Mirror, mirror on the wall. Towering Tee Higgins, who is a reflection of brute, hard offseason work in the weight room, thinks the Bengals wide receivers can be the fairest of them all.
Asked before Thursday's practice about his trio that includes Ja'Marr Chase, the fifth pick in the draft, and Tyler Boyd, a two-time 1,000-yard slot receiver, if there's a shot all three can catch 1,000 yards, Higgins offered, "I feel like it is. I mean, why not? We're all elite players. All three of us are elite. I feel like all of us can go out there and get that 1K."
Higgins is looking to stare it into reality.
"I have my goals in the mirror right now," Higgins said. "Obviously, I want to be a Pro Bowler, I want to go for 1,000 this year and just get to the playoffs. At the end of the day, that's the main goal … I got 1K on my mirror right now."
Bengals Super Bowl MVP Boomer Esiason only has to look at the tape to see the talent teeming in Joe Burrow's huddle. Esiason, CBS studio host on game Sundays and NFL analyst any time, thinks the wide receivers can make this offense a mirror of this era.
"It's as wide open as it's ever been. The rules are such where offenses really need to be able to throw the ball down the field to big wide receivers and this is exactly what the Bengals have," Esiason said on his visit to camp Thursday during Dan Hoard and Dave Lapham's podcast. "They're loaded at the position. Ja'Marr Chase has potential to be rookie of the year. That's how good this team can be good offensively. Especially with Joe and Ja'Marr and their history at LSU."
The trio is a big reason why Esiason agrees with Higgins that they should think of the playoffs.
"I think they have underrated, sneaky kind of talent here. I'm not going to sit here and tell you they're going 12-5, but they're going to be in the mix," Esiason said. "The other teams in this division aren't perfect. They all have scars or warts somewhere along the line. Cleveland is probably the best team, I think. But that doesn't mean Cincinnati can't sneak up on them as well."
The monstrous 6-4, 220-pound Higgins isn't going to sneak up on anybody. He went into the last season's last game needing 92 yards to become the third Bengals rookie wide receiver to hit 1,000 and on the first series he was halfway there on a catch-and-run before a hamstring injury and penalty snatched it all away in an ugly mess.
"My mindset was the first month or so to just chill, sit back and relax. And then I got into the weight room," Higgins said. "That was my biggest thing, just to be stronger from the legs up. I finally got on the field after my hamstring healed up and I just felt better than ever. I weigh about 221, 222 right now. Last year, I came in, I was about 223 and it was too heavy. But now I feel like I can hold it and I'm running faster."
Count Higgins as an interested party when it comes to the question if the numbers are going to be too spread out for the three to hit 1,000.
"You never know. I feel like it'll be easier," Higgins said. "Guys won't be looking to double me as much. Or Tyler. Having him on the other side of me, it gives me more confidence that I can go out there and challenge each other to go out there and get that 1K no matter what."
PLAYER OF THE DAY: Slot wide receiver Tyler Boyd
As if on cue, Boyd then proceeded to go out and have a heck of a practice for himself on Thursday, wriggling in the slot for a handful of catches in front of a much more aggressive secondary in both 11-on-11 and 7-on-7.
Case in point: In team drills, Burrow rolled out a bit to find Boyd over the middle and gunned it just enough over the head of slot cornerback Mike Hilton so Boyd could do one of his stretch and pull-ins before rolling into the ground.
PLAY OF THE DAY: Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie
Burrow wasn't nearly as sharp on Thursday as he was on Wednesday and the long ball to Chase is not quite yet out of moth balls.
Left edge Sam Hubbard got some good pressure on him on one snap, but Burrow was still able to step away and fling one that wasn't perfect down the middle but certainly catchable and Chase couldn't reach down and haul it in.
Earlier, Burrow had Chase down the left side line but the throw was a little short and while Awuzie didn't get his head completely around, he alertly had his hands up to bat it down. It's a play symbolic of the tighter coverage out there on a new-look corner with Hilton in the slot and Awuzie and Trae Waynes on the outside. Awuzie, a free-agent pickup from Dallas, looks to be as advertised. Solid and rarely out of position.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Higgins on his growing friendship with Chase:
"He's a funny guy. He's going to be himself no matter what. You know how Louisiana people talk. They all talk the same. Sometimes I can't hear. Like him and Pooka (Williams Jr.), I can't hear them talk. They talk so low. Some of their slang is rubbing off on me. What's up brother? What you doing, son?"
BATES HOTEL: It can't be the Bates Motel (Google Alfred Hitchcock) with free safety Jessie Bates III talking to the Bengals about an extension. No deal yet, but with his buddy Hubbard in the fold as of last weekend, they have an entire preseason to get the thing done.
The thing is this. Bates is so smart and prepared, he was thinking about his second contract before he went in the second round in 2018. He took a look at the safeties coming out and decided not to go back to Wake Forest for another year. After being named Pro Football Focus' top safety last season, how good does that look?
So, no surprise here. Bates is saying and doing all the right things after he was one of the masterminds behind getting the Bengals on the field for eight practices in the spring.
No. A holdout just wasn't in the cards.
"I think everyone's situation is very different. I'm not pressed for it right now, honestly," Bates told the assembled media before Thursday's practice. "I feel like I've put myself in a great position where I have great people around me … having that proposal and strictly believing it's going to happen at some point. I know what I bring to the table. And I'm just going to be the same guy whether I get deal done this year or not.
"That's going to be a leadership part that I'm going to continue to build on. Like I said, everyone's situations are different. Their beliefs are different. So I'm not going to say there's a right or a wrong way, but I will set the example for younger guys coming up so that maybe they don't have to sit out during training camp because they believe it's going to get done at some point. That's what I'm going to stand on. That's the way I think."
DANIELS BOUNCING AROUND: Is there anyone more energetic than 32-year-old defensive tackle Mike Daniels? The guy certainly didn't need a microphone at Thursday's media gathering.
"I really thank Bengals nation for accepting me," said Daniels, who didn't get here until mid-August last year. "I thank the organization for bringing me back and taking a chance on me. I'm just here to prove them right. I'm just excited. I really don't have much more to say about that."
Daniels was a heck of a get when they grabbed him off the market as he recovered from an injury and even though he seemed to be fighting injuries ever since he got here, he's provided a terrific locker room ballast as a one-time Pro Bowler who played well for good teams in Green Bay. He's one of these guys that seems to have played with and against everybody.
"I'm healthy. I haven't been healthy in two seasons, man, three, really," Daniels said. "And I feel amazing, like it feels so good to get back. Get back to normal football … We've got a lot of new, young faces man. They're eager. That takes you back, I've been in this thing 10 years now and it takes me back to 2012 when I was young and eager. I just feel so good. I love seeing the young guys. They come in feeling so great. I love being around them."
Daniels has got the brains and personality to one day get paid to break down the game, so it's not a bad idea to get his take on the feel around a Bengals defense that added four new free agent starters and promoted sophomore Logan Wilson to starting middle linebacker. But he says there is enough around to ease the new guys in.
"We definitely matured," Daniels said. "We put a lot on a lot of young guys. We just had Jessie, year three, I mean he's a vet, but he's still young. Now year four, that's a big difference. Our linebackers, they're another year older. Everybody's another year together. The veterans that we brought in—they're gelling just fine because they're coming in to a team where there's a bunch of guys that came in for the first time last year and we're helping them acclimate. It's a little harder coming into a team where everybody's been there, you kind of feel like the odd man out. When you're coming into a team where there are guys … I'm still relatively new. Vonn Bell's still relatively new. We can help guys like Trey (Hendrickson) and Larry (Ogunjobi) integrate into the locker room better because we had to do that last year so it's not that foreign to us."
Daniels is getting a lot of snaps early because Ogunjobi is nursing a conditioning test hamstring pull. Naturally, he is no stranger to him.
"I was going to play a significant amount anyway regardless, whether he was playing or not," Daniels said. "A lot of guys are ready for that and I just you know really pray for Larry's speedy recovery because just like everyone else, we're going to need him, we're going to need him bad. He's a really good player. I remember when he was a young guy, our offensive line of Green Bay said he was the best guy that played against so, and that's playing against Akiem Hicks and Linval Joseph in the (NFC North) twice. That's when he was a rookie. He's got a lot to bring."
Daniels has more than a passing interest in the Aaron Rodgers situation. But it was the words of one of his coaches he recalled on Thursday when he remembered the late Hall of Fame pass rusher Kevin Greene.
"I definitely will reach out to him because that's definitely a tough thing to go (through). And really, Kevin Greene told me this, rest in peace, that he told me this when I was a rookie," Daniels said. "He said, 'What really matters is what your brother is thinking about you.' It's always good. And the locker room definitely is excited to see him back. No hard feelings. I know that for a fact from talking to guys, and, you know, it's always good to reassure a guy. Hey, you're loved. Nobody will judge you. We're for you and with you because we know how you feel about us."
QUOTE OF THE DAY II
Daniels on his old Iowa teammate Riley Reiff, the Bengals new right tackle:
"We were actually on the defensive line together at Iowa and then he got transformed into a first-round, 10-year NFL vet offensive tackle … He was a wrestler man … He'd get his hands on guys and just flip them. Obviously, that's more for offensive line because defensive lineman have to flip them and then go make the play. He was just flipping so (head coach) Kirk (Ferentz) said, 'Hey, we'll bring you in there, you're going to go flip the defensive linemen because you can keep them on the ground. You don't have to worry about making the tackles."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: If a guy plays well enough, they'll keep six linebackers. The two guys that look to be battling, second-year man Joe Bachie and first-year Keandre Jones, got their hands on the same ball Thursday that ended up in Bachie's interception off a Jones tip ... A day after rookie kicker Evan McPherson hit all six of his field goals, Austin Seibert missed a 45-yarder and finished 5-for-6 when he made the 48-yarder.