Like he did when he stunned his college track coach by adding five inches to his career-best high jump in the same meet, rookie wide receiver Andrei Iosivas has sensed his improvement leap during his brief Bengals career with the encouragement of fellow big body Tee Higgins.
"If you look at the progression in my routes from the first day I got here until now, you would think I went through a boot camp for three months," says Iosivas, who instead of becoming a world-class decathlete has chosen to study the out-of-this-world moves of Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase.
"I really take the advice of Ja'Marr and Tee very seriously and critique myself very hard. Every time I'm watching film, I see what Tee tells me and try to replicate it the next day or that practice."
Chase has been terrific, too. "He's really nice. They've both taken me under their wing." But assistant wide receivers coach Brad Kragthorpe advised the 6-3, 212-pound Iosivas if he's watching anything it should be every move of the gifted and gargantuan Higgins. All 6-4, 220 pounds of him.
"Tee knows we're very similar in build, so he knows how my body works more," Iosivas says. "In real life, Tee is humongous. He gets out of his breaks really well. If I can just be a mentee under him for a little bit. See how he does things. Even he told me that DBs in the league are surprised how fast he comes out of his breaks despite how big he is. So I want to be at that level."
Iosivas, the first Ivy League player the Bengals drafted in this century when they took him in the sixth round out of Princeton, has a good track record as a mentee.
Fred Samara, the Princeton track and field coach who was the second American finisher in the Olympic decathlon held the year the Bengals took Dartmouth linebacker Reggie Williams in the third round of the 1976 draft, took a raw Honolulu high school sprinter and long jumper to a projection that put him well within the world's decathlon top ten by this year.
"For an NFL player, he fits the bill but the thing with Andrei is his body awareness," Samara says. "He's got jumping ability, but the more important thing is he takes directions very well and he can follow through on those directions."
Iosivas replicated enough that he went from 6-5 to 6-10 and a quarter in the high jump during the same day. He also learned to pole vault, racked up a career-best 16-1, and Samara thought he was soon headed to 17 feet.
While an injury, COVID and football (which has always been his focus) doomed his decathlon career as a freshman, he turned to the heptathlon and in the 2021-22 indoor season he finished fourth in the NCAA meet as a junior with a heptathlon meet-record 6.71 seconds in the 60-meter dash to top off a year he had the nation's best score in an earlier meet.
As the Bengals found out in Thursday's team meeting when the trivia question was put on the screen, there are seven events in the heptathlon and after Iosivas ticked them off (60 meters, long jump, shot put, high jump, 60-meter hurdles, pole vault, 1,000 meters), he got a round of applause.
"Let's see if he can translate that to football because that's impressive," says special teams captain Michael Thomas. "Any time you're competing like that among the best, yeah, I'll clap. I might have been the first one."
One thing that translates to football is the repetition. Such as that meet where he gained five inches in the high jump.
"When he came back from each jump," Samara says, "I would tell him, 'Do this or don't do that or don't do this.' And bang, bang, bang."
That's pretty much what he's trying to do while watching Higgins.
"A big thing for me is dropping my hips," Iosivas says. "When he told me how to do it and I saw how he did it, he literally showed me in front of him," Iosivas says. Seeing it on video is different than seeing it in real life. Show me, replicate and do it right there as well."
With the demands of football, Iosivas basically admitted at this past NFL scouting combine that those gaudy track numbers were pretty much accomplished on the side. Which is the way he wants it. He wanted to make it clear as the league evaluated him. He's a football player who ran track and it wasn't the other way around.
He didn't compete this year because he was auditioning for the NFL, but Samara had him projected so highly as a potential decathlete because the top two finishers from last year's NCAA indoors heptathlon championships both went into this year in the top ten in the world in the decathlon.
"He came in fourth, so he finished among some pretty formidable competition," Samara says. "Knowing Andrei, you can give him a shot and let him develop and he'll be a good one."
The first shot comes from special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons and much like Samara did with the heptathlon, Simmons is teaching Iosivas from scratch.
Check out photos of WR Andrei Iosivas, the Bengals 6th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
"He'll have to learn (special teams) or else he won't play," Simmons says, reciting the cardinal rule for backups.
But teaching college wide receivers to tackle and block is nothing new for Simmons.
"How many of these receivers come into the league knowing how to play gunner or cover a kick?" asks Simmons, alluding to one of his best from back in the day. "Take Kevin Walter. He never did it. He was a pass catcher who learned how to cover and had a level of toughness to him."
And then there's backup wide receiver Stanley Morgan, a key teams players during the current run. Like Iosivas learning the pole vault, Morgan taught himself to tackle.
Don't get Simmons wrong. How many of these guys also come in with world-class skills? He loves the chance to coach a 6-3, 212-pounder who runs the 40-yard dash in the low 4.4s while also being able to high jump over Orlando Brown or Myles Murphy. He's already put him everywhere out there.
"It's why we drafted him. He's a height-weight-speed guy," Simmons says. "You've got skills like that, you've got a chance to play anywhere. We'll find out what his niche is."
At the moment, it is very clearly an NFL rookie who just happens to set track records on the side.
"He checks all the boxes," says Samara of a projection no more.
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