All career-highs in the middle of the playoff crucible last Saturday in Pittsburgh for Bengals rookie wide receiver Andrei Iosivas with Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase injured. From snaps (46) to catches (four) to yards (36). Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson talked to the Ivy League's next emerging NFL player in his latest conversation:
GH: Here we are heading into week 17 in Kansas City and the day before Christmas Eve you play a career-high 46 snaps in your 15th game. This year may be the most football you ever played in two in college, never mind one.
AI: By week seven of the regular season, I had played ten games. Plus, the first three preseason games. An Ivy League season is ten games. This is a lot more than I've played in a long time.
GH: Plus, with track you never really had an offseason in college, did you?
AI: Track workouts are a little bit different than the rigor of football. I never really took a break. So it's not like I'm not used to constantly working.
GH: No question you're used to a grind. I'm just talking about pure football. Just learning the game aspect.
AI: Even as a rookie, I did feel really comfortable once I was out there. You get a little bit of anxiety going out there and starting your first big game, but when I was out there, I felt comfortable. I thought I did really well. Obviously, I have stuff to work on, but I felt comfortable.
GH: I'm not saying that you dabbled in football because you obviously did more than that. But to be able to commit to it fully, you've never really been able to do that until now.
AI: Yeah and, man, if you gave me all the knowledge and experience I have now, if you let me go back to college for one more game, I think I would go crazy.
GH: You have to feel like you've just touched the surface and you're going to get better and better.
AI: I feel like I'm a pure football player on the path to becoming a good one.
GH: What are some of the things you've learned?
AI: How to read defenses at a faster rate. Just understanding languages of defenders and knowing what ball is going to come. When a defender is here, or in a certain type of coverage where even a ball could be differently placed on the same route.
GH: Do you have an example?
AI: In Cover Two or something you have an out route. A lot of times in college a QB wouldn't throw that. Here the QBs are skilled enough to throttle you into a certain hole. Or you have to kind of understand to just throttle your route and not just run out into the flat defender.
GH: Then sometimes it's just instinct on a third down catch against Minnesota.
AI: Yeah, that was just a checkdown. I just saw the dude and just ran through his face.
GH: How about that leaping catch you almost made in Pittsburgh Saturday on the sidelines?
AI: I thought I did make it. I thought the tie goes to the runner. It was what it was. I kind of twirled. I saw that I had one foot down and I needed to get my other foot down immediately and I just put my hand down, I guess, they thought too early. It was what it was.
GH: So what do you learn? Don't put your hand down?
AI: That was just a natural reaction. Now I'll know I'll be more conscious of my natural reaction for my hand.
GH: That's the thing. You seem like one of these guys who learns every time you're out there. Kind of doesn't make the same mistake twice.
AI: Hopefully if I'm falling down that hard again, I'll do it with my shoulders.
GH: Is there anything you learned this year that you came back and rectified during a game? Or anything you learned in training camp and you used it on one of your two touchdowns?
AI: Something I learned this year was to run a really good go ball, I would say. Troy (wide receivers coach Walters) understands I'm big, tall, and fast and so he really wants me to just make sure every go ball I have a high percentage of winning. Whether winning at the line or even if you don't necessarily win at the line, you can always win down the field somehow with hand fighting. Just weight displacement and things like that.
GH: How ironic. Troy is one of the great receivers in Stanford history and you wanted to go there.
AI: I did want to go there. But I'm glad I went to Princeton. I wouldn't change my path now. Stanford was definitely at the top of my list out of high school.
GH: Your high school, the Punahou School in Honolulu, is well known for producing people from all walks of life. I believe former president Obama went there. What famous athletes went there?
AI: (Colts defensive tackle) DeForest Buckner went there, (former NFL linebacker) Manti Te'o went there. Michelle Wie, the golfer. It's like the perfect mix of academics and athletics there, that's why a lot of people are drawn to it.
GH: Did that help get you started?
AI: Going there definitely helped me at Princeton academically. My division was a really high level of sports, so it was going to be competitive regardless. But I think it did help me prepare for the college lifestyle.
GH: Did being a heptathlete help get you ready for this stretch?
AI: You mean the rigor of it?
GH: The rigor of it and maybe some of the moves.
AI: Obviously, being an athlete helps in any way. Jumping, twirling whatever body control. It all helps. And I was blessed to be able to do all that kind of stuff. But going into track, it's different, though. The training is different. I would say the hardest thing is like, at the end of a long drive or something, you're really tired and track does help you with that. Understanding how to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Especially those 1,000-meter runs. That's a different type of lactic acid right there.
GH: How about the athletes you're facing? You don't seem to bat an eye at the difference.
AI: You see the big schools at first, you're a little like, 'Whoa, these guys went to Georgia,' whatever. But when I realized I was a good athlete is when I went to indoor nationals, faced guys from Arkansas, Georgia, and they were at the top of the world basically for their age. I was right there with them step for step competing for a title. That's kind of when I realized I was a world-class athlete and I should never doubt myself athletically. It's no surprise to me.
GH: What have been highlights for you this year so far? What have you enjoyed the most?
AI: I just like making friends. Going out to eat. Talking stories with the guys. Or even going out in non-football scenes and just hanging out with the guys. It's nice to see people outside football, but just making connections with the guys, honestly. That's like my favorite part of sports as a whole throughout my life.
GH: Anybody in particular who has become a close friend?
AI: Me and Charlie (fellow rookie wide receiver Jones), obviously. (Rookie running back) Chase Brown. A lot of the receivers. TB, Tee, Ja'Marr, TI, Kwamie, Stan. Those are all my really good friends.
GH: What do you guys do?
AI: Play video games. We'll go to dinner. We might go out on the town sometimes if we have enough time after a game.
GH: Do you have a favorite Cincinnati spot?
AI: Jeff Ruby's, obviously, is really good. There's this place called Baru. They have pretty good steak and sushi. I'm a big E&O guy, too, because I love Asian food. E&O is really good. It's about two minutes away. My parents love eating in there. I'll usually take it out and go back home and eat it. If my parents are in town, we'll go eat there for sure.
GH: What do you think about Cincinnati after living here for about six months?
AI: I like it a lot. It's big enough to be big, it's small enough to be small. The people are nice. The fans are supportive.
GH: You seem popular with the fans.
AI: I've been blessed to be one of the people the fans really take in and want to see succeed. I really appreciate that.
GH: Why do you think that is?
AI: I do have a bit of a chip on my shoulder being basically a seventh-round pick coming from Princeton. But they see I have the capabilities to be great. They've been seeing flashes of it, so they only see the bright side for me.
GH: When did you have an idea the fans were with you?
AI: I don't know. Maybe a little bit during the preseason games. I had some camp plays, but I think when I started to get the most buzz was maybe after the first or the third preseason game. But at the point, I had already done a mic'd up, so I think I had some steam already going into that.
GH: Did you say anything memorable off that mic'd up that may have got it going?
AI: I have no idea. Maybe The Griddy? Because I was going to hit The Griddy.
GH: You had promised Ja'Marr, right?
AI: Yep, yep. He had told us to do it. I was like, it's the preseason, I'll hit The Griddy.
GH: But when you scored in the regular season, you did not do The Griddy.
AI: It was a cute little dance. It was a TikTok thing.
GH: I know you had talked about doing some kind of a nod to Hawaii.
AI: If I make a sliding tackle or something, I was going to slide and be like on a surfboard or something. It's hard to remember to do that in a game. Especially if you make a tackle or something.
GH: What have you picked up from Ja'Marr Chase?
AI: His technique is really good. I feel like when he's running, the DB never knows where he's going. I'm just trying to emulate whatever he does all the time.
GH: How about Tee Higgins?
AI: He's one of the better route runners I've seen. He's so big. If he can be that big and that efficient, why couldn't I be? He's a bit bigger than me, but I would say if he can do those things, why couldn't I? That's what I think. He's the high-point king. He knows how to use leverage and stuff like that.
GH: Tyler Boyd just seems to be …
AI: Super smart. He knows how to diagnose every scheme. Every defensive coverage. He'll say it before we even go out for the play.
GH: Seems like everybody's big Brother.
AI: He's definitely the big brother. He takes care of us, for sure. He'll make sure we're straight, but also get on us if we're doing something wrong and make sure we're doing things right.
GH: Have your folks been able to get to many games? It's such a long trip.
AI: They've probably been to three games. That's pretty good. The Steelers game. My birthday game against Seattle and they went to the one in San Fran because it was closest to home.
GH: I guess because you're a rookie, you have to share your row on the charter with Bengals.com. I hope you haven't found it disturbing on the postgame ride.
AI: I don't mind. You give me no space to spread out. I just cash out anyway on those flights.
GH: It's a good thing. It's a little busy on the way back.
AI: I see you typing up a storm trying to get that story out.
GH: I don't want to keep you awake.
AI: Oh no, no. If I'm going to sleep, I'm going to sleep. If I'm going to watch something, I'm fine. I see you just typing away. I'm like, damn, I'm dead tired right now and you're grinding it out.
GH: As long as I'm not bothering you when we're ringing in the New Year Sunday night coming in from KC with hopefully a win.
AI: It's all good.