Where has Jermaine Gresham Gone?


Jermaine Gresham has been nearly nonexistent for the Bengals’ offense this year. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

We’re are now four games (five weeks) into the 2014 season and despite this past week’s blunder, the Bengals have looked pretty good overall.  Yet something is missing from the offense that was presumed to be a big focus of its strategy: a tight end.  Many thought that Jermaine Gresham would’ve stepped back into the spotlight as a big focus of the offense following Tyler Eifert’s injury early on, especially as the Bengals targeted Eifert early and often.  This hasn’t happened.  The Bengals have also been without Marvin Jones to date while A.J. Green missed some time against the Falcons; nearly the whole game actually.  Still no Jermaine Gresham.  It begs the question, what has happened to him?

It’s perplexing on several levels. Jermaine Gresham has historically shown promise in the passing game regardless of blunders elsewhere. We are talking about a guy who flourished over his first three years; just two years ago, he had 64 catches on 94 targets for 737 yards and five touchdowns. His production did drop in 2013, but this was to be expected as the Bengals added several receiving weapons in 2012 and Tyler Eifert in 2013.  So when Eifert and Jones went down this year, conventional wisdom would tell you Gresham would’ve stepped up.

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Through four games this year, Jermaine Gresham has played in 228 of 250 snaps according to Sporting Charts.  This kind of usage would typically lead to solid stats for a player as talented as Gresham.  But despite his 91.2% usage, he has only eight catches (on 13 targets) for 61 yards.  Yes, he has two dropped passes, but he has no fumbles and has only one penalty on the year; a false start against Baltimore.  He has historically struggled with penalties and converting crucial plays, but mistakes haven’t been an issue this year.

Gresham has historically been a capable blocker; though he has been known to be called for holding.  With the Bengals’ focus on running the ball, he’s been solid in this regard (especially here when completely removing Rob Ninkovich from the play), so a lack of production in this regard also isn’t the reason for his drop-off.

Gresham has the added motivation of playing for a new contract as his runs out following the 2014 season.  But even this hasn’t translated into increased production from the very capable receiving tight end.  It certainly begs the question of whether or not he’ll be with the Bengals following this season.

Jermaine Gresham’s 2014 is baffling, as is his career, in many ways.  The former first-round pick has so much skill both in the receiving and blocking game.  He has all the physical tools at 6’5″, 260 pounds with 4.66 speed (in the 40), and health has never been an issue.

Understanding that Gresham has been maligned over the past couple of years, it’s still disheartening to watch such a capable player seemingly dispossess his ability.  It makes you wonder whether all the criticism has gotten to him, the way it clearly got to Rey Maualuga over the years.

Gresham acknowledged his standing with the fans this off-season when referring to himself as the “villain.”

"“I kind of accept the villain role and just try to be a leader to guys like Tyler who are learning on the way.  As long as my teammates love me, I’m good.”"

Although he says he’s in a good place, maybe it bothers him more than he lets on.  Maybe his issue, much like the Bengals’ issue with playing during “prime time” moments, is all mental. Maybe Hue Jackson just isn’t featuring the tight ends the way he was presumed to; though he did with Eifert early on against Baltimore.  Whatever it is, having Gresham return to form would help this offense immensely.  He would present another nice target for Andy Dalton, especially in the redzone where the Bengals have struggled comparatively to that of Jermaine Gresham in 2014.  Hopefully, Gresham will make a reappearance in Cincinnati this weekend.