The tight end position for the Bengals has been a real area of highs and lows in recent years. Most Bengals fans are happy about one of the roller coasters conductor's leaving, as Jermaine Gresham, recently signed with the Arizona Cardinals. Gresh was known for his penalties and stretching to get an extra yard which would result in a fumble. When Tyler Eifert fell to the Bengals and they drafted him in the first round of the 2013 draft, I ran around my living room like a schoolboy whose crush just asked him to prom. We were one series into Week 1 last year and I was thinking, here we go, Andy Dalton finally has a TE he can trust and he's going to go bananas this year. The next thing I know his arm is bending like a cooked piece of rigatoni in a direction only Stretch Armstrong could survive. Just like that, his season was over and we were left to wonder what might have been. The Bengals will be counting on a youth infusion to give this TE group a spark and hopefully get them over the hump. Offensive Coordinator, Hue Jackson's fingerprints are all over this TE draft class and if anyone can make stars out of no names, it's Hue. If you don't believe me ask T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Jermaine Gresham- As I hinted before, Gresh has moved on and I think it was time for him to do so. He was never going to escape the scrutiny that seemed to really bother him here in Cincinnati. His high draft status and the elite TEs that were taken after him the same year, Jimmy Graham and Gronk in case you have been living under a rock the last five years, made fans always want more from him. This team will definitely miss his knowledge of the playbook, familiarity of the system, and his experience, but definitely won't miss his attitude and sensitivity to criticism.
The Rookie Additions:
Tyler Kroft- Let me start off by getting everyone excited about Kroft. I actually thought he was the best TE fit for the Bengals in the entire draft. That's not saying I had him as my number one TE, it just means as far as a fit he is what they needed to fill Gresh's spot. One of the reasons I really liked him is because he is the most Gronk-esc TE in this class. Now before you go crazy and think that means he going to score 20 TDs this year let me explain myself. No one was like Gronk athletically in this class, he is a freak, but Tyler is a similar build and is a good combo TE. He can block pretty well, he was ask to do this pretty much exclusively in 2014, and he is great at ripping up the seam.
If you watch Gronk he is a mismatch nightmare for teams, but where he really does his damage is up the seam. Tyler is sneakily fast up the middle. He's not afraid to go in traffic, he's a pretty solid route runner, and he has a high football IQ.
If you watch him he is very cerebral, the thing that drove us nuts about Gresh, because he always knows the situations and plays the down and distance like he should. This year, look for Tyler to be the in-line blocker in the two TE sets, and sneak out for a pass from time to time. He can also split out and run routes and this will allow them to create mismatches for him and Eifert on nearly any play they want to. Trust me, Bengals fans this was one of the best picks that they made this year when it comes to scheme and fit Tyler will be a person to keep an eye on.
C.J. Uzomah- This was likely a pick that had everyone scratching their heads on day three of this year’s draft. I know I was. As most of you know, I study draft picks like I actually might be asked to be the Bengals’ GM at some point. This was the second player taken in the draft that I had not watched a single second of at that point. I was like...uh okay...here goes the Bengals of old. As I waited for Kiper and the gang to blast us; my dad turns to me and says "what do you think that guy" and I looked at him and said "I don't even know who he is" he chuckled and replied "well, that can't be good." Being the draft nerd I am, I grabbed my iPad and began to educate myself on this unknown player. First thing I notice is his size and athleticism. He is a big guy and is built like a brick, you know what, house. Most of his collegiate plays were blocking, but when they let him out he had surprisingly good ball skills, but his routes did need some work. I began to warm up to this pick really fast and the first player who came to mind was James Wright. A guy who came in not being known but really was impressive and looks like a diamond in the rough. The Auburn offense is funky, I know the Bengals are in Big 10 country, but it's almost as run heavy as the Navy Triple option offense. There is one thing about Gus Malzhan's offense I do know, if you can't block you won't see the field.
Simply put, Uzomah didn't get many chances to show what he could do besides blocking, but when he did he made some jaw dropping plays.
I talked to Walt Austin, who covers Auburn for SB Nation’s College and Magnolia, and he provided me with some really good insight to who Uzomah was both on and off-the-field. The best part was he confirmed what my tape study had told me without me asking him. He said Uzomah would do great things in practice, but didn't get many shots on Saturday to show the world (listen to the whole interview here). After rookie minicamp many people covering the Bengals talked about how great he looked. Now, this is shorts and t-shirt football and I expect to see him struggle a little bit more when training camp opens. He is definitely not as polished as Kroft is, but he will make this team and could be a solid backup in the future who they can use in red zone situations. I see Uzomah as a very raw player who Hue can mold into a TE/big WR and use in situations to gain a mismatch. It looks like the Bengals scouting team pulled a fast one on some of the other teams and got a solid player with a late selection.
It seems that the Bengals looked at the things that drove them crazy about Gresh. Both of these TEs are smart, great locker room players, hardworking, and high character players. I think Kroft will see a good amount of playing time and Uzomah will contribute on special teams, unless there are some injuries. With Kroft on the field they will have the Tyler Twins and be able to force teams to guess if it’s a run our pass play, which will help Dalton by giving him more one-on-one match-ups. This TE group now is very versatile, athletic, smart, and should be a low mistake unit, all the things Hue will want to make his offense successful this year. Keep the mistakes down, run the ball, and let the defense carry this team. Uzomah and Kroft are both good blockers and with the proper coaching and repetition they could open some big lanes for Hill to run through. This group is extremely young and lacks a ton of actual game experience at the NFL level, but the upside is tremendous. When you look around the division, other team either have less talent (Steelers), or are even less experienced than this group (Ravens), so as a division the TE spot could be unpredictable.
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