John Ross remains confident he hasn’t reached his full potential yet. There’s more to come, he says, and the third-year Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver believes he is ready to show it.
Despite missing most of the preseason with a hamstring injury, Ross expects to be able to step right in Sunday to play the season opener at Seattle — the city where it all began for him at the University of Washington.
It marks the beginning of an important year for him as the 2017 first-round draft pick seeks to become a more consistent contributor to the Bengals offense. He’s accounted for 21 catches over two seasons, and while seven of those went for touchdowns, Cincinnati also needs more production between the 20s – especially with A.J. Green expected to miss up to the first eight weeks because of ankle surgery.
“I wake up every day and I feel like I have to do something every day,” said Ross, who switched from No. 15 to 11 this year. “To your question, of course (it feels like a ‘must year’). I felt that my rookie year. I felt that last year. I’m going to feel like that every year no matter what I do. I could catch 1,000 balls. I could catch five. I’m still going to feel like no matter what I do when I wake up, I have to be productive at something. Especially at my job. Whatever they have me do I have to be ready to do it.”
Ross was limited as a rookie while struggling to come back from a shoulder tear that happened at the end of his college career, a lingering issue he hid from the coaches that year while trying to adjust to the league. Last year, he missed three games because of a groin strain.
Injury crept in again this offseason, and coach Zac Taylor initially wrote it off as tightness when he was being held from practices during OTAs. Ross started training camp on the sidelines and was continually categorized as “day-to-day,” but he didn’t begin practicing until Aug. 25 – the final week of the preseason.
Ross said he doesn’t feel anything in his hamstring now.
“As soon as you think about it, that’s when you’re hurt again,” Ross said. “I learned that the hard way, too. It hasn’t been bothering me. It’s not something that… Like I’m supposed to be wearing a sleeve. I told our trainer, ‘I forgot.’ But I didn’t feel it. But he was like, ‘That’s a great thing.’ It’s something that I’m obviously going to keep an eye on just because it’s smart. I’ve never had a hamstring problem — ever. It’s something that I remember when I did it, I was like, ‘This thing is never going to get better.’ But, it definitely got better and I feel better. It’s something that I’m not really going to dwell on.”
Taylor said Ross is one of a dozen guys he has to slow down in walk-throughs because of the excitement he brings to every play. He expects Ross to play Sunday and bring that same level of enthusiasm.
Missing the preseason was tough, but Ross was surprised by his physical condition last week. He expected to feel a little out of shape, but said that wasn’t the case. Quarterback Andy Dalton also gave him some confidence, telling Ross he looked “super fast.”
“It’s crazy because I feel like I have another gear,” Ross said. “I don’t know when it will kick in. But I think it’s a thing where it has to happen soon. … My trainer told me when your adrenaline’s going, things change. I feel like it’s one of those things like my first game back off my ACL surgery in college, Jake (Browning) threw a ball and the head coach was like, ‘It looked like you were overthrown.’ I thought I was overthrown, but that adrenaline kicks in and you take that extra gear and you catch up to the ball. I think I’m going to have one of those moments this year. Some things, you feel.”
Ross is just waiting for that chance to show it in a game. Last year he had three catches for 20 yards or more with the longest being a 39-yard touchdown at Atlanta in Week 4. He’s waiting for his first 50-yard bomb but feels like he’s close.
The speedy receiver said he will do whatever the Bengals ask of him, whether it’s being a deep threat, a redzone offense contributor, a guy taking pressure off other receivers or a consistent target anywhere on the field.
Dalton said just having Ross on the field should open things up for the offense.
“You can’t coach speed, and that’s one thing he’s got,” Dalton said. “Anytime you put a guy with his elite caliber speed on the field, that changes things. We are excited to have John in this offense, and he’s going to have a big role in what we do this year.”
Ross still looks at Tyler Boyd, who broke out in his third year for his first 1,000-yard season, as the model for success this year, though. The key to achieving that level of consistency is just to have fun, he said.
“Just continue to stay consistent,” Ross said. “It feels good feeling how I’m feeling each and every week. Stay positive. Don’t get to that negative space you were in last year or the year before that. Just continue to stay happy and have fun. I notice the more fun I have, if I stop thinking like I used to then I play better. So I’ve been having a lot of fun. The guys are telling me all the time, ‘Continue being you, how you are right now, you look good, you’re having fun.’ So that’s what I can really tell myself each and every day.”