Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase is on a quest for greatness


CINCINNATI — I hear this a lot, or something like it, from family and from friends in the business:

Why do you still go on that training-camp trip? Killing yourself, zipping from camp to camp. You’re 65 now. Cut it back.

This story is why:

What separates the great players from the very good players? I saw it the other day on a lonely field in the Midwest under a summer afternoon broiler, 92 degrees with 85 percent humidity, when the 2021 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year was the only football player at work.

Ja’Marr Chase was the last of 90 players on the field for the AFC champion Bengals on this dog-day Cincinnati afternoon, prepping to catch footballs shot out of a Jugs machine at short range at 40 mph. Chase started catching them with running back Chris Evans providing some distracting defense to make the catches tougher, but then Evans had to hustle inside for a meeting. So now, other than one other Bengal signing autographs 100 yards away for a few fans, and two equipment guys, the place was Bengal-free. Players and coaches were inside the air-conditioned locker room and offices.

Chase now had one problem: He needed a DB to play defense. He saw the stoop-shouldered boss of, Geoff Hobson, waiting for him to finish the drill so he could ask him a few questions. Hobson asked if Chase needed him to play defense.

“If you want to,” Chase said.

In his last football game, the Super Bowl, Chase was guarded by all-world corner Jalen Ramsey.

Now he’d be guarded by a gray-haired 63-year-old scribe who last played football in the Carter administration.

The object of this drill was not only for Chase to work on catching line-drive throws, but to have someone distract him with a tug on the jersey or wave a white Gatorade towel in his face. Hobson grabbed a towel and prepared to distract Chase from catching fastballs from the machine, just eight yards away.

“Wave it in front of my eyes,” Chase told Hobson.

“THWAP!” came the footballs, one after another, shot out of the machine, a Bengals aide handing them to equipment manager Adam Knollman, who fed them into the machine, each ball speeding 24 feet to the orange-gloved Chase. With Hobson fluttering the towel as each line drive zipped toward them, Chase softly hand-caught them, no body involved. Try that sometime.

The oversized rolling garbage can was empty. I called from the sideline: “How many in there?”

Equipment guy: “Well, about 40 in each.”

“I do three of ‘em,” Chase said. Most of the receivers and backs do one of these huge cans.

One hundred twenty balls. Twenty minutes of footballs shot out of a cannon. Hobson fluttering the towel in his face, no words spoken. Once, Hobson succeeded, distracting Chase so the ball clanged off his hands. (“I can tell my grandchildren I broke up a pass intended for Ja’Marr Chase,” Hobson said later.) Chase stopped the drill, ambled 25 yards downfield, picked it up and tossed it back to the assistant helping Knollman feed the machine with ball after ball.

Seemed an odd thing, Chase chasing the errant ball. Let that one go, I thought. Someone will pick it up later.

“Ja’Marr’s different,” Knollman, the equipment guy, said. “If he misses one, he’ll go get it, and the ball gets thrown back to us. He’ll have to do it again. He has to be perfect. He has to catch every one.”

When it was over, Chase took his helmet off. The sweat flowed in rivulets off his head. “Thank you,” he said to the equipment guys. A walk-through hour to get today’s script of plays down, two hours of practice, a five-minute “Get Better” period of catching tennis balls thrown fast, then 20 minutes of this.

We’d talked before practice. I asked him what he’d say to a kid watching this interview.

“Focus on you,” Chase said. “There’s so much you can control. If you want to be great, you’ve got to work at it constantly, every day, even when you’re tired. Gotta know when to push yourself, gotta know when to over-push yourself.”

This was over-pushing himself. It’s his world.

I said to him pre-practice: “You want to be the best, don’t you?”

“That’s my goal,” Chase said.

“No questions?”

“No questions.”

“What about you against [former LSU mate] Justin Jefferson?”

“I’m better than Justin.”

Davante Adams?”

“I don’t know if I’m better … but I watch his film all the time. He told me he watches my film. That’s definitely something to keep me working.”

One day last week, Chase’s receivers coach, Troy Walters, used Powerpoint before practice to put up a quote from Bo Schembechler in the wide receivers meeting room.


The same day, at practice, Walters, who has been significant in Chase’s growth and ethos, told him: “If you want to be really great, you need to be fundamentally sound every day, even in our walk-through.” Walters noticed on one route that Chase was supposed to take four steps off the line, but instead he took five. He admonished Chase. For the rest of the walk-through, Chase would look back at Walters after practicing a route, to see if he’d done it perfectly.

Chase credits Walters with pushing him and polishing him. After Chase had one of the best rookie seasons by a player in recent history—81 catches, 1,455 yards, 18.0 yards per catch, 13 TDs, then a rookie-record 368 postseason receiving yards—what happened a year ago in his rookie training camp seems so incongruous. Remember when he was dropping everything in sight last summer? Walters sat Chase down, showed him tape of how great he was at LSU and said, essentially, this too shall pass, and hard work will fix everything.

“We had a heart to heart,” Walters said. “He’s a great player. The word that comes to mind is freakish. But he understands the value of work, and how important it is in his success. I think what happened is he hadn’t played in the [2020] Covid season, and he just had some rust.”

There’s a drill Walters does with Chase that makes a lot of sense. Chase faces a wall. Walters stands behind him. With Chase focused on the wall, Walters throws a tennis ball hard. It bounces off the wall to a different place in Chase’s catch radius each time, and Chase tries to react instantaneously and grab it.

“Hand-eye coordination,” Chase told me. “Reaction in a split-second is crucial to being great.”

I didn’t sense a lot of the-missed-Super Bowl-chance haunts us out of the Bengals. My theory: This team won fortunate dogfights at Tennessee and Kansas City when Ryan Tannehill and Patrick Mahomes threw late picks, and Evan McPherson kicked 95-yard field goals in both games to get Cincinnati to the big game. I didn’t sense that losing to that great defensive front and Matthew Stafford/Cooper Kupp is a nightmare for Cincinnati going forward. For the Bengals to get to a second straight Super Bowl, the retooled offensive line needs to build a better shield around Joe Burrow (72 sacks in 21 games, by far the most in football). Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd combined for 222 catches, 3,374 yards and 24 TDs last year. It’s absurd to just say, Duplicate that, or do better, but the Bengals need a healthy, full dose of their trio to be great again. Because now the rest of the league looks at the Bengals on the schedule as a challenge, not a bye week.

There’s another reason the uber-popular Chase is particularly valuable to the franchise in a time when the Bengals have taken over the local sports scene: perspective beyond his 22 years. The other day, Knollman said to Chase he appreciated him signing autographs for so many kids after practice.

“These people wait a long time for this,” Chase said. “And it doesn’t last forever.”

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column

NFL quarterback rankings 2023: Chris Simms’ top 40 QB countdown ahead of upcoming NFL season


While the NFL is a league that is ever-changing, some things are set to stay the same in 2023 — like the revealing of Chris Simms’ top 40 QB countdown.

Last year’s list saw Josh Allen take his place atop the quarterback throne, with Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Los Angeles’ Justin Herbert not far behind at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. It was, however, Mahomes who would ultimately reign over all NFL quarterbacks at the end of the season, as the 27-year-old collected both the NFL MVP honors and his second Lombardi Trophy.

This NFL offseason, however, has brought some intriguing adjustments that are likely to shake up Simms’ rankings.

While some signal-callers such as Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson found their prolonged home with massive contract signings, others will be venturing to a new franchise in search of a fresh start. Aaron Rodgers‘ trade to the New York Jets is unquestionably the most staggering shift, but other quarterbacks on the move such as Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo cannot be forgotten.

RELATED: Mike Florio gives an inside look into the Lamar Jackson deal

And with three of the first four picks in the 2023 NFL Draft being spent on a quarterback, emerging talent will likely turn the tides for some franchises this upcoming season.

See below for Chris Simms’ top 40 QB countdown ahead of the upcoming season. Be sure to subscribe to Chris Simms Unbuttoned for more on the 2023 NFL season as well as an unfiltered look at the NFL featuring player access, unabashed opinion, X&O film breakdown and stories from a life in and around football.

RELATED: Peter King’s latest offseason NFL power rankings

Chris Simms’ 2023 Top 40 QB Countdown:

40. Desmond Ridder (ATL)

39. Sam Howell (WAS)

38. Bryce Young (CAR)

37. CJ Stroud (HOU)

36. Anthony Richardson (IND)

35. Mike White (MIA)

34. Gardner Minshew (IND)

33. Taylor Heinicke (ATL)

32. Jarrett Stidham (DEN)

31. Jordan Love (GB)

30. Davis Mills (HOU)

29. Tyler Huntley (BAL)

28. Andy Dalton (CAR)

27. Sam Darnold (SF)

26. Brock Purdy (SF)

25. Kenny Pickett (PIT)

24. Baker Mayfield (TB)

23. Justin Fields (CHI)

22. Jimmy Garoppolo (LV)

21. Tua Tagovailoa (MIA)

20. Mac Jones (NE)

19. Kyler Murray (AZ)

18. Derek Carr (NO)

17. Jared Goff (DET)

16. Ryan Tannehill (TEN)

15. Geno Smith (SEA)

14. Russell Wilson (DEN)

2023 NFL Schedule Release: Start time, how to watch, live stream, channel


With another exciting NFL Draft in the books, teams can now turn their gaze toward the road to Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas. The path to Super Bowl glory, however, is about to become abundantly more clear with the 2023 NFL season schedule release.

This year’s NFL season schedule release is nearly here, with the entirety of the 2023 NFL schedule being unveiled on Thursday, May 11 at 8 p.m. ET on both Peacock and NFL Network. See below for everything you need to know for one of the offseason’s most anticipated events.

RELATED: Click here for full analysis on Rounds 1-7 of the 2023 NFL Draft

When will the 2023 NFL season schedule be released?

While all 272 matchups have been known since the conclusion of the 2022 regular season, the order and dates for these games have remained a mystery. The secret is nearly out, however, with every NFL game on the brink of revelation.

The full 2023 NFL schedule will be released on Thursday, May 11 at 8:00 p.m. ET.

How can I watch the 2023 NFL season schedule release?

The 2023 NFL season schedule release will take place Thursday, May 11 on Peacock, NFL Network, and the NFL app at 8 p.m. ET.

While the entirety of the schedule will be unveiled at that time, select games have already been and will continue to be released prior to the official event. Ahead of the 2023 NFL season schedule release, the following games will be announced:

Who will play in the 2023 NFL Kickoff game?

The first game of the 2023-24 NFL season will see the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs take the field in Arrowhead Stadium.

The opponent that will meet Patrick Mahomes and company in Kansas City, however, remains to be revealed.

Which NFL teams have international games in 2023?

While the majority of the matchups set to take place next season have yet to be announced, the league has already revealed which teams will head overseas for international showdowns.

Below is the full list of international NFL games for the 2023-24 season, with three in London, U.K., and two in Frankfurt, Germany.

Falcons vs. Jaguars: Week 4, Oct. 1 at 9:30 a.m. ET | Wembley Stadium in London, U.K.

Jaguars vs. Bills: Week 5, Oct. 8 at 9:30 a.m. ET | Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, U.K.

Ravens vs. Titans: Week 6, Oct. 15 at 9:30 a.m. ET | Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, U.K.

Dolphins vs. Chiefs: Week 9, Nov. 5 at 9:30 a.m. ET | Frankfurt Stadium in Frankfurt, Germany

Colts vs. Patriots: Week 10, Nov. 12 at 9:30 a.m. ET | Frankfurt Stadium in Frankfurt, Germany

RELATED: NFL’s 2023 international games full of “star power”

When is the Super Bowl and where will it be taking place?

Stars will be shining bright in Las Vegas, Nevada, for Super Bowl LVIII, set to take place on Feb. 11, 2024, at the home of the Raiders in Allegiant Stadium.

This will be the first Super Bowl to ever take place in Las Vegas, which hosted the 2023 Pro Bowl and 2022 NFL Draft.

Be sure to follow ProFootballTalk for the latest news, updates, and storylines about the upcoming NFL season!