Bengals rookie Higgins getting more comfortable in offense

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (85) breaks a tackle from Cleveland Browns cornerback Tavierre Thomas (20) during the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Wide receiver had three catches in first career start vs. Browns

The Cincinnati Bengals gave rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins his first NFL start Thursday, and he showed why he belonged on the field with his first catch.

The second-round draft pick made a play at the sideline for an 18-yard gain with 1:03 left in the first half. Higgins ran a smooth route inside and cut back to the sideline at the right time to get open for Burrow, as he scrambled away from pressure.

Cincinnati ended up kicking a field goal to cut Cleveland’s lead to eight points, and although the Bengals went on to lose the game, it was an important step forward for Higgins, who likely will see more action going forward.

“I had a little in-breaking route, and Joe ended up scrambling, so I had to get out of there real quick,” Higgins recalled Monday as the team began preparations for Sunday’s game at Philadelphia. “And I think it was two minutes, so I knew I had to get out of bounds, so I just started running for the sideline. He threw a great ball, and I just had to do the rest.”

Higgins didn’t get a single target in the opener against the Chargers and played just 15 snaps on offense that game.

However, wide receiver John Ross missed at least two clear opportunities to make catches and that perhaps opened the door for Higgins to get the nod in his place Thursday. Higgins, the former Clemson standout, finished with three catches for 35 yards on six targets.

“Coaches really preached to me, ‘Just stay involved, stay engaged in practice, and the time will come,’” Higgins said. “So, I’m definitely getting way more comfortable with the offense, knowing the offense in and out now, so I’m definitely feeling good about it.”

Higgins had a bit of a slow start in training camp because of a hamstring issue, but Burrow said in interviews before the start of the season he felt comfortable with the fellow rookie and looked forward to connecting often during games.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound receiver was just excited he didn’t have to wait long to get on the field after the short period he had to prepare with no offseason team workouts or preseason games.

“It’s a feeling like no other,” Higgins said of playing his first NFL games. “It’s something I always dreamed of. Now that I’m living my dream, I gotta go out there and keep competing and go out there and get some W’s now. Just like Joe said on Thursday night when he did his interview, I’ve never lost two in a row. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that. Last time I’ve done that I was playing basketball in high school, so it’s been a minute.”

Higgins said the differences between college and the NFL are noticeable, even after playing for a team that made the NCAA championship game (he and Clemson lost to Burrow’s LSU Tigers).

A.J. Green has spent extra time with him on the sidelines as a mentor, helping him learn “the ins and outs of the position,” how to run his routes better and how he can beat the defender in front of him in certain coverages. Higgins said he still has plenty to learn and improve, but he feels good about his progress so far.

“Definitely the speed of the game,” Higgins said of the biggest adjustment. “Everything is way more up tempo. And you gotta recognize coverages in the league because if you don’t, you’re gonna get picked off or they’re sitting on top of your route. So, you just got to be in top of your game. You got to really prepare like a pro and go out there and take ownership of what you’re doing.”

It also was a bit odd going from playing in front of 100,000 fans in the NCAA championship to no fans in the Bengals' opener and then just 6,000 fans Thursday in Cleveland.

Higgins said it almost felt like a scrimmage without the fans and the players had to create their own energy. He looks forward to the next home game Oct. 4 against Jacksonville when Cincinnati can have some fans. Six thousand is better than nothing, he said, especially if his mom can come.

“The only games that she didn’t make in college was the really far games like Boston College and games like that,” Higgins said. “It’s really been hard on her not being able to come to the game. She’s been devastated. But I told her that we can have fans at the next home game, so she’s really excited about that. My whole family is really. I can’t wait for her to come.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Eagles, 1 p.m., CBS, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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