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Elite Bengals WRs Look To Take The Next Step In A Spring Of No Drop-Off

How tough was Tee Higgins last year?
How tough was Tee Higgins last year?

Bengals wide receivers coach Troy Walters' room dominated the NFL's stretch run last season and as they started the third week of work on the field this season he's encouraged by the same vibe and energy.

But if it doesn't stay that way, he knows what he'll do.

"First off, I'll show them something bad," Walters says. "If we think too highly of ourselves and stop working and get too prideful, this is what it could be and I'll show them Chicago.

"That was our lowest moment across the board. That game was on us as receivers. If we don't stay humble, if we don't get better, this is what it's going to look like. I'll talk about it if I need to. But two weeks on the field we've picked up where we left off. Great energy. Great attitude. I see no complacency."

The Chicago loss came in the second week of the season and the receivers rebounded to become arguably the best trio in the league. Ja'Marr Chase had the best rookie receiver season ever and teamed with Tee Higgins for the Bengals' first 1,000-yard tandem since Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in 2007. Slot receiver Tyler Boyd punched in with another assembly-line solid year of at least 67 catches and 828 yards in four straight seasons.

But Walters is looking for everyone to be even better. He's looking for Chase to become a more consistent catch, Boyd to be more of a factor on the outside and Higgins to build on his profile-in-courage 1,091-yard season played with a torn labrum.

The Bengals offensive brain trust also knows Chase is a marked man, so it is going to have to move him around more. Think the Super Bowl, where Walters says Chase worked out of the slot more than he did all season.

"He's a good, productive receiver and runner in the slot, too," Walter said. "Look what he did against Kansas City a few times … In his first year, we didn't want to put a lot on his plate and he did a good job."

It was in that Chicago game Higgins tore his labrum, but missed just two games before deciding he would forgo surgery, a decision that greatly impressed Walters.

"It just shows you his toughness and grit," Walters said. "You saw the impact he had on this team. We didn't ask him to do it much, but when we did, he went and blocked the safety. Now his job is to get that shoulder 100 percent. He'll stay in shape and be around here all summer."

But it is Chase that has the toughest assignment of the trio. He seeks to improve on that dream Bengals-record 1,455 yards chalk full of stunningly big moments.

"I don't think. I know Ja'Marr can be better," Walters said. "If you look, he probably had a dozen drops. A dozen plays. If he makes the play, it's another game changing play. Now, he had several where he made those plays, but there are plays he'd like to get back. He can continue to improve on his overall route running. That's where we're working.

"He knows the plays, so now he's looking at different techniques at the top of the route, different fundamentals to separate and allow him to become an even more dangerous as a route runner. He's a handful and he's just going to get better."

Before Walters arrived in 2020, he watched tape of Boyd playing a lot on the outside in 2019 in the absence of the injured A.J. Green on the way to a career-high 1,046 yards.

"He's going to make a living inside, but he can have some value as a wide receiver in different situations," Walters said. "He has good vision on the outside. We can get a good matchup on a DB and he's savvy enough to find ways to get open on the outside."

Walters says Chase is also savvy enough to make the move into the slot on some snaps and offers as evidence the 72-yard touchdown catch that started the Bengals' scoring in the AFC North-clinching 34-31 win over the Chiefs at Paul Brown Stadium. About 60 yards of it came after the catch as Chase smoked the middle.

"We're looking to get better," Walters said.

Or else, they'll go to Chicago again via their iPads.

TYLER'S TALE: Boyd thinks the Bengals offense can be better than the one that won the AFC title with Chase and quarterback Joe Burrow setting franchise season records for a unit that was 13th in yards, but seventh in points.

"If we get more efficient on third down. We can improve in a lot of those little areas," Boyd said. "What we did last year (get better on) big plays. We got Chase and we were making more plays with fewer plays. But now when we need the ball for ten minutes, that's what we need more. When we're driving for 15 plays, we can't settle for a field goal."

Boyd was also thinking about the Bengals being unable to take advantage of cornerback Chidobe Awuzie's interception in Rams' territory early in the third quarter of the Super Bowl and getting only a field goal.

"We score on that, the game could go a different way. We just have to execute more," Boyd said.

But Boyd also knows this offense is capable of dominating.

"We've got guys that can do a little bit of everything," he said. "They've got different physiques, different skills and the run game that you mix with Burrow and it's deadly. We don't have to over think too much. We don't have to worry about who has to make the play. We have guys on the field that where ever the ball goes, we know the play is going to be made."

SLANTS AND SCREENS: Last year Boyd talked about how during some practices he liked to go over to Bengals president Mike Brown in his golf cart on the sidelines and "chop it up with him." He did that Tuesday as the Bengals began their last week of voluntary practices in hats and shorts before putting on the helmets the next two weeks leading up to the six-week break.

After running down a ball, Boyd began a long sojourn back to the huddle. But he slowed to a walk as he approached Brown's cart, tapped him on the arm, Brown turned around and grabbed his arm and they chopped it up for a minute before Boyd went back to the line …

Old friend Adam Zimmer was a practice visitor on Tuesday and also spent some time talking to Brown. Zimmer, co–defensive coordinator for his dad Mike when he was the coach of the Vikings, spent the 2013 season under his dad here as the assistant secondary coach. Mike Zimmer, let go by the Vikings after last season, remains one of the most popular figures in Bengals history after his six seasons as Marvin Lewis' defensive coordinator netted four post-season appearances and four top ten finishes.

Mike Zimmer loves the area and lives on his sprawling Walton, Ky., ranch (Zim Fork). On Tuesday, Adam, Zimmer reminisced about his one season in Cincinnati, when the Bengals defense finished fifth in the league while conquering such quarterbacks as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco in an 8-0 season at PBS.

"Can't have enough cornerbacks," Zimmer said of a team that survived cornerback Leon Hall's mid-season torn Achilles and defensive tackle Geno Atkins' mid-season torn ACL with first-round cornerbacks Terence Newman, Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick …