Cincinnati Bengals: Ross returns after time away to care for son with Covid-19

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross (15) carries the ball against Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman (24) during a preseason NFL football game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins, Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)
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Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross (15) carries the ball against Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman (24) during a preseason NFL football game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins, Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

John Ross still has much to prove after three injury-plagued seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, but he doesn’t consider his recent time away from the team as a setback.

The 2017 first-round draft pick was placed on the COVID-19/reserve list Aug. 12 after he left to care for his son in California after learning the 3-year-old and the child’s mother had come down with the novel coronavirus.

Both are doing well now, and Ross returned to town Thursday, rejoining the team Sunday for the first time after three consecutive negative tests cleared the way for the Bengals to remove him from the COVID/reserve list. The NFL had some concerns with testing irregularities that arose Saturday with a facility in New Jersey that handles several teams’ COVID-19 results, including the Browns, but the Bengals were unaffected because they are served by a different lab.

“I’m telling you it’s my son — it was not frustrating at all,” Ross said Sunday after practice. “I get it and I’m like, ‘I do got something going. I feel really good.’ But that all goes out the window when it comes to my son, my family, anything that’s important to me. Don’t get me wrong, my job is very important to me, but I feel like my job is always going to be here. The most important thing for me was to make sure my family was right and then I was going to come back and be that same guy as how I left off.”

“It’s all in my head,” he continued. “It’s all in how hard I work and how well I prepare myself. Right now I’m ready to get back to where I am. I ran routes today. I felt like I looked good. I felt good. I think I’m going to progress really well. We got a lot of time still.”

Ross has played in just 24 of 48 possible games the last three years, but gradually has showed his potential. The Bengals didn’t pick up his fifth-year option for next year, so he’s in the final season of his rookie deal and needs to show he can be consistent and stay healthy.

In 2018, he proved efficient in the red zone, scoring seven touchdowns on just 21 catches with 58 targets in a career-high 13 games. Last year, he was starting to show he could be effective between the 20s as well, as he got off to a hot start with 270 yards and three touchdowns over the first two games only to suffer a freak sternoclavicular joint injury in Week 4 at Pittsburgh. He ended up returning eight weeks later and finishing with 28 catches for 506 yards and three touchdowns.

Now knowing he has to earn a new contract, Ross is especially carrying a chip on his shoulder.

“I always think about that, but I also think it’s 100 percent on me,” Ross said. “The more I take care of my body, the better I feel and I notice that. It’s OK to take two hours out of your day to do some self improvement. I met a lot of good people this offseason and I learned a lot of things about my body just being with a chiropractor, being with some PT guys back in California and my city in Long Beach. Now I do some of those things and they help me going forward and I feel a lot better through the days when I’m working out then I used to feel. And I’m a lot smarter. I will say that.”

Ross said the coaches and front office were understanding about him having to leave camp, but he made sure to get work in while away – even when it meant 2 a.m. runs in a park nearby that probably left him looking suspicious to any passersby. He said the first couple days he didn’t want to leave his son’s side, but as he and the boy’s mom started to feel better, he would sneak out at night to work out.

Although he knew it was a risk caring for his son, Ross did take precautions to try to avoid getting COVID-19 himself. That was the most difficult part, he said.

“I just wanted to see him get well,” Ross said. “That was the most important part. The stressful part was me having to wear a mask, not being able to hold him, kiss him and let him know that I’m here for him. Just not being able to physically touch him and things like that.”

Ross said it felt good being back with the team after almost two weeks away, but he did feel the effects of being out of football-related activities for so long.

The speedy receiver still believes he can establish a rhythm with rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, as he really only missed four days of training camp. The team was limited to walkthroughs and conditioning before helmets came on Aug. 16, and players put on pads for the first time Tuesday.

Ross had worked out with Burrow three or four times in California during the offseason, and they were practicing timing of throws and routes before Ross left to care for his son. For Ross, the biggest concern is just staying healthy and showing his value to the team.

“For one, I need to play all 16 games,” Ross said. “I need to stay healthy and I need to make plays in every single game. It’s on me to do that. The thing about it, I wouldn’t have picked up my option, either. It guarantees (pay) if you get hurt. I’ve been injured every single year. That’s not a bad decision by them. And now it’s on me to show them why I should be here longer. That’s how I look at it.”

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