A relatively mundane and harmless preseason slate for the Cincinnati Bengals was not without some controversy. Most of it surrounded rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and his hands.
Chase let four of his five preseason targets slip through his hands; all of them coming in the final two games. It sparked reactions from jaded Bengals fans and cautious observers from around the league.
Seeing a top-five pick struggle so clearly in his first in-game action is entirely notable, but trying to distinguish the reasons behind the issues involves a lot of projection.
For the first time since the preseason concluded, Chase spoke to local media and addressed his rough month. He attributed the drops to a lack of focus and concentration.
“Lack of focus,” Chase said. “I didn’t let the ball in. Lack of concentration, just watching the ball come into my hands was just lacking [on my part].”
Expectations are high for Chase, who himself proclaimed he’s going to break every record in Bengals receiving history right after he was drafted. It’s clear confidence is not an issue for the 21-year old, which is evident with his candid response. He went through a thorough explanation, which you can watch here:
Asked Ja'Marr Chase what he feels is root cause of his drops. Says he hasn't been looking ball into his hands. #Bengals pic.twitter.com/WGB8uzK3lf— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) September 6, 2021
The common reasoning for Chase’s concentration issues has been rust from not playing all last year. He acknowledges that the lack of in-game experience over the last year might be part of the problem, but he knows it’s not a valid excuse.
“I don’t want to blame it on me sitting on my butt the whole year,” Chase said. “But it probably has something to do with it, of course,”
It’s better for Chase to have gone through these moments before the games start to count. He knows what he needs to do to get better, and he’ll have the entirety of his rookie season to showcase improvement.
So long as Chase is out on the field, he’ll have to be ready for the ball to hit his hands. Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins are going to get their share of targets, but Chase represents the missing piece to an offense that needs to perform more explosively. His head coach said as much on Monday.
“To make explosive plays,” Zac Taylor said when asked about Chase’s role. “He makes those plays down the field, he’s explosive, after the catch he’s got a real strong lower body, strong hands. Those are the expectations for him as he continues to develop.”
Chase and the Bengals have a few more practices before their Week 1 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings.