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Bengals’ Bill Lazor: John Ross needs to figure out who he is

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Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross had a nonexistent rookie season. Was it coaching, front office division, or did he really struggle that much? Either way, Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor is giving Ross a little advice.

Cincinnati Bengals v Tennessee Titan Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

It’s been a running joke that Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis REALLY doesn’t like wide receiver John Ross. He’s been benched, publicly eviscerated (Read: Marvin Lewis being a dick), and a healthy scratch; this narrative even ignited a crazy perception that a front office disagreement was developing; Mike Brown and/or Duke Tobin wanted Ross and Lewis wanted someone else. We’re not sure if any of that was true; it probably wasn’t. But it shaped our unqualified narrative, compounded with news that Lewis wanted out. Some of us (myself included) just went with it.

Eventually Ross was placed on Injured Reserve with an accusation that Ross concealed his shoulder injury, because... OF COURSE HE WILL. After being ripped, shredded, benched, and embarrassed publicly, he’s going to hide injuries to stay on the field. That’s not to say Lewis’s antagonism against Ross isn’t completely justified; he’s a rookie and rookies require time to transition from college to the NFL; did you know “back in the day”, most rookies sat a season or two before they became starters?

However, there was one specific play mentioned by the Cincinnati Enquirer. “The thing I told him and it was great because Andy was with him in the hall on Tuesday,” Lewis said. “For Andy, against that coverage to throw him that football, he should understand how the quarterback feels about him. That he expects him to be where he needs to be. He let his teammates down. He let me down. He let Andy down.” The Enquirer wrote:

“John had a play last week we weren’t very thrilled with,” Lewis began.

The play in question came on third-and-5 early in the second quarter. Ross ended up one-on-one running deep down the sideline and slowed down running when he thought Dalton wasn’t going to throw him the ball. Dalton did and it fell incomplete.

Yea, that’s not good. Ross, like most rookies, made mistakes. In order for players to learn from those mistakes, they need more playing time, not less, and a coach that coaches. For example: Imagine how many points the Bengals could have scored if Lewis only had someone teaching him clock management and the importance of second-half adjustments. Maybe more is happening. Maybe Lewis is taking Ross under his wing with a compassionate injection of tough love. Most NFL teams tend to display split personalities; what we see from the press and what we perceive behind closed doors are often at odds with each other. Yet, based on the reports and Lewis’s comments, it’s hard to imagine Ross being anything more than Johnny Fuckup who is serving a lifetime sentence in detention.

That’s not to say that Lewis isn’t innocent from publicly shamming other players in the past. He once said that Andre Smith needs to “figure out how to become a pro and do things the way it’s asked to do all the time.” Smith began his career recovering from multiple injuries. The team grew frustrated because they felt he wasn’t doing enough for his rehabilitation. And to his credit, Lewis’s approach worked. Within a few months, Lewis began praising Smith and Smith settled down as a stable right tackle. “He’s grown up a lot this year, and hopefully he continues to and work as a player and help make us a better football team.” To be sure, Lewis has also been critical of his superstars, like Andy Dalton, Dre Kirkpatrick, Jeremy Hill, among others. Ross isn’t an isolated topic to a frustrated head coach.

Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor mirrored Lewis’s sentiment on Ross this week, but with the tone of a disappointed parent that’s still hopeful. “The experiences he had here he has to own them. That’s what he is,” Lazor said via Bengals.com. “He gets to decide what he’s going to be … He probably brings more proven measuarbles to the table, but it will be up to what he does.”

These are not words that elicit positive reenforcement. However, it’s an opening. We will also learn more about Lazor and his wide receivers coach, Bob Bicknell. Is Ross ready to step up? Can he step up? And does he have the coaches to help him rise?