C.J. Uzomah has been one of the pleasant surprises of the Cincinnati Bengals’ 2015 draft class.
Heck, not many expected Uzomah to even hear his name called in that draft, being that most draft experts had him rated as an undrafted prospect. The Bengals still liked what they saw in the 6'5", 264-pound athletic pass-catcher, even after spending a third-round pick on Rutgers tight end Tyler Kroft.
Uzomah had just 29 career catches for 435 yards and seven scores during his four-year career at Auburn. He was primarily a blocking tight end in Auburn's offense, which rarely featured tight ends, but he did catch six touchdowns during his final two collegiate seasons. The combination of blocking and being a red-zone threat made him an attractive option for the Bengals, enough that the team spent a fifth-round pick on him.
After rarely seeing the field in 2015, Uzomah had a mini breakout 2016 season with 16 catches for 187 yards over his first five games. That did come with Tyler Eifert sidelined with back and ankle injuries. Once Eifert returned, Uzomah’s season took a bad turn as his role lessened.
Coupled with a calf injury, Uzomah ended up missing five games while being limited to just nine catches the rest of the season. Uzomah did have three catches on three targets for 13 yards and 1 touchdown in the team's Week 17 game against the Ravens last season, which is something he's looking to build on.
“I was elated to end the season with a touchdown catch and a victory,” Uzomah told Bengals.com. “I felt like that was an unbelievable way to start the year. We come back knowing that we won our first game of 2017.”
Now, Uzomah is spending the offseason working to improve and hopefully get more involved from start to finish this year.
“I’m trying to work on my hands – whether it’s as a blocker or getting off the jam,” Uzomah said. “I’m working on my hips a little bit too. One thing that (tight ends) Coach (Jonathan) Hayes is emphasizing with me is hat placement for blocks. He says your hands and feet have improved tremendously but work on getting your hat where it’s supposed to be and everything else will come into place. Those are the main three things that I am working on.”
Uzomah is also training off the Paul Brown Stadium practice fields at Ignition APG, a facility that has helped many Bengals players and others across the league.
“I’ve also been working with Ben (Creamer) from Ignition APG with the boxing and hand fighting and he does a great job with that. I did it a little bit last year but not as much as I will this upcoming year. I think that helps tremendously and translates to the field a lot.”
Uzomah benefited from Eifert missing the first six games before returning, while Kroft missed most of training camp and the preseason with a knee sprain. That allowed Uzomah to take on a big role in the offense, something he’s ready to do again if called upon in 2017.
“It was just next man up,” said Uzomah. “That’s the mentality that we have. We understand that when one person goes down, somebody else has to step up. Whoever is next in line has to know what to do.”
Though his 2016 season was up and down, Uzomah was happy with the progress he made from his rookie season.
“I have some things to work on – blocking assignments and being fundamentally sound in everything that I do – but I felt like I really came along in my second year,” said Uzomah. “In my first year I thought that I was timid and played a little slower not knowing where everybody was going to be. But last year I was able to unload and kind of relax, let loose, and have fun out there.”
Uzomah probably won’t get many targets as long as Eifert is healthy, but thus far, he has been the superior blocker, which could earn him a heavy amount of snaps in 2017. The Bengals will certainly need more help from the tight ends with Andrew Whitworth gone and Cedric Ogbuehi taking over, meanwhile Jake Fisher is still growing into his right tackle spot.
You probably won’t see Uzomah put much of a dent in box scores this year, but he still could have a key role for this Bengals team.