller safeties in the process. If he garners too much attention deep in the middle from the defense, outside receivers could find themselves in one-on-one match-ups and pull down some long throws.
That isn't to say that Gresham is perfect. He does have health concerns surrounding his injured knee. He worked out very well at the NFL Scouting Combine and also at his pro day, and there are no reports of any apparent lingering side-effects from the injury, so for now, all is well.
He must also prove that he can block. The Bengals buried last year's third-round pick, Chase Coffman, deep on the depth chart for his inability to block, before eventually shelving him for the year with bone spurs in his ankle. Gresham blocked a lot more often than Coffman did in college, and comes into training camp with a decent reputation as a blocker. For additional assistance, the team re-signed Reggie Kelly who, before rupturing his Achilles tendon last training camp, was considered a tremendous blocking tight end and a positive team leader. Kelly should help Gresham on the field and in the locker room as well.
The final concern is of Bratkowski actually using him. As mentioned, Brat has never featured the tight end in any meaningful way in the passing game, but with the waves of criticism he faced from last year's offensive output, coupled with the high-profile and big contract Gresham is soon to sign, Bratkowski will be forced to install more plays designed for the tight end.
As he should. Gresham has the ability to make an impact right away. Carson Palmer has never had a talent like Gresham in his arsenal and the kid can only make his life easier. In fact, everyone on the offense will enjoy the presence of Gresham and the defensive attention he commands. He is a game-changer, and only adds more beef to the already rough and tumble—AFC North Champion—Cincinnati Bengals.
Mojokong—Not the first to say so; just a parrot from the same tree.