Former Springboro tight end getting opportunity with Bengals

Kentucky tight end Justin Rigg (83) celebrates scoring a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Tennessee in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)

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Kentucky tight end Justin Rigg (83) celebrates scoring a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Tennessee in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)

CINCINNATI -- Justin Rigg isn’t sure if his participation in the Cincinnati Bengals’ annual pre-draft local players workout last month helped get his foot in the door, but whatever it was that caught the eyes of the coaches, he is grateful for an opportunity to make the team as an undrafted college free agent.

The Springboro native and former University of Kentucky tight end was one of the 16 undrafted college free agents the Bengals officially signed Friday ahead of rookie minicamp. He had participated in their local players’ workout April 19 and said he felt he gave the coaches a “pretty good preview” of what he could add to the team.

It also gave him some familiarity with the Bengals over some other teams that expressed interest as a flurry of calls came into his agency.

“Just kind of being here for that local day, feeling around, feeling the culture and everybody around here and talking to the coaches, I really, really liked what they had going on,” Rigg said. “Obviously, last year, you saw that team development that they’ve done over the years come together, and I really wanted to be a part of that.”

A sixth-year super senior this past season, Rigg caught 20 passes (third on the team) for 189 yards and four touchdowns as the Wildcats shifted to a more pass-oriented offense in 2021 under offensive coordinator Liam Coen, who recently was hired back to the L.A. Rams as offensive coordinator.

He was often asked to be a blocking tight end throughout his college career, but showed he could be a passing threat in the limited targets he received, finishing his career with 50 catches for 547 yards and five scores.

“He had a good career at Kentucky, so we’re excited to get him in the fold and see what he can do,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “He played a high level of football. It seems like he’s a smart kid, and so again, we’ll just see how he gets acquainted with these other tight ends we have.”

Rigg was a two-time first-team All-GWOC pick as a tight end at Springboro in 2014 and 2015, and he was also a part of a high-octane passing offense then. He finished with 418 yards receiving on 38 receptions as a senior, playing alongside two receivers that combined for more than 2,000 yards.

In the early part of his career at Kentucky the offense was more focused on the running game, but his final season – combined with past experience – showed him he could fit in with the Bengals.

“Especially this last year with Liam Coen (now offensive coordinator for the Rams), and even the years before with coach (Eddie) Gran, they really helped develop me as both a blocker and a pass catcher,” Rigg said. “And I feel like this last year, it showed that I can do more of the pass catching and running. But overall, I feel like the blocking is kind of my thing and that’s what I’m hoping to prove here and then prove that I can do it all.”

Cincinnati can always use more help with blocking for its talented skill position players on offense, and there is a need at tight end, a position which the Bengals didn’t draft. Veteran Hayden Hurst signed in free agency in March, and Drew Sample returns, but the team no longer seems to have a clear tight end for the future.

Rigg wasn’t specifically following the Bengals’ draft to see if they took a tight end but once he knew it was a possibility for him to sign, he liked that there seemed to be room for competition.

“Seeing they didn’t draft a tight end, it really get your eyes and you open up and look to see what they have and look across the league and see what every team has, where you fit, where you don’t think you fit, and I feel like I can come in here and fit in really well with this group of guys,” Rigg said.

Rigg admitted he was a little anxious as his first practice got underway Friday at minicamp, but said he settled down after the first drill or so.

It probably wasn’t as nerve-wracking as the final day of the draft and as he went through the quick free agent process. He was grateful for his family support and now is glad to get an opportunity to compete close to home where they can follow along.

“I mean, everybody wants to get drafted, everybody is sitting there waiting for their name called, whether it’s first round, seventh round, free agency,” Rigg said. “Then just finally getting those calls and finally agreeing to come here, it was really kind of stress off my shoulders, and it felt great. And I was excited to celebrate with my family and friends. And just overall good feeling.

“They were all pumped up excited for me just because they’ve been my biggest supporters over the years. I played football since second grade and they’ve been there every step of the moment and just kind of finally getting that moment, for me and for them, it was a really great time, and I’m just excited to be here.”

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