Camp Notebook: Burrow Tees Up Offense For A Show; How Tennis Balls And Old Film Have Ja'Marr Bouncing Back In The Chase

Tee Higgins: Two TDs
Tee Higgins: Two TDs

The Bengals offense had one of those really good days during Monday's practice that wide receiver Tee Higgins says they need to stack on top of each other.

And it all may have started when rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase went to wide receivers coach Troy Walters after Friday night's three drops in Washington and was right back at it so they could meet "to get my focus back."

So before Higgins and quarterback Joe Burrow hooked up for two startling highlight film touchdown passes in Monday's steamy 91-degree workout, Chase continued to quietly grind in the weight room in his pre-practice routine that consists of catching tennis balls from Walters and was rewarded with a solid practice.

And, of course, the monstrous Auden Tate snatched an interception at the goal line and turned into a touchdown with another one of his wondrous catches.

But Chase had the biggest catch of the day if it's the one that gets him going. The Bengals drew their first national headlines of the year when he dropped three straight third-down passes Friday. Then in his first practice after that he dropped a touchdown into the arms of strong safety Vonn Bell on the back line of the end zone.

Yet during Monday's "one last play down four points" drill to win the game from the 10-yard line, Chase outdueled cornerback Trae Waynes at the right front corner on a nice lead by Burrow as Chase kicked the pylon to win a very contested ball.

"I don't think he had a ball hit the ground today," Walters said. "Individual is just as important as team. He'll be fine. Don't let that define you. You know you've got good strong hands. It's mental. It's a slump you've got to work through it. He will."

That's what Walters told himself nearly 20 years ago during his third year in the league and first with the Peyton Manning Colts. It was Dec. 1, 2002, to be exact and the Colts were thumping the expansion Texans in Indianapolis, 19-0.

Walters dropped two punts and got them back before losing on one on his own 21 with 4:28 left the game, leading to Houston's only points of the game.

"I was lucky they didn't cut me," Walters said. "I went home that night and said I'm not going to let that define me and played five more years. It could go one of two ways. You dwell on it or you come back."

Walters stayed three more years to catch 55 balls and six touchdowns from Manning and was there a few weeks ago when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Now Walters has been taking Chase back through greatness. In the last couple of days he's showed Chase clips from his LSU days when he was the best receiver in the country catching those same passes from Burrow.

"It's little things," Walters said. "Trying to run before you catch it. Not turning your head around and letting the ball get behind your eyes."

Chase has got plenty of company when it comes to going through a spate of drops. Sure-handed 1,000-yard slot man Tyler Boyd, who dropped just two balls out of 108 targets last year, agrees with Walters. It's a mind game and he doesn't mind telling Chase that.

"I'd look at my hands like 'yo, what is wrong with me? Like, what is it? This never happens usually,'" said Boyd as he recounted one of those droughts for the media before Monday's practice. "For me I just try to block everything out. Once I know we call a play and I know I'm going to get the ball, I try to stay relaxed and just go back on the little things. Go back on what I need to do to figure out a way to get a catch.

"So it's mental, man. It just plays with you a lot because then it'll make you feel like you're not good enough. It can take you deep into your thoughts. I try to not let it bury myself. I think I did a good job of trying to move onto the next play."

Walters has been thrilled the way Chase has responded. He figures he's bounced about 400 to 500 tennis balls off the wall. Chase stands in front of a wall and Walters stands behind so Chase can't see where it's going and he has to react as it comes off the wall.

"We've been doing it every day since and he had a great day today. He's going to be fine," Walters said.

PLAYER OF THE DAY: WR Tee Higgins

It could have been Burrow because he was slinging it like Seamless Joe slings it. But since we're talking receivers Monday, let's go with the 6-4, 220-pound Higgins, who when he gets out there looks like he's 6-7 and plays like he's 6-9.

"You," Burrow says, "can feel him."

Walters says by the time Higgins uses his entire wingspan to pluck a ball, he is about 6-9.

"He's confident. He has great burst off the ball," Walters says. "He uses his body well. He high points the ball. he's winning the 50-50 balls."

If Chase is looking to a guy, look at Higgins. Sure, Chase is the fifth pick in the draft, but Higgins didn't exactly come in under the radar last year as the top pick in the second round. There was more than some pressure there as Seamless Joe's running mate and the successor to A.J. Green, merely Higgins' idol.

"Once I got drafted there was a lot of hype. A lot of, he's coming here this and that. You have to block that out, too," Higgins said. "Too much can fill your head up and you go out there and not live up to what they're talking about and all the negativity comes. That's when you start playing badly and this and that. You just block out the negativity and the positive and just play your game."

Walters has been really impressed that with Higgins, "Everything he struggled with last year, he's improved that part of his game. He understands what he needs to do to get better. He attacks it each day and he gets a little better. With his wingspan, maybe he's a little bigger than 6-9. I tell him he needs to be a basketball player and going up and getting a rebound. He's taken that challenge and done a good job."

He can tell Chase there's one rookie drop he turned into good. It came in, of all games, his breakout in the third game of the season in Philadelphia when two of his five catches went for his first touchdowns.

But he remembers the deep ball in the fourth quarter that he couldn't bring in when it got batted away in a game the Bengals ended up tying.

"By me showing my hands too early, we tied when we could have won the game," Higgins said. "Ever since then I've looked at that, kept it in my mind so now I know how to show my hands late."

Higgins has been right on time.

"Ask Joe, ask the quarterbacks," Walters said. "He's a go-to guy."

PLAYS OF THE DAY: QB Joe Burrow to WR Tee Higgins

This is why Higgins is the Player of the Day. Early in the first team session, Burrow made it a point to drop back and then take a big step up in the pocket. He sifted it a good 55 yards in the air (according to Voice of the Bengals Dan Hoard, the Stat Masterson of Bengals practices) and hit Higgins in stride on a post past cornerback Chidobe Awuzie and safety Jessie Bates III.

"He dropped a perfect ball," Higgins said. "It was a great day for our receiving corps. This is the type of day we have to stack. Great day for the offense. The line was blocking well, the running backs were running, the receivers were flying around, the quarterbacks were dropping perfect passes."

It's not lost on Higgins that the long ball was missing last year. But a year ago at this time they'd been going deep for about two weeks. Now they've been doing it for about a year.

"It feels good to get it in early," Higgins said. "The more we do it, the better we'll get at it."

But the next touchdown was even better. It came with nine seconds left, no timeouts and the Bengals needing to score. (This is where Tate took a Brandon Allen pass and it ripped it away from the defense at the goal line.)

After Burrow threw to running back Joe Mixon in the flat, he hurried them up to the line. And you can debate if he got the play off in time, but he barked one out at the line and immediately went for Higgins on a fade to the back right pylon. Waynes had crazy tight coverage on him, but Burrow put it right on the flag and Higgins, using the body control Walters talked about, shielded Waynes just enough and made a diving catch with his feet in.

"Get the ball. Call the play. Not too much time. No timeouts," Higgins said. "We're trying to win the game. He believed in me that I can go up and make that play. He gave me a great ball. He's calling the play at the line. We all know what is our job on that play. Joe trusting and see who he wants to throw the ball."

QUOTE OF THE DAY

Tee Higgins on fellow WR Auden Tate:

"He catches everything. That catch last week (in Washington) was crazy. I asked him, bro, how do you do it? He said I just focus on the ball and just look it in. Tate is a really great receiver. I just can't wait for the season to start and he's going to show everybody what else he can do."

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