Coming into the first preseason game of 2016 every Bengals fan knew the wide receiver was a position to watch. With touted rookies like Tyler Boyd and Cody Core, along with familiar faces such as Jake Kumerow, I’m willing to bet not many people knew the name Alex Erickson. But the former Wisconsin Badger absolutely delivered in his first appearance for the Black and Orange.
Now that’s not to say other receivers didn’t do well. On the contrary, the team in general had great receiver play all night, with the only notable bad play coming from the much-hyped Jake Kumerow. But Erickson was an unexpected surge of electricity to the group and only makes the battle for the 53-man roster even more interesting. It all started late in the second quarter when Erickson scored on a 3-yard quick out.
It’s worth noting that this is a play the Bengals had installed and practiced during camp, with Tyler Boyd scoring on the exact same play on a throw from Dalton. Erickson did his job, making the far off defensive back pay for his positioning. He didn’t see another catch the rest of the night, but he was put in as a punt returner in the second half to show what he could do. After his initial return resulted in a fair catch, he got to return the follow kick, and boy did he make the most of it. Check it out:
What’s important to note about this return is how Erickson approached it. This will remind Bengals more of an Adam Jones than a Brandon Tate return. Erickson backpedals to field the punt around the 20, but as soon as he gets a hold of it, he plants his feet and goes straight. That’s a characteristic of all great return men and Jones himself has echoed those sentiments in the past. Rather than dancing back and forth trying to make guys miss, he builds momentum and adjusts his return as the play develops. He goes forward, not backward, and sometimes that’s a reaction you just can’t teach. That forward momentum is what allows him to break the first group of tackles before he’s able to head for the endzone.
From that point it’s a footrace and Erickson shows that he’s got the speed to not get caught from behind. This put the Bengals right back into the game with four minutes left and probably would have been the game winner had the team converted on the two point attempt.
With his two touchdown day, the 6 foot, 198 pound receiver has escalated his notoriety with the fans and the coaching staff as well. Originally thought by some to just be a camp body, it’s not out of the question to think that Erickson is now not just competing for a practice squad spot, but for a role on the 53-man roster as well. Given the lack of depth at receiver and the need for a dynamic returner to spell Adam Jones (sorry, Brandon Tate), it just might be the perfect storm for Erickson. Now while I had plenty of you tweet me and ask if he could take Tate’s roster spot, I want to answer that definitively: no. It’s unlikely that Tate doesn’t make the final roster. Tate is a veteran, something that Marvin Lewis likes to have around, and he knows the offense. He actually played pretty darn well tonight too, so it’s not like he can’t produce when called upon.
So since it isn’t Tate, I believe it’s much more likely that Mario Alford is Erickson’s biggest competition to date. The seventh rounder was likely going to need to make an impact as a returner if he wanted to be on the roster this year. If Erickson is stealing the show there, while running some pretty smooth routes as a receiver, there becomes a lack of room for the both of them. Erickson has his stock trending upward, and guys like Kumerow, Alford, and James Wright are trending down for various reasons. Wright has been injured, Kumerow has been injured and played sloppy tonight (run out your route!), and Alford didn’t provide any kind of spark. That said, it’s only Week 1 of the preseason and there’s plenty of preseason ball to play this out. Erickson is by no means a lock for anything, but performances like this will get him through cut days and earn him more chances to prove himself. If you’re in his shoes then that’s all you can ask for. You may not have known the name Alex Erickson prior to today’s game, but you could be seeing him a lot on Sundays.
Erickson’s big day was the talk of the town following the close loss, so it’s no surprise he received a trip to the podium with all of the demand he had following the game.
Bengals WR Alex Erickson earns a trip to the podium. pic.twitter.com/pzLTNx3Xrc— Emily Parker (@Emily_Parker) August 13, 2016
While questioned, Erickson was extremely humble, giving credit to his coaches and teammates for the success that he found.
“I was able to do that but it was a team game too. You know AJ [McCarron] throwing the ball and the punt return too. It was all 11 guys,” said Erickson in the locker room when talking to Bengals.com. “It’s about being prepared and working hard, whether that means you get one play or 50 plays.”
But, Erickson isn’t focusing on the numbers or the plays, he’s just trying to take advantage of his time with the Bengals and show the coaches they were right to sign him following this year’s draft.
“I’m not trying to worry about the numbers at all; I’m just trying to come to work every single day, take what Coach (James) Urban is teaching us and do my best every day,” Erickson said.
Hey Alex, if you’re reading this, don’t worry! I think you’ll be seeing a lot more than one play in practice and the remaining three preseason games after Friday night’s showing.
It’s a mystery how the NFL journey of Alex Erickson will play out, but if you were looking for a new Bengal to root for this year, you’ve found him.