It says a lot when an NFL team invests a first round pick on a player at a position that they've never selected that high in their history. Such was the case with guard Kevin Zeitler this year, as well as in 2010 with tight end Jermaine Gresham. Since joining the Bengals two seasons ago, Gresham has strung together two solid seasons, including a 2011 campaign where he made the Pro Bowl as a second alternate.
But, according to Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, Gresham wants more. He wants to be one of the league's elite tight ends--the newest addition to a dominant group of players paving the way that the NFL is heading. Gresham has spent extensive time studying some of the best tight ends in the league and he can see the nuances that make them great. And, with the recent mega-contract that Rob Gronkowski signed, Gresham could be seeing some major dollar signs himself if he puts together another solid season.
"I've watched every catch five times," Gresham said of Gronkowski's 2011 masterpiece. "You have to. He and Jimmy (the Saints' Graham) had the best seasons ever by a tight end. You have to see what they're doing. How they're getting open, how they're getting so many balls. He's a beast. What he got, he deserved."
If you were wanting Gresham to study any tight ends to mold his game after, Gronkowski and Graham are good places to start. A major issue that goes along with Gresham not putting up those kind of numbers though is that of the Bengals offense not being tight end-centric. If you were wondering about Gresham's confidence level and where he rates himself in the league, you needn't worry:
"I haven't put up numbers like him, so I really can't speak on that," Gresham said. "I feel like I can do anything the tight ends in this league do, but I'm not taking anything away from those guys. Those guys are freakish and what they do in their offense is pretty damn good."
Quarterback Andy Dalton also chimed in during Gresham's interview with Hobson and other media members, talking about the possible offensive shift for 2012.
"You'll probably have more catches this year than you did last year just because you have a better idea of what's going on," said Dalton, and he was speaking for an offense closing up its first snaps under offensive coordinator Jay Gruden in an offseason setting.
Of course, to get a reality check on the situation, we'll need to hear offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's take on Gresham and the offense.
"Jermaine has got to work at it every day, no question about it," Gruden said. "He's come a long way with his route discipline and knowledge of the offense with the run game, especially. Just have to keep repping him. Some of the concepts where he has to read coverages on the move he has to get better at."
"When he's right, he can be an awesome target for Andy," Gruden said. "And it's our job to get him right more often than not and it's his job to keep working."
"We've got to do a good job getting him more involved downfield and he's got to make sure he's more accountable for the quarterback," Gruden said. "The quarterback has to feel the confidence he can go to Jermaine when Jermaine is ready and in the right spot. When he gets to that point I would expect him to put up some strong numbers."
With Gresham, the Bengals are staring at their first consecutive seasons with a dominant tight end since the days of Rodney Holman. It sounds as if Gresham is on the precipice of a breakout year for the Bengals, and it will start with Gruden's and Dalton's help.