No one was more fired up for the first practice of OTAs than wide receiver John Ross after his rookie year was washed out by injuries, indecision and ineffectiveness.
“It’s something I’ve been waiting for for a long time,” Ross said after Tuesday’s practice in which he was a big part of the offense, catching a lot of passes from both starter Andy Dalton and backup Matt Barkley.
“I felt really good out there on Day 1,” Ross added. “I’ve been feeling good all year. I wanted to have a good day today.”
In addition to some longer passes down the field, Ross made a couple of difficult, contested catches along the sideline.
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“He had a bunch of good plays today, and he had a couple of stupid plays, so that’s what is going to happen,” said Bob Bicknell, who is in his first year as Bengals wide receivers coach. “I’m glad he does. I’d be upset if we weren’t doing some stupid things right now so you go in and coach it up.”
The wide receivers coach at Baylor University last year, Bicknell said he’s been impressed with Ross since arriving in Cincinnati in January.
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“Since I’ve been here I see a really special athlete, a kid that it’s really important to,” Bicknell said. “He learns pretty well. He’s going to make some mistakes as a young kid, but he’s got unbelievable speed and catches the ball really well. He’s got little things (to improve upon), like his eyes. I’m really excited about him and being able to work with him.”
Ross fell behind from the start last year due not only to offseason labrum surgery that prevented him from practicing in the offseason program, but also the PAC-12 rule that prohibits rookies from even being present for OTAs.
He said everything after that felt like he was playing catch up.
“I couldn’t put a stamp on what was the problem because there were so many problems,” Ross said. “I was focused on something new every week. That’s when I realized it’s just not working for me. So I had a meeting with the coaches and trainers and focused on where I needed to be and what was best for me moving forward.”
Ross said in addition to feeling more comfortable, he feels more confident.
Head coach Marvin Lewis said he never worried about the part of the receiver’s personality.
“John grew up in Long Beach, Calif., so I have no question about his confidence,” Lewis said. “I know where he went to school, I know where he grew up and I know the block he lived on. I don’t worry about John and his confidence. You have to be confident just to walk every day.”
What struck Lewis as the biggest difference between the 2017 Ross and the 2018 version is the bulk he added.
“I think his upper body looks way different,” Lewis said. “I think he’s maturing as a man, and he’s developing as a man physically.
“Last year he didn’t have any offseason of weight training whatsoever or virtually nothing or anything of substance so this was the first time over the last six weeks that he’s had an opportunity to do those kind of things.”
Ross said his weight fluctuated between 188 and 185 last year, while this year he’s between 196 and 190 “depending on the week and the weather and what I eat.”
“I’m a lot stronger,” he added. “I can do everything in the weight room. My legs have gotten stronger. I’m back lifting with everyone. I started college real small and wasn’t able to lift and then I got to lift and I felt better, I felt better as a player. Now I’m back to where I was when I was in college my senior year, as far as how physically ready I felt in college. I feel the same way now.
“Last year I just honestly wasn’t physically and mentally ready for what I got myself into,” he continued. “Feeling the way I am now, it feels great. I feel better. I’m happy to be where I am.”