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A Familiar Look For Chase As He Impresses Bengals Early And Often

Ja'Marr Chase doing what he does best.
Ja'Marr Chase doing what he does best.

Ja'Marr Chase got his first NFL check Wednesday when he signed his contract. But he got his first NFL Joe Burrow check before that.

"We can look at each other and already know what we're thinking," says Chase, who says it has happened during these last two weeks of voluntary practices. "I just knew it. I just know sometimes. I had a feeling."

The Bengals also have a feeling about Chase, Burrow's fellow LSU game-breaker they couldn't resist taking with the fifth pick.

Head coach Zac Taylor: "Ja'Marr has been impressive. He picks it up really quickly. I know there is probably some new terms that are crossover from some old terms he's had, and like any young receiver it takes some getting adjusted to, but he gets lined up quick, he knows what to do, he has great hands and he's everything we hoped he could be through the first couple of practices."

Slot receiver Tyler Boyd: "He seems like he has got the total package. The more the better, and we can put him anywhere on the field. I feel like we can put him in the backfield if we really wanted to. He's a guy that can play any position on the field."

His fellow Fred Biletnikoff Award winner, who just happens to be his position coach, is feeling the same thing.

"He puts his head down and grinds. You wouldn't think he's a No. 5 pick in the draft," says Troy Walters. "He's humble and goes to work every day."

Chase goes after it like a fifth-rounder scraping to make the club and Walters should know. After he was named the best receiver in the country at Stanford, the Vikings took him in the fifth round of the 2000 draft.

Twenty-one years later Chase had to wait a year after he won The Fred to be reunited with the man that threw him all those balls. Walters has already let him know there are two Biletnikoff winners in his room.

"He stays on me. He's the man with the plan," Chase says. "He told me he won it. That's probably the reason he stays on me to get in the playbook. I can take coaching."

Walters loves how Chase is taking it. A man who was a backup receiver for the Peyton Manning Colts and been a finalist for the award as college football's top assistant coach, Walters knows not only what a top receiver should look like, but what he should think.

And Walters likes what Chase is thinking because he sends him tests every night and Chase always sends them back with a lesson learned.

"What he does a good job of is not making the same mistake twice," Walters says. "So he's learning from his mistakes or from someone else's mistakes. You rarely see him make two mistakes, which is encouraging."

It helps that Chase not only understands football, but he's also inherited a playbook that has several items lifted from his college scheme with even some of the same terminology.

But to say the Bengals are running LSU North is far-fetched.

(Maybe it's the other way around since the Chase-Burrow Tigers scheme pretty much came out of Sean Payton's NFL playbook with the New Orleans Saints.)

"Not necessarily," says Chase, when asked if there are a lot of similarities to the systems. "We still have some of the same stuff concept-wise. I'm sure everyone does … There are the same routes that have the same names … (But) it's totally different.

"Just from the splits. And I have to know a lot of terms … The way we call it, it's all set up differently here… It's coming. I'm thinking a lot faster."

But he's seen enough familiarity to think he'll be able to be a factor on the same plays.

"I see some of the same stuff I think I can make a big impact. I'm not going to give them away," Chase says. "There are things I need to work on or to get better at."

He says the same things when it comes to his versatility. From what he can see, the Bengals receivers have the same kind of interchangeability they have at LSU. But he also says he didn't play very much in the slot and while he feels more comfortable on the outside, he's ready to put in the work inside.

"I don't mind moving around. When they put me in there we'll see how I do," Chase says. "I'm a team player. I get the ball in my hands and I'll make plays. As long as we're producing as a unit."

One thing is for certain. The Bengals are expecting the production of this rookie receiver to be commensurate with the times. Back in 2000, the leading receiver in Walters' rookie class was Darrell Jackson with 713 yards during an era wide receiver was seen as one of the toughest positions to make the transition.

But last year, six rookies had more yards than Jackson, including the 908 of the Bengals' Tee Higgins. Since Walters came into the league, 23 rookies have hit 908 yards. Seven did it in the first decade of the 21st century. The other 16 did it in the seasons since. Of the 12 rookie receivers that have hit 1,000 yards in the past 21 seasons (including the Bengals' A.J. Green in 2011), nine did it in the last 11 seasons.

And it's not just at the top. Walters was one of 29 rookies that had at least one catch in 2000. In 2020, Higgins was one of 42.

Walters chalks up the rise of the rookie receiver to a couple of reasons: the athletes are simply better, the rules, the proliferation of the spread offense in the NFL and the advent of three- and four-receiver sets.

"When I was coming out there weren't a lot of spread offenses in college. I think the NFL teams took your college system into consideration," Walters says. "If you came from a West Coast offense your transition was probably a little easier. And now the NFL is becoming more wide open and incorporating college concepts. You can really come from an offense in college and be able to play.

"The rules as well. On the outside, it's not as physical. DBs really can't put their hands on a receiver. It's more open. Your athletic ability can cover the play more ... There are definitely more four-receiver sets than when I was playing and that gives you more chances as a rookie."

What's even more intriguing about 21st century rookie receivers are the two kids that have had the best seasons.

No. 1 is Justin Jefferson, Chase's buddy who came out of the same LSU system to rack up 1,400 yards last season for the Vikings. No. 2 is the 1,377 yards of Anquan Boldin in 2003, a player whose size, toughness and fire with the ball in his hands has been comped to Chase.

And now Chase is exchanging those looks again with Burrow. But, like they say, he's learning fast. He'll let the rest of the league figure out what the look looks like.

"We make it unnoticeable," Chase says. "We're in the NFL. They're going to pay attention to all of that."