It has been a long season for Bengals’ fans, and one of the many reasons has been the complete absence of John Ross.
The Bengals used the ninth-overall pick on the receiver, but we haven’t seen much of him. It was especially frustrating last week when Ross was a healthy scratch in favor of Cody Core for special teams reasons.
Then A.J. Green got ejected from the game, which probably would’ve been the perfect time to have Ross.
Still, the receiver has come to terms with the reality of his current situation, according to Geoff Hobson of the Bengals’ website:
“People can line me up all day and tell me to run 4.22,” he said of his combine record time. “But after the first one, I probably won’t get back to that 4.2. It just depends on how I’ll condition myself. That was hard for me to see. I thought in my head, I’m fully healthy. I need to be out there. But after I sit down and evaluate the film and I’m like, I don’t look the same as I did on the last play.”
“That’s what they mean. (Wide receivers) Coach (James) Urban always tells me, ‘You’ve got to get your legs back.’ I’m starting to get them back. It’s starting to show up.”
It is hard to admit as a player that the coaches are right for holding you out. Ross has missed a lot of time since being drafted by the Bengals. Ross came into camp with a shoulder injury and wasn’t able to play until the third preseason game. Ross hurt his knee in the final preseason game, which caused him to miss Week 1.
The rookie made his season debut in Week 2 against the Texans, but it was short-lived as Ross fumbled after a long gain on an end-around. The coaches decide to sit him the rest of the game.
Ross hurt his knee during practice the following Monday, and he didn’t return to practice until Week 7.
There is a lot of time missing there, and as much as us fans want to see him out there, it may not be ideal for Ross right now, even though he was dying to be out there when Green was ejected.
“I don’t think it’s whether I think that I can. It's the fact I’m not able to physically. I’m actually not even dressed,” Ross said. “It’s very hard because when A.J. is down, as a player, whether you’re me or Joe Mixon or Brandon LaFell, you’re like, now I’ve got to step up. It’s hard for me because I’m sitting on the sidelines and I can’t. In my head, I’m letting him down. If something like that happens, and I know it won’t happen again, but I have to uplift him, I have to be there for him.
“I hate losing more than I like winning. It’s tough. Even though I didn’t play, it’s still hard.”
Ross is saying exactly what you’d like to hear from your players. Still, the best advice on how to get through this whole situation happened to come from Green himself, according to Will Brinson of CBS Sports:
"Really just keeping my head on my shoulders. He's just telling me all the time, don't fall into overthinking it," Ross said. "Because especially being young you want to go out there and prove a lot. And AJ's telling me to calm down and just let it come to you. Everything's going to happen -- things are going to happen for a reason."
It is clear he has that desire to contribute to this team, and hopefully, that will be sooner rather than later. The Bengals currently ranks last in offensive yards per game (269.8), and they don’t even average 200 yards passing per game.
Ross has kept busy during his time off though. He went back to his high school during the Bengals’ bye week to help set up a boys and girls club.
"We had a bye week, and I just went to my high school and I talked to my principal about starting up a community, like Boys & Girls Club," Ross explained. "Because when I was growing up we didn't have that, we were outside, kicking rocks around, picking up sticks and acting like we had baseball. We didn't have a team that close -- you can start something right there. A lot of guys I grew up with, get some experience to coach kids. No matter who you are, how much money you've got, what you can do -- it don't hurt to give back. So I want to continue giving back."
It is amazing to see someone as young as Ross who just gets how he can affect this world already.
Ross could be a huge help for this team, and it isn’t easy to see the team take the slow and steady approach while the season is slipping away. It might, however, be the best thing for Ross.