Cincinnati Bengals first-round pick John Ross had his most active practice Monday, but the team is still asking the wide receiver to do something that’s completely foreign to him:
Take it slow.
The speedster from the University of Washington, who set a Combine record by running the 40-yard dash in 4.22 seconds, took part in 1-on-1 and 11-on-11 drills for the first time, but his reps were limited as the Bengals continue to ease him into the offense following offseason labrum surgery.
“We’re just being smart,” wide receivers coach James Urban said. “We’re certainly not going to tackle him to the ground or anything like that. And I’m not having him go bang in there and dig out safeties in the run game or anything like that quite yet.
“It will be a day-to-day basis,” Urban continued. “I thought he did well. I thought it was a good first day.”
Ross said he was excited to finally get a chance to run routes against defenders. Maybe a little too much so.
“I maybe had some some mental errors because I was so excited just to be around the guys and maybe showcase to everybody how fast I actually am, that I can routes and I’m tough for people to catch,” Ross said. “I mean it was Day 1. I’ve got a lot to learn.”
Ross was limited to running shadow routes — lining up behind the receiver and tracing his steps — during rookie camp and minicamp, but he missed all of OTAs while finishing his degree at UW. He’s been on the field for every practice of training camp, doing position drills and fielding punts, but that didn’t stop his teammates from razzing him Monday.
“All the guys were cracking jokes, ‘You finally clocked into work,’” Ross said. “A couple of guys said I was on paid leave. Every time I came back to the huddle, everybody keeps saying ‘It’s about time.’”
Ross beat 2016 first-round pick William Jackson on a deep ball in the first 1-on-1 session, but later in the practice he wasn’t able to haul in another one with Jackson in coverage again. It was unclear if Ross just dropped it, or if Jackson got his hand on the ball.
“I think it was a little bit of both,” Urban said. “I think some of that is until you’re running as fast as you run and then catching it, over the shoulder with a defender right there — I’m not making excuses for him, but he hasn’t done that in a while. I have to see it on film. I’m not sure. I know Willy was running with him pretty good.”
In 11s, Ross had one reception on an out route and ran a couple of reverses where he got in space to show off his speed.
“We saw a little bit of it today,” Urban said. “We got to see glimpses of it. That’s one part of playing fast is being fast, but the second part is knowing what to do and and how to do it. We obviously know he’s fast, now it is getting him to play fast.”
The biggest question left unanswered is when Ross is going to make his debut in a game.
It seems unlikely he would play Saturday night against Kansas City after just a couple of practices, so the Aug. 27 game at Washington would be a more likely scenario.
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“I don’t want to say no and I don’t want to say yeah,” Ross said when asked about Saturday. “Right now I’m just trusting what they are saying and waiting. I’m still doing rehab and everything.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” he added. “You get drafted to play football, so to have to be able to watch with all the expectations coming in as a first-round draft pick, you want to come in and play at your best ability. You don’t want to have to prove anything to anyone. You want to make sure you’re here for what you are drafted for, and I haven’t had a chance to. But today was a great start.”