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2021 NFL Draft

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Focused Chase Stakes His Claim As "Uno," As Bengals Line It Up

Ja'Marr Chase with the first No. 1 in Bengals history.
Ja'Marr Chase with the first No. 1 in Bengals history.

Ja'Marr Chase, the first Bengal born in the 21st century, has a thing about numbers.

"And I'm wearing No. 1," says Chase, who is also the first Bengal assigned the index finger. "It's a legacy I can leave now. Start up the new and keep it going. I'm just thankful for the opportunity start a legacy and keep it going."

In his first half-hour with the team Thursday night, Chase, born March 1, 2000 on the west bank of New Orleans, vowed to break every wide receiver number in the Bengals record book.

When he stepped on the turf at Paul Brown Stadium Friday afternoon, he looked at a scoreboard with his name streaked against an orange backdrop: "JA'MARR CHASE: Welcome to the Jungle."

In the photo he wore LSU's No. 7, the heralded jersey denoting the team's latest playmaker in a tradition begun by cornerback Patrick Peterson and handed down to the likes of safety Tryann Mathieu and running back Leonard Fournette. Chase never got to wear it because he opted out last season ("I wanted to carry on the honor and tradition"), but he feels like the Bengals' No. 1 is giving him a chance to start something.

The NFL changed the rule last week to open up single numbers to players other than quarterbacks, kickers and running backs. Chase wanted his college number and now 54 years later the Bengals have a No. 1.

"I think you're getting a No. 1 guy," said LSU wide receivers coach and assistant head man Mickey Joseph.

And he's talking about the wide receiver position, not the jersey.

"You lost A.J. Green, but you're getting a similar player. I think you're getting a guy with more power. He's trying to destroy you when he releases on the press. And he's got Joey B there. They hung out every day. Chemistry."

"Joey B.," of course, is Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, Chase's triggerman in college. Burrow texted Chase congratulations Friday morning and wondered when he he'd get a chance to see him.

(Probably May 14, the day of the rookie minicamp.)

Also checking in was Bengals all-time leading receiver Chad Johnson, holder of one of the many numbers Chase wants to re-write. Johnson got Chase's number from Bengals head coach Zac Taylor Thursday night and Johnson Face Timed him.

"He told me congratulations. That he's rooting for me," Chase said. "A guy like that, he's a legend. I can learn a lot talking to him."

Friday was the first day Bengals wide receivers coach Troy Walters got to sit in the same room with Chase. He had two one-hour Zooms with him before they picked him, but this was the first time they were face-to-face.

When they visited, Chase was accompanied by his family and an agent as he asked Walters to punch up some cutups of the two receivers he's joining in the starting lineup, slot receiver Tyler Body and Tee Higgins.

"I wanted to see what type of receiver I'm going to be playing with," Chase said. "When I was at LSU, I was playing with two different types of receivers. Tyler Boyd plays a little slot. Tee Higgins is playing outside. I just wanted to watch their games and what they brought to the table, just like they're checking me out."

Chase liked what he saw. Walters said Chase thought Boyd was a little guy and was shocked to see that, at 6-2, he's taller than him. And he met Higgins once during the week of the 2019 national title game when LSU beat Clemson.

"That will be crazy, actually, me and Tee Higgins," Chase said. "I knew when we were younger he probably didn't know who I was. He was highly ranked. He reached out last night. Jut to tell me congratulations and can't wait to have me on the team."

Walters found Chase "focused," which Joseph, the brother of former Bengals secondary coach and current Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, is going to love.

"He has an edge every time he goes to the practice field and every time he goes to the game field," Joseph said. "I'm really proud of this kid because he's from where I'm from. The West Bank. It's hard to make it off of the West Bank if you're not focused. He was a focused kid. I think right now, you're getting a kid who is trying to be to be All Pro. He's coming after those same records."

Walters, who played nearly a decade in the league, gave Chase a taste of what he'll see as they spoke Friday. The press coverage, the speed. Chase didn't bat an eye.

"He's not afraid to tell you what he wants," Walters says of those 10 TDs-1,500 yards-Rookie of the Year goals. "That's the type of young men you want to work with. Focused guys that are goal driven."

Chase says he's watched Chad Ocho Cinco Johnson on highlights. He can't remember him playing, but he agrees from watching the tape his best trait is the initial quickness off the line of scrimmage.


"My hands," Chase says. "I think I have strong hands. I had some friends call me 'Hands" Chase. Or "All State."

But here's the focus. There's one nickname he really likes.


"I can keep it now," Chase said. "He's Ocho Cinco. Now there's Uno," Chase said.

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