CINCINNATI – Jermaine Gresham has a short memory. Or at least it’s a selectively short memory. Gresham has done a lot of good things in his three seasons as the Bengals’ tight end. No other tight end in franchise history has caught 50 or more passes in three straight seasons, and Gresham has been to two Pro Bowls.
“The only thing I can hear right now is that I had three dropped passes in the playoff game,” said Gresham Thursday as he sat at his locker in front of gathered media. “I can remember the play call. I have a short memory but I can still remember the play calls.”
It’s been nine months since that game at Reliant Stadium, a 19-13 loss to the Texans in which the Bengals’ offense was held to 12 first downs, 198 yards total and two field goals. Gresham was to be a focal point of the game plan. The Texans were thin at linebacker and would surely pay extra attention to wide receiver A.J. Green. Anyone but Green could beat them.
Andy Dalton targeted Gresham seven times in the game but the two connected just twice for a total of seven yards.
Sunday’s season opener at Chicago can’t get here fast enough for the Bengals. Gresham is sprinting ahead of everyone to get there. He’s open down the seam and ready to catch the first pass thrown his way.
“I ain’t going to run from a situation,” said Gresham. “I made those mistakes. I did that. Every bit of that, I did. My team, they were there for me. They didn’t feel like I let them down but I want to be held to a higher standard. I don’t want to be a guy who lets his teammates down.”
There was plenty of blame to go around in that game.
“I never once thought of that,” said safety Reggie Nelson of Gresham taking sole responsibility. “The guys we’ve got on this team I’m pretty sure they go out there and give it 100 percent their all. That’s type of team Mr. Brown and them have put together. There’s lots of character on this team and hopefully we can keep things going for Sunday.”
The tight end position has evolved the past decade. Kellen Winslow was that weapon for Dan Fouts and the San Diego three decades ago that opposing defenses had no answer for. Tony Gonzalez used to be a one-of-a-kind mismatch, a combination of size,
strength, speed and athletic nimbleness that was too fast for
linebackers and too big for safeties to cover.
Nowadays it seems like every team has that tight end or is looking for him. New England has Rob Gronkowski, when he’s healthy. The Patriots had Aaron Hernandez but he’s now in jail facing murder charges. New Orleans has Jimmy Graham. Baltimore used Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson as go-to targets last year. Heath Miller has been that guy for Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers.
When the Bengals drafted Tyler Eifert in the first round this year, it did nothing to lessen Gresham’s view of what his role on the team would be.
“Dude is a freak, he’s that good,” said Gresham. “I’m not lying to you. He’s going to bring so much to the team that it’s big. We’re definitely a better team. I’m excited.
“At the end of the day we’re all here to win games. You can’t control what they do up top. They made a decision to better the team and they’ve done that.”
Eifert was the 21st pick in this year’s draft, the same spot the Bengals selected Gresham in 2010. Integrating the two would-be power forwards – Eifert is 6-6, 250 pounds, while Gresham is 6-5, 260 – should give opposing defenses more to keep an eye on other than Green.
Any possible awkwardness with the two playing the same position has never materialized.
“We have a good relationship. We communicate well and we’re here to help each other out and to help the team,” said Eifert. “He can put his hand on the ground and block anybody, really, but he’s also fast and can catch the football, too. He puts everything together and that makes him a complete tight end.”
Gresham has 172 catches in his first three seasons, already fifth-best among tight ends in franchise history, and 15 touchdown receptions. According to Stats Inc., he led all NFL tight ends in yards after catch last year with 442. Miller was second with 366 yards after catch.
He’s got two seasons remaining on his original rookie contract and has seen the Bengals reward two other members of his draft class – second-rounder Carlos Dunlap and fourth-rounder Geno Atkins – with contract extensions. Dunlap and Atkins were heading into the final seasons of their deals but Gresham knows there is a bigger reason why they’ve gotten extended deals and not him.
“I haven’t earned an extension,” said Gresham. “Those guys definitely earned what they got and they’re very deserving. I’m not going to lie to you, I don’t deserve it. Not right now. I’ve got a lot to prove and I haven’t done a lot. I’ve got a lot of making up to do to the people around the city and for the organization.”