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Training Camp Report: Bengals Looking To Keep Up The (Ja'Marr) Chase As Defenses React

Ja'Marr Chase at work Monday.
Ja'Marr Chase at work Monday.

On a special teams Monday at training camp, the Bengals first offense ran only a handful of plays in a drive that started at their own 1. But the last two gave a hint on how they think they can keep Ja'Marr Chase one of the hottest wide receivers in the NFL.

On third-and-short, Chase lined up in the slot, got matched on a linebacker and made quick work of that on an arrow past the first-down marker. On the next snap, Chase lined up outside and beat cornerback Chidobe Awuzie on a back-shoulder throw.

"He's going to be all over the field," said wide receivers coach Troy Walters, who said they could Deebo him and put him in the backfield at times. "We're going to use him as many ways as we can. He's a quick learner … That's what great players want to do. They want to play everywhere.

"They understand the value of moving around and how you stress defenses sometimes in the slot. You don't want defenses to focus on you. He's embraced that challenge. Just find a way to create mismatches."

After another day he was the last guy off the field, after another day he caught a barrel of balls from the Jugs, at the end of a 91-degree day he wore a hooded shirt  under his No. 1, Chase could be found walking off the field of screams.

It might be the last time you know where to find him.

"It's going to make our offense more explosive," Chase said of dabbling inside. "If we sit in there like robots and stay in the same position, they're going to expect what's coming. That's why you move around."

The Bengals didn't want to put too much on the rookie's plate last year and kept him pretty much outside as he learned the pro game. There were times last season he offered a harbinger, like when he lined up in the slot and officially began the Bengals' assault on the Chiefs. Down 14-0 in the regular-season game, Chase mastered the nooks and crannies inside for a 72-yard catch-and-run touchdown.

"They've got him in the slot a lot more now," said Mike Hilton, the NFL's best slot cornerback. "His tape speaks for itself. Teams are going to be game planning him, double teaming him and the offense is going to find a way to get it to one of their playmakers. He's doing well. He's not thinking too much, he's just being himself I'm excited to see him in there.

"You cut off a lot more of your space," Hilton said of the inside. "There are a lot more people in there. Safeties, linebackers, you have to worry about a lot more bodies. The best thing a slot receiver does is find the empty zones. You have to be a real good route runner. Learn how to read the zone on the fly and find a spot."

Chase is all of those things. He thinks he's actually got more room in there. But it has been an adjustment for him.

"It gives me more space to get open. The majority of the time the middle of the field is open and you get matched up on a linebacker or safety," Chase said. "If I'm inside, I've got to adjust to different techniques of the nickel, the safety, the linebacker, knowing when I need to cross his face, knowing when not to."

Now you see him. Then maybe you won't.


Higgins, who had the quietest and gutsiest 1,000-yard Bengals receiving season last year, did it with a torn labrum from October on. He had surgery after a Super Bowl he came within a phantom defensive penalty of being named MVP when his 75-yard touchdown became the longest catch in Bengals postseason history.

On Monday, Higgins got in his first one-on-one drills of the season and he was his vintage 6-4, 220-pound monstrous self, going over people to score at least on one play. But he's not going to go headlong into the team drills now that he seems to be slightly ahead of schedule.

"There's no reason to rush it. You have to take time with things like this," Higgins said. "Even if I am back before expected, that's always great, but I'm never going to rush this type of injury."

Higgins checked with another No. 85 when Chad Johnson visited practice on Sunday. And he knows the first great No. 85, Isaac Curtis, is going into the Bengals Ring of honor next month.

"When I got here, I heard he wore 85 and was a great receiver here," Higgins said. "He wore it and Chad wore it. Two great receivers and I'm trying to play to the best of my ability to keep it going."

PLAY OF THE DAY: CB Cam Taylor-Britt

This one may have been as much about defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo as it was his rookie cornerback's well-executed blitz on third-and-one. Taylor-Britt swooped in and thudded wide receiver Trent Taylor for a loss on a jet sweep.

CTB has really played well the last few days, but Anarumo, a career secondary coach, isn't rushing him.

"He's doing well," Anarumo said. "The best corners I've had, it takes them a long time and it's a process for these guys. We'll start covering guys in games and see how he does."

The instant CTB made the play, a couple of the first defense's veterans on the sidelines chirped, "Good call, Lou."

Asked about it after practice, Anarumo offered merely, "I don't know what you're talking about. No calls. It was just the players doing a good job. He did do a good job."


On Ja'Marr Chase playing the slot:

"They're trying to find a way to get their playmaker the ball. Get him in the slot, usually against somewhat smaller corners. He's going to be able to out-physical those guys. Excluding me. Excluding me. Make sure that's on tape."

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