In many facets of life, there is nothing more frustrating than investing significant stock in a person only to see them continually fail to reach their potential.
For NFL teams, said stock they put into players is not only emotional, but also financially significant, so when a youngster doesn’t pan out, it puts the franchise behind the eight ball.
Going into the 2017 offseason, the Bengals’ brain trust knew that the roster needed to be injected with youth and speed—particularly on offense. Their response was to use three of their first five picks (and three in the first four rounds) on talented skill position players.
The most high-profile of that trio was University of Washington wide receiver, John Ross. The former Husky blew up the NFL Combine by setting the record in the 40-yard dash with a 4.22 time. It propelled him from a potential late first round pick to top-10 status.
Yet, for a variety of reasons, both known and unknown, Ross never seemed to endear himself to the coaching staff this year. Everyone knew about a torn labrum that needed healing this offseason, but while that was an issue, others under the surface seemed to bubble.
Ross was placed on Injured Reserve earlier this week, prompting even more questions on what seems to now be a wasted rookie season. What the heck is going on in this situation?
Marvin Lewis treats rookies like no other NFL head coach:
Make no mistake: Ross isn’t the exception to the rule. Even in some of the most promising draft classes, Lewis has been defiant in playing many of his youngsters. As Scott Schulze mentioned on this week’s Orange and Black Insider podcast, Cincinnati really built this incarnation of a competitive team in the 2009-2011 drafts.
Yet, even with their drafting of Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap back in ‘10, Lewis was not willing to play them early on, given Dunlap’s spotty practice efforts and Tank Johnson’s entrenchment as the starter. These two have become two of the best defensive players in team history.
Additionally, redshirt rookie seasons, for one reason or another, have become part and parcel in the Bengals’ draft-and-develop strategy. Whether it’s because of injury issues, Lewis’ preference of veterans and/or a lack of immediate need at a particular position, first round picks from 2012-2017 have been rendered largely useless in their respective first years of their pro career.
John Ross got obsessed with his meteoric draft rise and didn’t get into the playbook:
Through the grapevine, I’ve heard some rumblings aside from the injuries. Of course, the ailments appear to be the major crux of what’s going on, but rumor has it that Lewis isn’t enamored with Ross’s newfound stardom getting to his head, as well as his lack of diving into the playbook and mechanics of being an NFL receiver.
If this is truly part of the equation, you can’t really blame Lewis. Even though Chad Johnson remains one of the most prolific receivers in team history, there is no doubt that the head coach lost control of “Ochocinco” towards the end of his career.
Even though the Bengals needed explosiveness on offense this year in the form of Ross, unpredictability that could lead to turnovers is something Lewis couldn’t risk in the last year of his contract. Could Ross’s issues with grasping the playbook be at the center of his wasted 2017 campaign?
Because of coaching issues, the team doesn’t quite know how to use him:
When the Bengals drafted Ross, Ken Zampese was their offensive coordinator. After an 0-2 start, Zampese became a scapegoat, of sorts, for the team’s struggles. His firing was deserved, but could he have been the one to pound the table for the speedster, while his successor, Bill Lazor, wasn’t as enamored?
Under Hue Jackson and Jay Gruden, we saw some creativity and wrinkles in the offense that hadn’t been seen since the days of Sam Wyche. Still, this is a conservative franchise set in conservative ways and the offense has been quite vanilla since those two aforementioned coordinators held their jobs in Cincinnati.
We’ve seen quite a few recent players not see their full potential in Cincinnati while finding greener pastures elsewhere with bigger roles, so should we trust this coaching staff to use a player like Ross to his respective strengths? With an 11-16-1 record since the start of 2016 and this year’s offense scraping the bottom of the statistical barrels, why didn’t the Bengals give Ross more opportunities?
Furthermore, why not give Ross a shot on special teams? At Washington, he had four kickoff return touchdowns in his collegiate career. Yes, he had an injury history and a team doesn’t want to sacrifice a high pick to a significant injury on special teams, but it would seem that you;d want your most explosive players to have the ball in their hands at all times, right?
Was Ross legitimately injured?
Bengals fans love to put on the tinfoil hats and prognosticate odd scenarios surrounding their team. Given the lack of postseason success and inexplicable losses in big games, it’s not hard to see why people grasp at straws when it comes to rationale.
Lewis claimed that Ross had a shoulder injury to the other arm from this offseason, but didn’t tell anyone. It’s a totally legitimate reason for his trip to I. R., but if he’s been a “healthy scratch”, how didn’t the medical and/or training staff not catch wind of this earlier?
Furthermore, how did he actually injure the shoulder? He played in two games this year, with just one touch. I suppose it could have happened in practice, but the whole thing just reeks of oddities.
However, we have to remember that the Brown family is one chock full of folks with legal backgrounds. There isn’t a way that the team would risk a potential lawsuit by Ross’ camp, if he wasn’t truly injured.
It’s a combination of factors:
If there’s one thing Lewis doesn’t tolerate, it’s the trait of unavailability. It especially rings true with young players, as he often gives veterans preferential treatment in these scenarios. Yet, with Ross’s significant college injury history, one has to wonder why Lewis would be on board with using a No. 9 overall pick on the banged up wideout.
Whether or not that’s truly the case, one has to wonder why, in his lame duck year, Lewis wouldn’t play who was supposedly their most prized offseason possession in a season that the offense needed it?
As we sit here today, it would seem that these factors, depending on severity, all probably contributed to Ross’s wasted rookie year. And, unfortunately, the Bengals have been worse off for it.
What do you make of the situation between John Ross and the Bengals, as he now is on Injured Reserve?