Remember last week when we said Bengals rookies are rarely put in a position to make a significant impact in a game? Well, it happened again this week. The team’s highest drafted active rookie was involved in the turning point of the first Bengals-Steelers showdown of the year. Here’s our Week 2 rookie report.
- Tyler Boyd
- Alex Erickson
- Clayton Fejedelem
- Nick Vigil
- Cody Core
- Jeff Driskel
- KeiVarae Russell
- Christian Westerman
It took a whopping two weeks for Boyd to be fully integrated into the offense, and it was everything the coaches and fans were expecting. Boyd caught six of eight targets for 78 yards, all coming out of the slot in the Bengals’ 11 personnel. Boyd has plenty of experience playing in Heinz Field, his college home field, and has lit it up on several occasions as the focal point of the University of Pittsburgh’s offense for three years. But this was a different experience, as he was wearing the visitor’s uniform for the first time. Being the enemy didn’t seem to phase him much.
His biggest play of the day came on this 29-yard seam route on a 1st and 25:
Unfortunately, the moment that people will remember the most about Boyd in this game is the fumble that was or wasn’t (but really wasn’t). Late in the fourth quarter, trailing by eight, the Bengals were on the Steelers’ 39 yard line, and targeted Boyd for the eighth and final time of the game. After securing the pass over the middle, Boyd turned upfield and was met by linebacker and notorious hard-hitter James Harrison, who popped the ball loose right when Boyd’s knee hit the ground:
Because it was ruled a fumble on the field, head referee Pete Morelli and his crew were looking for inconclusive evidence to overturn the call, and apparently, they couldn’t find any. It was a terrible way to end Boyd’s day, but it shouldn’t take away the progress he’s made in such a short time. With the offense leaning on a pass heavy scheme as they’re set to play the stingy Denver Broncos this Sunday, look for a similar number of targets coming Boyd’s way.
It was a rough day for Erickson as he fair caught three punts inside the 10 yard line and returned a fourth one for no gain, pinning the offense back very close to their own endzone on all four occasions. Special teams coach Darrin Simmons is counting on Erickson to be an upgrade over recently cut return-man Brandon Tate, and Sunday wasn’t a good day for to reflect on that decision.
There was a bright spot for Erickson though, as he recorded his first career catch on his first career target for a 20-yard gain:
Check out the slow-mo mid-air adjustment:
Erickson is still behind James Wright in terms of chances of seeing the field on offense, but you could definitely expect to see Erickson rotate with Boyd in the slot on some empty sets like this one as the year goes on. Remember, the Bengals didn’t just keep him for returning kicks and punts.
Nick Vigil and Clayton Fejedelem
Both Vigil and Fejedelem were active, but didn’t get any snaps as defenders, playing special teams only on kickoffs and punts and recorded no tackles. Expect this to continue barring injury at linebacker and safety.
This is the first home opener for these guys and it’s against the defending Super Bowl champions, but there is no excuses once you’re out there with the coaches’ trust behind you. Boyd and Erickson expect to have an impact on what should be another busy day for Andy Dalton, and Erickson looks to bounce back in the return game as well.
It’ll be interesting to see if newly-acquired cornerback KeiVarae Russell is activated just a week after he was claimed by the team off waivers. Russell was released by the Kansas City Chiefs, who spent a 3rd-round pick on him this past April. Odds are he won’t be, as the team’s top five corners on the roster are healthy, but they must see something in him, so we’ll just have to wait and see. For now, expect Russell to continually be a gameday inactive unless there’s an injury to a cornerback on the roster.