The return of Jermaine Gresham is equally important, as evidenced by the murky situation at second receiver. Jay Gruden’s offense offers the opportunity for a tight end to flourish. Donald Lee looked great in limited time last season and handling preseason tight end duties, but he lacks the overwhelming physical tools that Gresham possesses.
Once Gresham began to fully grasp towards the end of the season, a daunting task for a player who has never had to read a defense while running an option route, he began to look the part. His late season uptick, averaging double digits in yards per catch in six of the last eight games, earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl.
What Gresham seems to be understanding better is how to read coverages when it comes to intermediate routes and down the seam. One of Bill Walsh’s favorite routes in the original West Coast offense was the “win” route, in which the slot receiver/tight end would run downfield and read the safeties.
If the middle of the field was open, he ran a skinny post to split the safeties and get downfield enough to avoid the middle linebacker in coverage. If the middle of the field was closed, the player stayed up the seam, finding the open space between the safety and the corner.
Now that he has a firmer grasp on the playbook, Gresham can just run routes and get open. The indecisive route-running that plagued Gresham last season and limited his role to mainly a check down option seems to have vanished.
Whether that carries over to the regular season remains to be seen, but Gresham outmuscling the Ravens’ talented defensive backfield for some big gains would be huge for the Bengals’ offense on Monday night.