In what's sort of a follow up to the article regarding the perceived disappearance of defensive end Michael Johnson, the old internal wheels began to spin on another high profile player on the opposite side of the ball--tight end, Jermaine Gresham. Like Johnson, Gresham has all of the potential in the world to be an impact, Pro Bowl-level player. And, also like Johnson, some Bengals fans have begun to wonder why the off-the-charts potential production with Gresham isn't there yet.
Granted, Gresham is only entering his second season with the squad. The fact that Gresham is in his second NFL system in as many seasons needs to also be considered--especially with this new Jay Gruden system being integrated without the benefit of a full offseason to digest it. However, almost every tight end flourishes in a West Coast Offense. Names like Brent Celek, Kevin Boss and Vernon Davis all come to mind as recent successes. You can go all the way back to guys like Brent Jones and Mark Chumura as other great system tight ends of yesteryear.
With the recent emergence of some the above-mentioned tight ends, as well as fellow 2010 draft mates Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, many Bengals fans are beginning to wonder why Gresham isn't in the same stratosphere as these counterparts.
Gresham had an impressive rookie season in 2010. He set the franchise rookie record for receptions by a Bengals tight end and flashed some great plays, with a good portion of those coming off of screen passes. The bar was set high for Gresham in 2011, especially with the ball-hogging wide receiver duo of "T.Ochocinco" out of the picture. And, to be fair to Gresham, he has improved off of his rookie numbers. With two games left to play in the regular season, he's on pace to rack up more yards, first downs and a higher yards per catch average. He also has more touchdowns (five) and less fumbles (zero) than he did last season. It's a great feat when you can improve all of these statistics in one season. But still, something is missing.
The big plays just haven't been there. With wide receiver A.J. Green emerging as the passing game's primary target, one would expect Jerome Simpson or Gresham to take a stranglehold on being the secondary target and that hasn't fully occurred yet. As we'll see over the course of Green's career, he'll often get double-teamed and The most catches Gresham has had in a game is nine, but he has yet to record more than one touchdown in a game or rack up over one hundred yards receiving.
By comparison, Rob Gronkowski (who was drafted after Gresham in 2010 and was one of the prospects the Bengals were rumored to have contemplated drafting), has had a breakout season. In two seasons, Gronkowski has almost double the career receiving yardage (1,687 to Gresham's 939), more than double the career touchdown receptions (25 to Gresham's 9), almost five more yards per reception (14.4 to Gresham's 9.6), and almost double the first downs (89 to Gresham's 49). Beyond that, Gronkowski has five 100-yard receiving games to Gresham's zero and has eight multi-touchdown games to Gresham's zero.
So, then comes the "chicken or the egg" argument of if this is on Gresham and his lack of an ability to get open, or if this is on the offensive scheme and not giving the big guy enough opportunities. I personally find it hard to believe that Gresham isn't the athlete that Gronkowski is and isn't capable of doing most or all of the things that "Gronk" does in New England. You can point to a better coach, system and quarterback that they have in New England, but the Bengals coaching staff should be able to get one of their best players in a position to take over a game. The other argument could lie with Dalton not looking enough at Gresham, while primarily focusing on Green.
All in all, the fault lies with the staff, Gresham, and the rookie quarterback not always looking his way. Gresham needs to put in the work in with both film study and after practice to build a rapport with Dalton. The staff needs to design more plays for the athletic tight end to help bail out his rookie quarterback--after all, the old adage is "a rookie quarterback's best friend is a great tight end". And, Dalton needs to trust other receivers outside of Green and look their way more often. If the Bengals are to progress as an offense and were to make the playoffs this season and in the future, they'll need a legitimate tight end threat. They have one, now they just need to maximize the talent.