The unpredictability of the NFL was on full display Wednesday at Cincinnati Bengals minicamp when wide receiver Cody Core, who was having an outstanding spring, went down with an injury on what turned out to be the final play or practice.
After blocking downfield on a screen pass to Alex Erickson, Core did something to his lower left leg. Defensive teammates Derron Smith and Bene Benwikere tried to hold him up, but Core eventually went to the turf and was writhing in pain.
Practice stopped while a cart came out for Core, then the players were sent off the field without the standard post-practice stretching. Most of the offensive guys making their way over to the cart to check on Core.
On Monday, both head coach Marvin Lewis and wide receivers coach James Urban talked about how well Core has been performing.
“He’s worked extremely hard this offseason, and it’s obvious,” Urban said. “It’s evident in everything. He’s a better route runner, he’s in great physical condition. And he’s aware of multiple positions at this point. I’m happy with where he is.”
A sixth-round pick out of Mississippi last year, Core is a converted safety who had 17 catches for 200 yards, all of which came after Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in Week 11.
“I feel like that experience was big, just learning how the game is played and how fast it is,” Core said Tuesday prior to the first practice of minicamp.
“I just kept working every single day like I was going to play,” he added.
Core’s first NFL reception was a 50-yard bomb from Andy Dalton to set up a Jeremy Hill 2-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of a 32-14 victory
against Philadelphia in Week 13.
“CC never lacked for confidence, but experience is the one thing you don’t ever have until you get it,” Urban said. “You can do all you want out here, but until you get in a real game and make plays in a real game, it’s not the same.”
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Core started the final four games of the season, and in Week 16 at Houston had a career-high eight catches on 14 targets for 39 yards. In the season finale
against Baltimore, Core caught four balls for a career-high 82 yards.
“The playing experience Cody got last year has been very beneficial to him and everyone on the football team to be able to see his abilities,” Lewis said. “It gives him the confidence to come out and work in the offseason and know that he can achieve higher goals. He’s got higher level of plays out there for him. He’s got the physical tools, and I’m sure in his own mind he always believes that, but until you get your opportunity on an NFL field that you can go out there and play winning football in a game, it probably stays in the back of your mind.”
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Core also played well at gunner on punt coverage, and was a member of the kickoff, kick return and punt return units.
“I love special teams,” Core said. “It’s a big part of the game, and being able to execute that one play, that one chance that you have, you have to give it your all because it’s only one play. I feel like I’m pretty good at it and I’m just going to keep getting better at it.”
After watching the Bengals take two more receivers in the draft, John Ross in the first round and Josh Malone in the fourth, Core said he was even more motivated to prove he deserves a spot on the team.
“It’s exciting to see all the talent and see everybody compete and getting better,” he said. “It lets you know what you need to work on because you can always that in your game. Just seeing different types of skills and knowledge, it helps your game in general.”
Core has been a frequent target during OTAs and minicamp and has made a lot of plays, including a couple Wednesday.
He rode the cart to an x-ray room adjacent to the locker room, and while the Bengals did not provide an update on his condition, indications are the injury is not believed to be serious according to the team website.
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