After facing Indianapolis in last year's playoff game without Jermaine Gresham or Tyler Eifert, Bengals tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes was clearly pleased when the team followed its third- round selection of Rutgers' Tyler Kroft by grabbing another tight end in the fifth round when they went with Auburn's C.J. Uzomah.
"Well, you see me sitting here with a big smile on my face since last night," said Hayes. "The exciting thing about C.J. and Tyler is they're both young guys and they're both just going to get better. They're big and athletic and they can stretch the field. They've got a big catch radius – when you get guys like this, it's exciting."
If the Kroft pick didn't end the Gresham Era, Uzomah's selection did. Gresham, who caught 280 balls and went to two Pro Bowls after they picked him No. 1 in 2010, is unsigned and head coach Marvin Lewis left the door open a few weeks ago for a return. But not now. They think Kroft can team with starter Tyler Eifert in double tight end sets and, as a fifth-rounder, Uzomah has an edge in making the roster over Kevin Brock.
Uzomah is 6-5, 264 pounds, was timed at 4.63 in the 40-yard dash at Auburn's pro day, and has a high ceiling because of that ability to get down field fast.
"My biggest strengths would be route running, separating from defenders, and being able to catch the ball," said Uzomah. "A weakness would be hand-down blocking, but only because I haven't been accustomed to doing it. I haven't been around a system that utilizes a pro-style tight end."
"He's got the size and range you need in the AFC North," said Hayes. "The people that we're going to be blocking, you've got to have considerably long arms and be able to stay on your feet and get into people and finish. We're trying to get more and more guys that are willing to do that."
Playing in Auburn's spread offense, Uzomah had modest receiving statistics, finishing with 29 career receptions – seven for touchdowns.
"The Auburn coaching staff holds him in very high esteem," said Hayes. "Their one downfall, they said, was that they didn't do a good enough job of featuring him in their offense. They said that repeatedly at his workout and made a big point of it."
Additionally, Hayes says that Uzomah did not have a tight ends coach at Auburn.
"He would go with the receivers coach when they were working on the passing game and he would go with the offensive line coach or running backs coach when they were working on the running game," said Hayes.
"I wasn't a conventional tight end in college, so I didn't get the fine-tuning of the mechanics with a traditional, pro-style tight ends coach," said Uzomah. "I'm looking forward to getting after it."
Uzomah's toughness is not a question mark. He played in last season's Alabama game with a separated shoulder.
"It was the Iron Bowl – one of the biggest games for us at Auburn," said Uzomah. "It was a big game for me. It was something that I put my body on the line for. I knew the implications and I knew that with the treatment I would get afterward, I'd be fine. But at the same time, I feel like I was in a position to make plays. I still made two catches after I injured it, and we were able to win the game."
With Eifert expected to be back for the start of training camp after missing most of last season with an elbow injury, the Bengals tight ends room will look very different this year.
"With Alex Smith walking out the door and Jermaine being a free agent, we had a transition," said Hayes. "We appreciated those guys' work and everything they did for us, but we're going to continue to move forward and this ship stops for nobody. If you're not going to be on board, it's going to set sail anyway."
"When I visited Cincinnati, I looked at the roster and investigated on my own, and I knew that they – that 'we' – were in need of a tight end," said Uzomah. "So yeah, I definitely did my research and found out that Cincinnati would be a great place to be."
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