Few players are lucky enough to have successful rookie campaigns like Bengals tight end Tyler Kroft. In 2015, he managed to hit that sweet spot of sitting and learning behind a league-leading talent like Tyler Eifert, while still managing to contribute with impressive performances for the team when he had a chance.
Due to Eifert being injured with a stinger and concussion, Kroft had the opportunity to start six games in 2015. In those six starts and some other game action through the rest of the season, he caught 11 of the 15 passes thrown his way for 129 yards and a touchdown. That's not a particularly eye popping stat line, but what's impressive is the fact that he did that despite being the understudy to the league's top scoring tight end.
However, last year is in the past and it's time to look forward to 2016. For Kroft, that means taking all of the lessons and learning experiences from his rookie season and turning them into a successful sophomore campaign. That could be a fairly substantial amount of pressure to live up to after a solid rookie campaign, but Kroft doesn't see it that way.
"It's a whole different world because I know what to expect now," Kroft told Dan Hoard in an interview on Bengals.com, "The playbook looks a lot more familiar. There's a lot less anxiety going into practice. It's good"
Being able to come into practice with an already established knowledge of the playbook is a particular advantage for anyone hoping to make an impact on the team. Surely, most Bengals fans remember the debacle that was Akili Smith's career, whose biggest downfall was a complete and total inability to read or understand the team's playbook. For Kroft to feel confident about that aspect going into his second season is a very good sign for his ability to meet the expectations he set in his rookie season.
Playing well early on is a great way to lay the foundation for sustained success in the NFL and Kroft also seems to understand the importance of his rookie season performance.
"I thought it went pretty well," Kroft told Hoard about his rookie season, "Like you said, I was out there a lot. To me, that's awesome. I just want to be out on the field. Obviously I built some trust up with the coaches throughout the year."
Notably, however, he is not showing signs of that valuable confidence turning into distracting cockiness, as so many players have allowed to happen in the past. Kroft comes across as being extremely humble and knows that, to continue to be successful in the NFL, he can't just rest on the success of his rookie performance.
"Obviously, there's a lot to improve on," Kroft continued, "It's awesome being out here and competing day by day and getting better."
Specifically, Kroft mentioned one particular area that he would like to improve upon. "I really want to work on explosion and hip flexibility so that I can get into my blocks better," Kroft noted when asked about what he is focusing on in training.
It's interesting that he points out wanting to improve on an aspect of his blocking ability. Coming out of college, Kroft was tagged as an impressive blocking tight end who didn't quite possess the receiving abilities that modern teams really covet at the position. However, since the Bengals already had a top tier pass catching tight end in Eifert, they decided to give Kroft a chance to shore up the edge blocking aspect of the offense.
Theoretically, you would think he would want to improve on his pass catching ability to become more well rounded and more wholly valuable to an NFL team. That seems especially valuable right now while Eifert is injured and Kroft has the opportunity to step up, should the injury keep Eifert out for the first few games on the season. Instead, he's sticking to his guns and focusing on becoming even better at something he's already known for being good at.
Regardless, it's great for the Bengals to have a player like Kroft who doesn't like to rest on his laurels and he'll certainly come in handy if Eifert misses games due to his ankle injury.