Three weeks remain between now and the NFL regular season. Plenty of time for any kinks to be ironed out, or in this case, mental hurdles to be cleared.
It’s clear that Bengals rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase is indeed battling something intangible right now. Chase had a rough outing Friday night in Cincinnati’s preseason defeat to the Washington Football Team; dropping all three of his targets before he and the rest of the starters were pulled.
The benefit of the doubt was given. Chase has been practicing with one quarterback and playing with another. Minor issues could have risen given those circumstances.
Sunday seemed to confirm it has less to do with the quarterback and more to do with his current state of mind.
The Bengals returned to the practice field two days after Friday’s loss to find Chase’s drop issues are still ongoing. He dropped his first two targets, and the second one ended up in the hands of safety Vonn Bell in the end zone.
First target in 11s for Chase, stone cold drop— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonATH) August 22, 2021
Joe Burrow looking for Ja’Marr Chase in the end zone….. Instead, Vonn Bell gets his second interception of the team period #Bengals pic.twitter.com/dDW40L2mIU— James Rapien (@JamesRapien) August 22, 2021
The reactions to this were as expected. Chase carries a ton of expectations every time he puts his hands up down the field. Whether it be in practice or in a (exhibition) game, you don’t want to see the team’s fifth-overall pick not playing like he should. And when one bad night turns into a bad weekend, the idea that the problem is internal becomes inescapable.
One thing’s for certain: No one is more upset about Ja’Marr Chase dropping passes than Ja’Marr Chase. Immediately after that interception, Chase went over to the side field to catch passes from his quarterbacks while special teams work took center stage on the main field.
During special teams period, with the offensive starters resting, Ja’Marr Chase is getting extra reps with the QBs. #Bengals pic.twitter.com/ohTzPmluZo— Joe Danneman (@FOX19Joe) August 22, 2021
Sure enough, Chase and the offense later resumed 11-on-11 work, and he reeled in his next target.
Next period of 11-on-11, Burrow goes right back to Chase on his first throw. Short pattern, pass caught. #Bengals— Joe Danneman (@FOX19Joe) August 22, 2021
Chase comes back in team drills with a catch. Bobbles the ball initially on an in-breaking route but he secured the catch and turned upfield. Good sign for him.— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) August 22, 2021
What do you know? He can still catch a football.
Chase sitting the 2020 season out came up plenty during the pre-draft process. On the positive side, the year off gave him an opportunity to boost his overall athleticism and keep his body fresh. It also meant that when he returned to playing again, he would have an unknown period of rust time to deal with.
As it turns out, that period is still ongoing, and it’s only going to end with more reps.
#Bengals wide receivers coach Troy Walters is now making even the warm-up catches contested catches for Ja'Marr Chase at training camp.— Joe Danneman (@FOX19Joe) August 22, 2021
"I'm going to be on you every catch." pic.twitter.com/zhntj7ODXc
The reps will continue, and Chase will see the light at the end of the tunnel. Good thing it’s late August and not late September.
As for the rest of the pad-less practice, Joe Burrow also did not have his best day. Burrow threw two additional interceptions on top of the one that was initially dropped by Chase. Jessie Bates, still hungry for a contract extension, got the last one.
second pass of 11s, pressure from Hendrickson, pass intended for Uzomah is intercepted by Vonn Bell— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonATH) August 22, 2021
Jessie Bates just picked off Joe Burrow on a pass intended for tight end CJ Uzomah #Bengals— Kelsey Conway (@KelseyLConway) August 22, 2021
Burrow has rebounded nicely during camp in the last two weeks, so Sunday was a bit surprising to see. The Bengals play the Miami Dolphins in a week’s time to close out the preseason, and Burrow could be in consideration to play.
Lastly, on the day that Noah Spence was signed to compensate for the loss of Joseph Ossai, defensive end Khalid Kareem finally returned to practice. Kareem reportedly had a hot start to camp but has missed several practices and both preseason games with an undisclosed injury. Getting him back is a big boost for the defensive line.