The seventh round 2015 draft pick out of West Virginia is ready to step up tonight. "Just go out there and do your job and everything else will fall into place," Mario Alford said in an interview this week. "From here on out I just gotta really put my feet on the paddle and just go all out this last game and show them that I want to play."
Alford believes he'll get to play the whole game and take on a variety of roles on special teams and on offense, where he plays wide receiver. "I get to play the whole game. I'm probably going to be on almost all the special teams. They'll probably throw me at gunner," Alford said. "I'm just going to do it all this game and leave it all out there."
Alford is essentially a lock for the final 53-man roster but just how well he does with kick and punt returns may determine the fate of some of his teammates, including Brandon Tate. Like Alford, Tate is low on the wide receiver depth chart, but he has been the most reliable returner for the Bengals in recent years outside of Adam Jones, whether fans want to believe it or not.
In the Bengals' first preseason game against the Giants, Alford was targeted for two passes, catching one for 13 yards; he also had an 8-yard punt return and a 21-yard kickoff return. Against the Buccaneers, Alford had one punt return for 19 yards and one kickoff return for 23 yards. In the third week of the preseason against Chicago, Alford was targeted once and caught the ball for a 9-yard gain. He also had one punt return for 15 yards and one kickoff return for 18 yards. Alford is averaging 20.7 yards on kick returns, and averaging a team-leading 10.5 yards for punt returns.
Tonight, Alford will be seeing more action, but he's not going to psyche himself out. "If you really think about it, that's when you start messing up," he said. "Play like it's your last and don't think about anything."
We'll see tonight how ready Alford is to step up and get a look at how likely it may be that he's returning kicks and punts this season for the Bengals.