Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross looks back at the uncertainty he felt this offseason and is glad the trade rumors proved false. He wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now.
Ross said he’s having the time of his life during the team’s voluntary offseason workouts. He feels re-energized by the changes that new coach Zac Taylor has brought to the team and is finally free to “just be me.”
The Bengals’ 2017 first-round draft pick totaled 21 receptions over his first two NFL seasons, and although seven of them were for touchdowns, he’s not yet established himself as a third reliable option, behind A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd, as expected. Ross is hopeful his time is finally coming.
“I think that’s the message from everyone on the team, the coaches, the training staff – ‘just be you, run fast and have fun,’” Ross said after Tuesday’s practice. “When I’m having fun, I’m a completely different person than the uptight person I’ve been the last two years, overthinking and letting things get to me that I shouldn’t. I’m having fun out there, and I probably had one of the best weeks of my life at OTAs last week. I just need to keep having fun, flying around and making plays.”
As the NFL Combine kicked off at the end of February, reports surfaced the Bengals were looking to trade the former University of Washington standout.
Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin and Taylor both quickly squashed those rumors, but Ross’ agent had told him something might be happening and he was in the middle of a dentist appointment when team officials tried reaching him to set things straight.
“I was in the dentist and got like 20 missed calls, coach Taylor, all these people calling me and I couldn’t answer because I was getting my teeth worked on,” Ross said. “So I think they thought I was mad or something. I saw it, and I didn’t know anything about it. My agent gave me a call and said it might be happening but he didn’t know. I just kind of stayed relax because it wasn’t anything I could control.”
Ross hadn’t spoken with Taylor before then and said he hadn’t expected to, knowing how busy the new coach was trying to settle in and organize a staff while preparing for the draft. He immediately was impressed by Taylor that first phone call, even if unusual circumstances created the conversation.
Now he’s glad Taylor is giving him a chance to become the player the Bengals thought he could be when they selected him two years ago. He gets a fresh start with the new staff.
“I told my agent and my dad, ‘I’m blessed to be in this situation regardless, so whatever happens happens,’” Ross said. “At the end of the day I just have to stay positive about it. Then, coach Taylor called me and told me it was all fake, it was a rumor. It was a bit of a relief because there’s something being built here and that’s something I want to be a part of.”
Ross loves now playing for a coach with a background as a quarterback and offensive assistant. Taylor was the Los Angeles Rams’ wide receivers coach in 2017 and coached the quarterbacks last season before replacing Marvin Lewis this offseason.
Having a coach with an offensive mindset gives Ross confidence he’s in good hands.
“He understands every player so fast, he’s just putting us in different situations and different spots to succeed,” Ross said. “You can tell his thought process, and it’s cool to be around someone so offensive-minded. I wake up excited. He’s going to put me in a position to make plays.”
So far through OTAs, Ross seems to be in a better place mentally. He battled injuries his first two seasons and rarely appeared happy, but now is enjoying the interactive ways Taylor is teaching the offensive players and the emphasis he is putting on the team and the role everyone plays.
On Tuesday, the Bengals got a small glimpse of his seemingly new-found ability to quickly move on from mistakes. He appeared to run the wrong route on the first snap of a redzone 7-on-7 drill but had a quick conversation with quarterback Andy Dalton and the next play caught a touchdown pass.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Ross said. “I’m having fun. We’re doing a lot of things different, and it’s just good to be out there playing and having fun again. I think it’s going to be a good year.”
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