Injuries are a part of football. It is just the hard truth.
Players who manage to make it through a full 16-game season are lucky as much as anything else, and even then they have likely accumulated a few minor injuries along the way.
“Next man up” is the expression most NFL fans have heard whenever a player goes down. It is rooted in the even older saying “the show must go on.”
Now that the Bengals will be without wide receiver A.J. Green for at least 6-8 weeks, it is showtime for some Bengals receivers who have a shot to show what they have in head coach Zac Taylor’s new offense.
Where the Bengals sit right now with wide receivers is pretty interesting. Tyler Boyd obviously leads the pack after his breakout season last year, but after that are a bunch of receivers who haven’t exactly shown they can be relied on yet. That isn’t something Boyd is worried about though. He plans on continuing to grow as a No. 1 option as well as a leader.
“I felt pretty comfortable in that area. I try to keep everybody around me motivated and confident,” Boyd told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “If they drop the ball or something, it’s cool, bro. You just make the next play. I just want to make sure no one puts their head down. Just continue to go out there and make plays.”
“During OTAs A.J. was kind of limited and John was still going through some things. Josh, CC and Alex, a lot of the guys, we’ve been preparing with just us the whole time. Just building our chemistry with Andy. I feel pretty comfortable with Josh and any other guy out there. It’s hard to fill A.J.’s shoes, but if we can get guys like Josh to continue to make plays like he’s doing, I believe we’ll be fine.”
John Ross was a first-round pick in 2017, but injuries have played a large part in him not producing as much as you’d hope. He has missed the first two days of practice with tightness, which has opened up opportunities for receivers behind him on the depth chart.
Alex Erickson is one of those guys. He may not be lining up in Green’s position, but without Ross at practice, he likely will get all the snaps as a slot receiver as he can handle. The coaches were already excited about Erickson as a receiver before training camp, and now Erickson can’t help but glow about the design of the new offense.
“There are all kinds of things we do in the run game and everyone is asked to do that. Not just one or two positions, it’s all three,” Erickson said. “Guys are moving all over with condensed splits, wide splits, motion, jet sweeps, faking jet sweeps, everyone is really involved in the blocking scheme. We’re really involved in everything.”
Then there is special teamer Cody Core, who had a decent shot last season at proving his abilities after taking plenty of snaps following Green’s injury last season. He was also limited by Jeff Driskel at quarterback. This is a fresh start in a new offense for Core though, and his receiver’s coach, Bob Bicknell, is excited to see what he can do.
“Cody does lot of good things,” Bicknell said. “He’s good on special teams. He ran an unbelievable route on a deep one today. He can run, he’s big, he just has to catch it more consistently in games and all that. I like what he’s been doing.”
One player who could use a fresh offense is also Josh Malone. He was a fourth-round pick in 2017, and due to being buried on the depth chart as well as injuries has been limited to only seven catches in his two years with Cincinnati. He has made it hard for coaches not to notice him so far though, and if he can make a leap forward in his game this season, it could go a long way in helping the Bengals getting through Green’s time off the field.
“The reality of it is he had some injuries,” Bicknell said of Malone’s career so far. “He had some things that happened to him, which just happens in this league, that’s part of the deal. I felt like there are a lot of things he’s done well. Coming back both in the offseason and during the preseason he’s done a really good job. He’s one of those guys who gets a bunch of reps now and every day we hopefully every day we keep seeing the progression.”
Many may limit this opportunity to only these players, but Taylor isn’t counting out his undrafted rookies to make an impact early in their careers. Damion Willis has made some early noise in camp, so he may be someone to watch out for moving forward.
With a new head coach in place, it wouldn’t be shocking that the decision to ride the hot hand into the season exists for a player like Willis. It will be important for him to have a successful preseason if he wants to have a chance at that though.
Also we can’t forget to mention Auden Tate. The second-year player made plenty of noise by showing up in crazy good shape. You can see him come onto screen here (no. 19 obviously) while the Bengals showed off a pass to Tyler Eifert.
The reality is multiple receivers will be used to try and fill Green’s role during however long his absence is. Even though none of these guys have had extensive success during the regular season, sometimes all it takes is getting the shot to prove yourself.
Fans should get used to these players being rotated as the team tries to get a solid plan on how and when to use each receiver going forward. If there is any positive to take away from Green’s injury, it is that now the Bengals will know exactly what they have at the receiver position.