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Young Bengals WRs look to seize opportunities

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baby_ben.png&h=80&w=80&scale=cropBen Baby, ESPN Staff WriterMay 25, 2024, 06:00 AM ET

CINCINNATI -- Typically, the most notable aspect of voluntary offseason workouts is seeing who isn't on the field.


That adage remained true for the Cincinnati Bengals' offense on Tuesday. While quarterback Joe Burrow was out there working on his recovery from right wrist surgery, none of his top wide receivers was there to catch passes on a hot and muggy morning.


Ja'Marr Chase was not present. Tee Higgins hasn't signed his franchise tender yet. And Tyler Boyd wasn't re-signed after his contract expired. That left the likes of rookie Jermaine Burton, veteran Trenton Irwin and last year's draft picks, Andrei Iosivas and Charlie Jones, as Burrow's top targets.


And they understood the significance.


For the last three years, Chase-Higgins-Boyd has been one of the league's top receiving trios. With Boyd gone and Higgins facing an uncertain future, the buildup to the 2024 season is a chance for the others on the roster to prove they can be dependable starters.


"Trust is built now," Iosivas told ESPN. "Whatever you can do to get trust from everybody in the offensive room, you gotta do it."


The Bengals have one current starting position available. Boyd had been the team's primary slot receiver since 2018. Irwin, Jones and Burton, a third-round pick out of Alabama, are among those who could get a look at that spot.


Since coach Zac Taylor was hired in 2019, the team has predominantly been one that uses "11 personnel" -- one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers. When Burrow was healthy between Weeks 5 and 10 of last year, Cincinnati used that personnel package on 79.8% of its offensive snaps, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. That exceeded the season-long rate of 72.2% that ranked fifth in the league last year.


On Monday, the team posted a video of Burrow working with Burton on items such as the spacing between the other receivers and the depth of certain routes. Burton said Burrow, who is known for his timing and accuracy, will interject as needed during a practice.


"A quarterback like Joe, he's really detailed on those things," Burton said. "Those are just things you gotta pay attention to."


And the aforementioned trust is a major factor, too. Irwin, a fifth-year receiver, saw his role expand last season as Higgins battled rib and hamstring injuries. Starting in place of Higgins, he had a career-high eight catches on 10 targets for 60 yards in a Week 5 win over the Arizona Cardinals.


As much as winning one-on-one matchups and grasping the role in the offense is important, being in sync with Burrow is essential for any receiver looking to get more snaps, Irwin said.


"One of the biggest things is being on the same page as Joe," Irwin said. "If you're on the same page as Joe, Joe can do special things and the team can do special things."


While the battle to become the team's starting slot receiver will be one to watch in training camp, another potential opening is on the horizon. If Higgins is unable to reach a long-term deal with the Bengals before the July 15 deadline, which would require the sides to restart negotiations that have been dormant for over a year, the starting outside receiver would be eligible for free agency in 2025.


That isn't lost on Iosivas, who knows this year will be his chance to prove he could fill that void when it arises.


"I'm hoping I can get the confidence from the coaches," Iosivas said. "I'm not sure if they can pay Tee. He'll probably get a lot of money. He's a really good receiver. Hopefully I can step into that role."


That's where the Bengals are at this point in the franchise. In an era when the Bengals are building around Burrow and his $55 million annual salary, Cincinnati is trying to find the right pieces to pair with its franchise quarterback.


Those catching passes from him are hopeful that this offseason boosts their case to have more opportunities for an offense with championship aspirations.



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It's definitely the doldrums of the off-season, but I swear I think Ben Baby just mails it in sometimes. Not my favorite reporter. Doesn't even mention Gesicki, who will play a big role this season, imo, nor does he mention the changing offense under Pitcher. Hurry up, training camp!

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