When the Bengals grabbed a tight end with a fourth round pick last year, it was somewhat surprising. You see, the team had a Pro Bowl player at the position and with the team having glaring need at both safety and running back, it would seem that that position would have taken a back seat to those other needs. But, Orson Charles fell into the team's lap late in that round, and they couldn't pass up a player that was deemed a second round talent going into the draft.
With his arrival, Bengals fans had visions of the Patriots' tight end duo dancing in their heads. Utilizing a dual tight end set would not only open up things for A.J. Green, but it would make things more effective in red zone and third down situations. Charles' forte is and was making tough catches and fighting for yards after the catch--traits that are crucial for success in the above-mentioned situations.
Unfortunately, the visions that we had for Charles and the element he would bring to the Bengals' offense never came to fruition. He barely saw the field in 2012, with sporadic appearances towards the conclusion of the season. Charles finished the year with only eight catches for 101 yards and zero touchdowns as the team's second tight end throughout the duration of the year.
Similar to the 2011 season, the 2012 Bengals offense struggled mightily in red zone and third down situations. When thrown the ball, Charles helped move the chains as five of his eight catches converted first downs and had a 12.6 yards per catch average. Granted, the sample size was small, but the glimpses you saw from Charles gave hope. It's those glimpses that make us want to see him have a bigger role next year.
It's unclear what exactly led to Charles' lack of playing time in 2012, though one could guess that it's a combination of factors. Marvin Lewis has shown a reluctance to immediately a good amount of rookies that he has drafted over the years, so that may have a part in it. The loyalty to Jermaine Gresham and Charles' developing skills as a blocker are also possibilities. Ultimately, the problem is an innate one in Cincinnati, where the team doesn't heavily value the position, nor have they been able to properly implement them into the offense over the past 15-plus years.
We're not hearing rumblings of the Bengals investing heavily in another wide receiver in 2013; be it via trade, free agency or draft. If that holds true, another viable receiving option will need to be found elsewhere. That option is on the roster with Charles and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden needs to take advantage of the skills that the second-year man brings to the table.
Formations where both Gresham and Charles are on the field at the same time could pay huge dividends for this offense next year. There are also opportunities for Charles to be split out wide and/or in the slot to create mismatches with the opposing defenses, but taking advantage of those mismatches will require Gruden to make more in-game adjustments.
We're not exactly sure what to expect for Charles next year, but what we know to hope for. If he has a breakout year, we expect this offense to have made big strides and thus have this team in contention in 2013. It will start with a bigger role.