Whether he knows it or not, Orson Charles has a huge opportunity in front of him for the 2014 season. In his second year, the Bengals switched him to an H-back role. One has to believe the switch was catalyzed by the unexpected opportunity to draft Tyler Eifert. This transition is what gives Charles an extremely unique opportunity in today’s NFL. While coaching in Oakland, Hue Jackson cultivated one of the most unique weapons in the NFL, fullback Marcel Reece. The NFL’s current offensive trend continues to negate this position, yet Reece is flourishing in the ever-changing Oakland offense. Jackson is one of the few coaches who both values fullbacks and can set them up for success beyond being a lead-blocker. Charles would do well to recognize this and take advantage of it.
Charles’ physical attributes, versatility, and, albeit limited, but productive contributions have led him to his newfound role. Listed at 6’3″ and 254 pounds, Charles has the size to be effective in the H-back role. After completing 35 reps on the bench press during his combine workout, Charles proved he has the strength for the role also. Primarily a tight end while at Georgia, his receiving abilities were well documented after a productive collegiate career where he accumulated 94 catches for 1370 yards and 10 TDs across three seasons. What Charles may lack is athletic ability. He won’t out run or jump NFL defenders nor does he possess the type of agility to make defenders miss in space. The Bengals have prioritized big, athletic tight ends and Charles doesn’t fit that mold. The deciding factor regarding whether Charles will secure his roster spot will be his ability to block in space. As running backs coach in 2013, Jackson tutored Charles attempting to improve his blocking technique. If Charles can build on that experience and become a capable lead blocker, he could add an invaluable weapon to this offense as they move towards a run-heavy system. Along with leading running backs through the hole, Charles would add a big target out of the backfield. His ability to gain position on defenders by using his strength would give Dalton yet another “check down” option. Charles’ presence would allow the Bengals to be more creative with their play calling and could confound opposing defenses. Thus far, Charles’ most significant impact has been on special teams. After playing only 13 games in 2013, he finished fifth on the team with nine tackles behind only Cedric Peerman (10), Vincent Rey (11), Jayson DiManche (14), and Shawn Williams (14). His special teams’ role may increase in 2014 as Rey will be playing a larger role on the defense, and maybe even starting at MLB, and Peerman’s roster spot isn’t locked because of the depth at running back. Charles has all the necessary physical attributes, skills, and proven special teams’ ability to retain his roster spot. The crux for Charles will be his ability to become a capable blocker in space.
Both Charles and the Bengals will have to do better for one another going forward if his potential value is to be utilized. Charles was arrested this off-season for wanton endangerment in Kentucky after brandishing a firearm towards someone. This is his second arrest after being charged with DUI during his pre-draft process. This type of behavior will weigh heavily on the minds of the Bengals brass. They have worked hard to repair their once tainted image, so these types of issues cannot occur amongst its players. He will have to display a renewed commitment to being a professional and quality representative of this team if they are even to consider him for the roster. He will certainly have to show marked improvement in his play during training camp and hence establish a renewed belief from the team in his focus and ability; Charles has much repair work ahead of him. With the Bengals looking to emphasize the run, there will be no better time for Charles to repair his image and reassert himself into the role that Jackson so clearly covets.
As far as the organization goes, it may be prudent to give Charles some more looks at his original tight end position. Jermaine Gresham is in the final year of his current deal. His lackluster focus at times has caused relentless mental mistakes, which leaves much to be desired in the eyes of his coaches. The team’s patience with his development seems to be waning evidenced by their investment in Tyler Eifert last year. Along with this, Gresham required hernia surgery already this off-season. He doesn’t have a concerning history of injuries, but it is something to watch as his off-season progresses. Gresham is in control of his future with this team, but should he continue to digress, giving Charles some looks for necessary depth at the position would be wise.
Charles’ response to his second arrest and focus towards improving his blocking ability will be the deciding factors on whether or not he can complete his transition to H-back. It will decide if he can retain his roster spot and become a very unique weapon for the Bengals’ offense. His time is running out as the team has brought in competition for the role in two UDFAs: Ryan Hewitt, a versatile fullback out of Stanford, and Nikita Whitlock, a transitioning defensive tackle to fullback out of Wake Forest. Now is the time for Charles to strike; he may never get an opportunity like this again.