Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase admits to rust, says NFL balls are harder to catch

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It’s been an interesting summer for first-round rookie Ja’Marr Chase, who committed a league-high four drops during Cincinnati’s preseason slate. The 6’1” receiver out of LSU (where he and future Bengals teammate Joe Burrow connected on 23 touchdowns) spoke with surprising candor about his early struggles in a recent interview with team reporter Geoff Hobson, admitting the NFL has been a bigger adjustment than anticipated.

“I would just say it’s a lack of concentration,” said Chase of his drop in the Bengals’ preseason finale, a 29-26 loss to Miami last Sunday. “My eyes weren't concentrating on the ball. I didn't keep still, so that makes my eye adjustment for the ball move around and now my eyes get lazy where the balls coming in from.”

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Acclimating to the size and speed of the NFL is no small task, especially after sitting out a season. Chase, who took last year off to prepare for the draft, acknowledges that layoff may have contributed to his lackluster camp. “I don't want to blame it on me sitting on my butt the whole year, but it probably had something to do with it,” said Chase, citing rust as a factor in his drop-laden preseason. “There's a bigger ball adjustment, so I don't want to make excuses but I've just got to be a pro and make the catch."

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While the NFL ball is certainly larger than the one he played with in college, Chase’s former LSU teammate Justin Jefferson—now of Minnesota—didn’t seem bothered by it, setting an NFL rookie record with 1,400 receiving yards last season. "The ball is different because it is bigger,” noted Chase, who led the country in both receiving yards and touchdowns during LSU’s title run in 2019. “It doesn't have the white stripes on the side so you can't see the ball coming from the tip point. So you actually have to look for the strings on the ball at the top, which is hard to see because the whole ball is brown and you have the six strings that are white.”

Owners of one of the league’s worst defenses (seventh-most yards allowed in 2020), the Bengals should find themselves playing in plenty of shootouts this season, which means Chase could be in for a baptism by fire. The Bengals begin their 2021 campaign against Jefferson’s Vikings Sunday at 1 PM ET.

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