With running mate Tee Higgins (rib) questionable Sunday (4:05 p.m.-Cincinnati's FOX 19) in Arizona, Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase could have a lot on his plate.
But then, he always does as he tries to team up with Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow for another one of their magic acts as they seek to extract the Bengals from a dry offensive patch.
It's literally a good place to start.
It was in State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., when Chase was an LSU freshman and he began to feel like he and Burow were making music together in the fourth quarter of the Jan. 2, 2019 Fiesta Bowl. They hit for a 32-yard touchdown in the Tigers' 40-32 victory over undefeated Central Florida, paving the way for LSU's undefeated national title the next season.
(Three years to the day, they would hook for up Chase's NFL rookie record 266 yards in the Bengals' franchise-changing win over the Chiefs at Paycor Stadium.)
"After I scored at the end, I felt the chemistry with him and me. That's when it finally started to click," Chase said. "He started throwing me the ball more and just expecting me to be open."
Chase, who had six catches for 93 yards that night, still remembers how nice the spring of the grass felt ("it feels fast") and he hopes Sunday brings similar leaps. His 29 catches on 284 yards and running back Joe Mixon's 247 yards on 59 carries have pretty much been the offense in the first four games.
Chase's eight catches on third down is second in the NFL, but the fact he's the only player with more than 40 targets with fewer than 375 yards shows where the Bengals are trying to pick up their game. He believes head coach Zac Taylor has them on the right track with how he's stepped up the pre-snap movements.
"Just moving everybody around," Chase said. "I feel like that's the biggest thing we did well. Having different people in different spots. Just getting to know the offense more. I think that was the biggest thing we did the last couple of games. It only gets better from here."
Taylor doesn't think Chase can be much better. That's why he doesn't mind if Chase gets a little blunt or confident in the media.
"He works as hard as anybody, which when you work as hard as anybody, you're allowed to have some confidence and talk like that," Taylor said after Friday's practice. "I've got problems with people that don't work hard. And then if you say things that are maybe on the fringe, on the line a little bit, you don't put in the work, you're not doing all the things Ja'Marr does. When he combines that with confidence that makes him the type of player he is, that gives him the edge he's got. I love that about him.
"We ask a lot of him in practice. He runs and he doesn't complain. He doesn't make a mental error due to not paying attention … "He's got a great understanding because he switches positions all the time. He plays all three spots. He moves more than anybody. He lines up in the backfield, he motions to the backfield. He's got to know everything and he does and he works his tail off in practice. Extra pre-practice. Runs like crazy during practice."
If Chase is comfortable in his own skin, so are the Bengals. There was a big moment Monday in Taylor's office, where he was summoned a day after he dropped an F bomb in his post-game interview ("I'm always bleeping open") in Tennessee that Taylor understood was fraught with frustration.
"I'm not going to lie, bro," Chase said. "I thought I was in trouble."
Far from it. Taylor had called him in on another topic ("Nothing bad,"), but he had watched the entire interview and thought Chase had handled things well. Chase says Taylor complimented him with his own rare curse. You can do that when you know all the positions and are a two-time Por Bowler.
"I try to say as least as possible without saying it," said Chase, who prides himself on sticking by what he says, be it harmless trash talk like the Browns' elf logo or the playful Pat who? referencing Mahomes when he stood by Burrow as the best quarterback in the world.
"I meant it," Chase said. "Even Travis Kelce wanted input. Everyone wants a little trash talk here and there. I like that, though."
An interview with Chase is downright fun. Different than his Pro Bowl Bengals ancestor Chad Johnson. But fun.
He tells the buddies he's known since he was 16, "I'm not famous, bro. I'm the same guy.' He points out he only does one commercial, but he wouldn't mind getting an endorsement from 7-11 after the "always bleeping open,' moment went viral.
"I've got to get it on a shirt," Chase said.
He said the F bomb didn't come from frustration. "I curse a lot. My mom curses a lot and I get it from her. It rubs off on me … She just told me, 'You have to stop cursing.' I told her, 'I get it from you.' We just started laughing. A mom thing."
Despite the offensive struggles, he's still on track to have the mother of all Bengals careers.
With three catches against the Cards he ties for the fourth fastest player in history to reach 200 receptions. Chase also has at least five catches in each of his last 12 regular-season games for the NFL's longest active streak of games with five or more catches. That is double the next longest streak by Las Vegas' Davante Adams.
JOE BALL: Burrow didn't appear on the injury report all week for the first time this season and Taylor seemed to indicate this week he had done the most in practice with his strained right calf. After Burrow said on Wednesday it's the best he's felt after a game, Taylor said Friday, "In terms of the execution of our plays, (practice has) been awesome. He's locked in strength, great accuracy, touch, tempo. I'm really excited about all the things that he presents."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: After Higgins missed the second half last Sunday, of the backup receivers Trenton Irwin got only one target for 17 yards. Rookie Andrei Iosivas is looking for his first NFL target and catch. With Charlie Jones on IR, Taylor wasn't saying much about Higgins' status or if the Bengals would elevate receivers from the practice squad. Right now they have only four healthy receivers on the roster, although tight end Irv Smith Jr., (hamstring) is back after missing the last two games.
Higgins, who has the third most red-zone targets in the NFL with five (and two TDs) ran some routes Friday and Taylor said the coaches and trainers would talk more Saturday before making a call. When it comes to a broken rib, it comes down to pain.
"Everybody's got their strengths. We're fortunate. We've got a good receiving corps," Taylor said. "One guy could take all those jobs if you wanted to, but you also get a chance to divide up because certain guys maybe do something a little different than somebody else. And so we've got really good flexibility that way with the personnel in the room to get everybody involved if we need to." …
Pro Bowl sacker Trey Hendrickson (back) surfaced on the injury report Friday, didn't practice, and is questionable. Hendrickson has missed only one Bengals game in his three seasons, not counting the 2021 finale all the starters sat …
No. 1 cornerback Chidobe Awuzie came up with a back issue in Thursday's practice, didn't go Friday, and is questionable. But the other starting cornerback, Cam Taylor-Britt, came out of concussion protocol to go full Friday, indicating he'll be ready.
Early in the week it looked like second-round pick DJ Turner II would draw his first NFL start in place of CTB. Now it could be for Awuzie. Doesn't matter. They've seen plenty of Turner and are quite pleased.
With Awuzie coming back from an ACL, Turner got most of his snaps in training camp. They've also eased in Awuzie this season, so Turner already has 119 snaps. More combined than No. 1 picks Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, and William Jackson III had in their rookie seasons in the previous decade.
"He's done a good job integrating and getting snaps on third down and mixing in some normal out (side) stuff to where he's gotten playtime and been able to see different things." Taylor said. "Sometimes it's the silver lining with just things that happen in training camp. Young guys get more reps with an upper unit that they normally wouldn't and you get a chance to see them. And I thought D.J. had a great training camp."