For the last two years, Cincinnati Bengals fans have been hearing about offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski’s plans to use the tight end more. And indeed, since early 2008 the Bengals have spent significant resources on the position. They made a rare foray into restricted free agency that year, successfully signing Ben Utecht away from the Colts, and have drafted a TE every April since: Matt Sherry in 2008, Chase "Crash Dummy" Coffman in 2009 and, of course, first-round 2010 pick Jermaine Gresham.
For all that effort they have to date gotten practically nothing. In two years, Utecht appeared in just 10 games (with six starts) thanks to a variety of injuries. As documented on Hard Knocks last year, both he and fellow starting TE Reggie Kelly were lost for the season in training camp, and Utecht was subsequently released. As for the draft picks, Sherry never amounted to anything, Coffman has yet to see the field, and Gresham – who has more potential than all the team’s current TEs combined – has yet to sign. But never fear, Bengals fans: we still have Dan Coats!
While many Bengals fans didn’t like the selection of Jermaine Gresham last April, his humble demeanor and workman-like attitude have won over a lot of doubters. As a first-round pick, Gresham is unlikely to sit very long, though a training camp holdout (and they are cutting it mighty close right now) could delay his arrival in the starting lineup. Gresham is a big target with soft hands and good speed, and while opinion is mixed on his talents as a blocker, he has one of the best blocking TEs in the business, Reggie Kelly, to give him pointers. The wild card is his knee; Gresham missed his entire senior season with a torn meniscus. As long as he bounces back from that, and so far there have been no indications that it’s an issue, Bengals fans have every right to expect great things from him. When he was last on the field in 2008, Gresham caught 66 balls for 950 yards and 14 TDs.
College: Mississippi State
Yup, neither of my projected starters for the Bengals in 2010 saw any action in 2009. But Reggie Kelly, who arrived in 2003 with Marvin Lewis, is a consummate pro whose biggest fan on the team is Carson Palmer. At 33, Kelly is wearing down, but the importance of his presence as a locker room leader and mentor to Gresham can’t be understated. Kelly also has injury questions stemming from the Achilles tear that caused him to miss all of last season, so his progress in training camp will be something to follow.
BACKUPS / SPECIAL TEAMS
College: Brigham Young
I know, I know: Coats couldn’t catch a ball if it hit him in both hands and had super glue on it. But he’s an above-average blocker who also knows the fullback position, and with the Bengals’ run-first philosophy Coats isn’t going anywhere.
If you watched Hard Knocks in 2009, you know the story. Drafted in the third round, Coffman was primarily a receiving TE who worked in the slot in college, and struggled mightily in training camp with the expanded responsibilities of the pro position. If didn’t help that he was still recovering from a foot injury suffered in his last college game, and the long and short of it was that Chase got shelved on IR for the year.
The 2010 draft has only made his position more precarious. Jermaine Gresham is a more complete TE and a higher pick, two factors that will inevitably decrease the opportunities Chase gets. Between that pick and the departure of Laveranues Coles, I thought briefly during the draft that they might just make Coffman a slot wide receiver – but then they grabbed Jordan Shipley. So I am really at a loss as to where Coffman fits in right now. I don’t believe he’ll be cut, but until the Bengals move on from Kelly I don’t see how (except for injuries to others) he gets on the field.
PRACTICE SQUAD / WAIVER WIRE
College: Ball State
A Bengals practice squadder for most of 2009, Hill’s only action was in the "let’s pretend" season finale against the Jets. He’s still eligible for the squad in 2010 and, barring another injury fiasco like last year, he will likely end up there again, assuming the Bengals still want him around.