Everybody has been raving about Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins this spring and on Tuesday he confirmed it. Not only does he look good, he feels even better.
It turns out the hamstring injury on the first series of last season's finale that robbed him of a Bengals rookie-record 68th catch may end up helping him set other records. The game may be slower for him, but he says he's faster. And although the 6-4 Higgins says he's 220 pounds, just like at the beginning of last year, it's a way different 220.
"My biggest thing was to get that stronger. I didn't do any routes, I didn't run. I was just really in the weight room for the most part," Higgins said after Tuesday's practice, "Then, once I was able to actually get on the field and do like a workout or something I just went out there and it felt good. And then I just felt like I had to get stronger so I focused a little bit more on the weight room as well again. Now I'm weighing like 220 and it feels good. Last year I came in at like 220 and it was too heavy for me, so I had to lose a few pounds. Now it feels really good and I feel even faster."
Higgins came in last season and promptly pulled a hamstring, as if to foreshadow the finale. Not only wasn't he in the same shape, he just didn't have the grasp of the playbook he has right now.
"Everything is just way slower to me," Higgins said. "I know the playbook really well and this offseason I was able to prepare my body the right way for the season and for these first little few weeks of OTAs so that's the main thing right now."
Another year operating in head coach Zac Taylor's system has caught the eye of the play-caller.
"I've seen Tee come back in outstanding shape. He's one of our most detailed receivers," Taylor said. "He's got a really high football IQ. It all makes sense to him. He wants to be detailed. I'm really excited to see what's in store for him. We got a good receiving corps but I think Tee has been really impressive so far this offseason."
CHASE, TOO: Here's what the coaches love about the latest rookie wide receiver: Ja'Marr Chase didn't play last season and yet he clearly kept himself in top physical shape. Combine that with his ability to pick up the playbook has him standing out.
Ask a receiver just coming off a rookie year.
"He came in and he's already a pro," Higgins said. "You can tell. He came in locked in and focused and just ready to go and learn. He asks questions. He's not one of these guys who is stubborn and thinks he knows it all. He actually asks questions and wants to learn from others. That's all you can ask in a teammate.
"Sometimes he makes mistakes, obviously that happens being a rook learning the offense. When he do make them, I'm like 'Damn, that was me. That was me last year.' But I just encourage him (and) tell him 'just make a mistake, don't make it again. You've got learn from it."
FILL UP THE TREY: It looks like edge rusher Trey Hendrickson is going to be earning that $60 million deal that made him the Bengals' richest free agent ever by doing more things than he did getting 13.5 sacks for the Saints last season.
After Tuesday's practice he called defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo's 3-4 hybrid look "unique," for not only him, but Bengals two-year starter Sam Hubbard on the other edge.
"It's just the fits and how we're attacking offenses. It's just different from what I've done before, the way they're using me personally and the way...obviously, Sam, opposite me, the more we can do the better it will help the defense," Hendrickson said." I'm super excited like I said. I can't say it enough. It's looking very unique of anything I've ever played before but I think it's playing to both the defense and what I can bring to the table."
It sounds like the edge guys could be doing just about everything, ranging from dropping into pass coverage to lining up anywhere up front.
"Some of the things we have us doing is dropping and stuff like that and playing a lot of this rush technique and outside rushing," Hendrickson said. "Not necessarily in a 4 or 6 (alignment), stuff like that. Sometimes we are playing around with it. There are times I'm lined up at three (tackle). It's going to be a fun season, it's a lot to absorb. But I've got a good group of guys that are helping me along the way. Sam and D.J. (Reader are) helping me learn this playbook."
LARRY O: Former Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, bidding to become the first player to ever win consecutive Pro Football Writers' Good Guys in Cleveland and Cincinnati, is already happy. He's lining up next to Reader, a nose tackle that is going to command double teams, and after two years in college and four years in Cleveland, he's where he always wanted to be. Rushing the passer.
"The last time I played three technique was in high school. They tried me at it in high school," Ogunjobi said. "It's actually exciting because it's a very natural position for me. I get to do what I do best, so I'm excited … Love it."
Speaking of Ragsdale High School in Greensboro, N.C., he's reunited with Reader, the big fullback from Grimsley High that Ogunjobi says couldn't run over him. They kid each other, but Reader always makes sure he tells people how much he admires Ogunjobi for turning childhood obesity (350 pounds) into a college scholarship and NFL career.
Here's Ogunjobi's advice on fighting the weight battle:
"I'm a strong believer that outlook determines outcome. We look at things at face value, but sometimes some things are way deeper," Ogunjobi said. "It's not going to come easy, you've just got to work for it. With no sacrifice there's no value, so you have to be willing to sacrifice things to get what you want. I had to say no to a lot of things when I was in college because I wanted to be an NFL player. I'm in that position now. You have to discipline yourself, you have to go through things, you're not always going to be motivated but you have to be disciplined."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: With receivers running mostly on air, it's been tough to gauge the defensive backs. But there's no question the Bengals are delighted with the difference between this year and last year in what amounts to a brand new trio of starting cornerbacks in Trae Waynes and Chidobe Awuzie on the outside and Mike Hilton in the slot.
"Fun to watch. Really veteran players over there," Taylor said. "You just look at group that rolls out there first with Chido, Trae and Mike and not even talking about the safeties, those guys have played a lot of football. It's fun to watch them interact and match up with some of the concepts we employ. I'm calling a play on offense and making sure our guys are aligned and then on the snap you can see where they go, but my eyes are really on the secondary watching those guys match and the details that they're using. It's a fun group. They've done a good job so far. " …
Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons continues to hunt for a punt returner among undrafted rookies Pooka Williams Jr., and Riley Lees and veteran Trent Taylor. Williams is getting more and more comfortable catching punts for the first time in his life and is gaining confidence by the day in a roster joust that probably won't be decide until the pre-season finale …
The Bengals began Week 3 of Organized Team Activities. Check out some of the best images from the practice field.