CINCINNATI - Jermaine Gresham was the last player to exit the practice field on day one of training camp Thursday. He could be seen from a distance putting in extra time with coaches long after the regular workout had ended. What stood out most was the sight of the Bengals tight end catching passes from the Jugs machine until the sun began to set.
Gresham is on a mission this summer while at the same time fighting to exorcise some demons.
"My whole intent during the offseason was to make up for where I left off in the playoff game last season," Gresham said after practice. "There's no doubt about it, I cost my team the game. My mindset since then has been about getting back to playing the position and catching passes on the field consistently instead of looking not so healthy out there at times. I had to get my mind right."
Gresham dropped a critical pass in Cincinnati's 19-13 playoff loss to the Houston Texans. The letdown performance has haunted him like the ghost of Christmas past.
"It's all about me being a professional," he said. "I owe it to the fans and people who got me here to do better because being a disappointment is not what I am. I'm just trying to make up for it. I'm another year wiser and know what's expected of me. I just have to do my job and not let my teammates down. It's sad that it has taken so long, but I'm really starting to figure some things out. Things will be different this year."
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Gresham trained with four-time Olympic track-and-field gold medalist Michael Johnson in Texas during the offseason. The training was centered on football skills for overall performance rather than getting bigger or stronger. The imposing tight end was sleek and exceptional on his first day of training camp. He showed his athleticism catching the ball and blocking ability during 11-on-11 drills. His goal is to contribute more in the passing game this season.
Gresham put up some respectable numbers last season, hauling in 64 passes for 737 yards and five touchdowns, which earned him a second consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl. Despite the production and accolades as one of the league's elite, Cincinnati drafted tight end Tyler Eifert with the No. 21 overall pick. The Bengals selecting Eifert was a big deal and sent a strong message to the team's current starting tight end.
"It made me work harder," Gresham said. "I totally understand why the organization did it. I played like crap so they drafted a tight end. They put the paint on the wall and I accept it. I'm not going to back down from the challenge. Tyler is a great player and he's going to make plays for many years to come. There is nothing but respect there because we have the same common goal and that's to win it all."
The players are represented by CAA Sports agents and know each other well. Nevertheless, there will be spirited competition at the position in camp and both are expected to play significant roles in the offense.
"I want to lead by example and play the game like I know how," Gresham said. "I just want to fall in line with what Andy (Dalton) is doing. He's a great quarterback. I'm tired of everybody bashing him because he is a franchise quarterback. If I could I would sign him to a 12-year contract, he's that good. I'm just trying to do my part to contribute to the team.
"If they want me to go out there and block, I have to make sure that I am mentally and physically prepared to be that guy. I will do whatever it takes. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is us getting further along in the playoffs."