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Ja'Marr Chase: Bengals' Top Pick Working OT To Catch On

Ja'Marr Chase is putting in the time.
Ja'Marr Chase is putting in the time.

Ja'Marr Chase may have dropped the last four straight passes that have come his way in a game, but after Monday's practice that began the prep for Sunday's opener against the Vikings (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) at Paul Brown Stadium, he calmly caught every question the Cincy media fired at him as if they were one of the 5,000 tennis balls he's caught this summer.

Exhibit A is the bubble screen he dropped in last Sunday's preseason finale against Miami.

"I would just say it's a lack of concentration. That's all it was," Chase said. "If you look back at it, I jumped in the air when the ball got to me. My eyes weren't concentrating on the ball. I didn't keep still, so that makes my eye adjustment for the ball move around and now my eyes get lazy where the balls coming in from."

T.J. Houshmandzadeh, one of the surest catches in Bengals history with the fourth-most of all time on 507, says Chase is going to be just fine.

"Just relax and play and don't think about it. He says he's not. But he is. Human nature," said Houshmandzadeh, who trains college receivers for the pros. "Just work on getting open and creating separation. The rest will come. You know you're going to catch the ball."

Chase offered no excuses. But he admits he hasn't been able to get into sync during a preseason he has run all of 18 plays and just three with quarterback Joe Burrow.

"I didn't really get into a good rhythm with myself and actually play football," Chase said. "I just had a few times to go out there and learn the fundamentals of the offense. That's how I felt when I was out there playing. I feel like once I get into this game and actually play a longer time I'll do more of myself."

Houshmandzadeh couldn't agree more.

"As the fifth pick in the draft, he's going to get, what? Six to eight targets in a regular-season game," Houshmandzadeh said. "If you drop a ball, you get to come back the next play. At least you get into a rhythm and you've got a full game to play. He's not getting that in the preseason. He'll have more chances to get more catches and think positively instead of having negative thoughts. When you're anxious, you don't have your hands in the right position. Relax. Just play, man."

No excuses from Chase, but there are differences from the LSU days with Burrow. For one thing, he hasn't played since those days and next Sunday marks more than 600 days since he caught a ball in a real game, the 2019 national title game when Burrow found him nine times for 221 yards.

"I don't want to blame it on me sitting on my butt the whole year, but it probably had something to do with it, of course," Chase said. "There's a bigger ball adjustment, so I don't want to make excuses but I've just got to be a pro and make the catch."

Literally, it's not the same ball Burrow threw to him for two touchdowns on Jan. 13, 2020 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"The ball is different because it is bigger," Chase said. "It doesn't have the white stripes on the side so you can't see the ball coming from the tip point so you actually have to look for the strings on the ball at the top, which is hard to see because whole ball is brown and you have the six strings that are white. But for the most part, just have to get used to it and find out what I am comfortable with catching."

It's not like the guy isn't putting in the reps. Because he stays after practice to catch footballs from the Jugs machine, it may be a tossup on if he's caught more footballs than tennis balls during the preseason. And he says it is 5,000 tennis balls. A coach stands behind him in the weight room, throws the tennis ball off the wall and Chase reacts.

"I do at least 40 a day," said Chase, who was putting in some 500 tennis balls' days after the three drops in Washington. "The tennis balls are for eye concentration, hand-eye coordination."

Chase then pointed to a feeble scribe in the media gathering.

"If I were to throw a tennis ball right now and throw it low, what's the first thing you're going to do?" Chase asked.

When the scribe asked weakly, "Bend down?" Chase said, "Exactly. That comes with concentration of getting low and hand-eye coordination going down and watching the ball. That's something I've been working on.

"I catch it with two, but I catch it with one hand sometimes."

Pro Football Focus counted Chase's 2019 drops on just one hand. Chase says his slump has nothing to with either hand.

"My drops come from me not looking the ball in. By looking the ball in I'm talking about high-pointing it and watching it and as soon as it hit you looking away," Chase said. "Me running before the catch. Me doing stuff like that and dropping it. I did that a couple times."

Houshmandzadeh has one thing in common with Chase. They both have caught balls from Burrow on the practice field and here's another reason Houshmandzadeh thinks Chase will be OK.

"Joe throws a real catchable ball," Houshmandzadeh said. "He'll be fine."