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

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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 Bengals.com, 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.

EVERY DAY YOU’RE EITHER GETTING BETTER OR YOU’RE GETTING WORSE. YOU NEVER STAY THE SAME.

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

What to know about the 2023 Pro Bowl: Dates, how to watch/live stream info, AFC, NFC coaches, competition schedule, and more

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The 2023 NFL Pro Bowl will take place over the course of two days at Allegiant Stadium–home of the Las Vegas Raiders–in Paradise, Nevada. The excitement begins on Thursday, February 2 as NFL fan-favorites compete in a brand-new skills challenge featuring the following events: Epic Pro Bowl Dodgeball, Lightning Round, Longest Drive, Precision Passion, and Best Catch.

Sunday, February 5 will feature the following: the Best Catch Finale, Gridiron Gauntlet, Kick Tack Toe, Move the Chains, and three seven-on-seven non-contact Flag football games between the league’s best players.

See below for additional information on how to watch the 2023 Pro Bowl as well as answers to all of your frequently asked questions.

RELATED: What to know about Super Bowl 2023 – Date, location, halftime performance info, and much more

Who are the coaches for the 2023 Pro Bowl?

AFC Coaches:

  • Peyton Manning – Head Coach
  • Ray Lewis – Defensive Coordinator
  • Diana Flores – Offensive Coordinator

NFC Coaches:

  • Eli Manning – Head Coach
  • Demarcus Ware – Defensive Coordinator
  • Vanita Krouch – Offensive Coordinator

How will the 2023 Pro Bowl be different from previous editions of the event?

Rather than the traditional tackle football game, this year’s Pro Bowl will debut a skills competition and a non-contact flag football game.

How will scoring work?

According to the NFL, points will be calculated in the following way:

  • The winning conference of each skill competition earns three points towards their team’s overall score, with 24 total points available across the eight skills events.
  • The winning conference from each of the first two Flag football games on Sunday will earn six points for their team, for a total of 12 available points.
  • Points from the skills competitions and first two Flag games will be added together and will be the score at the beginning of the third and final Flag game, which will determine the winning conference for The Pro Bowl Games.

How to watch the 2023 Pro Bowl:

  • Where: Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada
  • When: Thursday, February 2 (7:00 PM ET) and Sunday, February 5 (3:00 PM ET)
  • TV Channel: ESPN, ABC, and Disney XD

When is Super Bowl 2023?

Super Bowl 2023 takes place on Sunday, February 12 at 6:30 p.m. ET on Fox.

Where is Super Bowl 2023?

Super Bowl 2023 will be contested at State Farm Stadium–home of the Arizona Cardinals– in Glendale, Arizona.

What teams are playing in Super Bowl 2023?

The Philadelphia Eagles will face the Kansas City Chiefs marking the first time since 2017 that both top seeds qualified for the Super Bowl.


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Super Bowl food 2023: Appetizer, entrée, and dessert ideas for Super Bowl LVII inspired by the Eagles and Chiefs

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As the countdown continues toward Super Bowl LVII, the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs are getting their game plans set. But while they go over their plays, the rest of America goes over their menus in preparation for the big day. When it comes to the Super Bowl, everything is always the best — the best teams, the best performers and, of course, the best food.

But how can you impress your party in the kitchen while showing support for your favorite team? Let’s take a look at some iconic food from each of the Super Bowl team cities to prepare for Super Bowl LVII.

RELATED: What to know about Super Bowl LVII: Date, location, how to watch

Philadelphia Super Bowl food

Crabfries

Why have plain old fries when you could have crabfries? That’s exactly what Pete Ciarrocchi, the CEO of the legendary Philadelphia restaurant Chickie and Pete’s, said one day when creating this intriguing concoction.

While the name may be misleading, crabfries do not contain any actual crab, but rather a blend of spices and Old Bay seasoning that allow the dish to take on a subtle seafood flavor. Topped with a creamy, cheesy dipping sauce, the crinkle-cut fries are sure to take your taste buds to the next level.

Cheesesteak sloppy joes

It simply isn’t Philly without a cheesesteak. Keep it casual in your kitchen on Super Bowl Sunday with Katie Lee Biegel’s Philly Cheesesteak sloppy joes, an easy way to rep the Birds.

Can’t get enough of the cheesesteak? Bring some more Philly specials to the table with this cheesesteak dip, the perfect way to amp up your appetizer game and leave party guests feeling like they just took a trip to the City of Brotherly Love.

RELATED: Rob Gronkowski predicts Eagles to win Super Bowl LVII

Water ice

Is the action of the game heating up? Cool down with a classic Philly treat, water ice. First originating in Bensalem, Pennsylvania in 1984, the icy dessert is now sold in over 600 stores nationwide. The original Rita’s Water Ice shop, however, still remains open for business.

You can even show a little extra passion for the Birds by whipping up this green apple variation, sure to leave you refreshed and ready for the Lombardi.

Kansas City Super Bowl food

Cheese slippers

If you’re looking for a classy, yet authentic appetizer to bring to the table, there’s no better fit than the cheese slipper. This ciabatta loaf baked with melty cheeses and topped with seasonal vegetables and herbs has Kansas City natives hooked.

While the bread is typically baked to perfection by local shops, test your own skill level with this gourmet slipper bread recipe that you can complete with the mouth-watering toppings of your choice.

RELATED: How many Super Bowls have the Chiefs been to, won?

BBQ burnt ends

It’s rare to hear the words Kansas City without barbeque following short after. If you’re looking to impress your guests with your Super Bowl food spread, get out to the grill and start showing off.

While many cities in America know how to cook up some excellent BBQ, the combination of the sweet flavors and mouth-watering sauce has made Kansas City a hub for barbeque lovers for decades.

BBQ burnt ends, while a bit time-consuming, are  well worth a little elbow grease. The dish is also one of the few in Kansas City with a distinct origin story. The meal first found its creation at Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque, a legendary African American restaurant in KC. Bryant originally made the burnt ends from the trimmings of pork belly, but since then, BBQ lovers have made incredible bites out of many styles of meat.

And if you’re feeling extra ambitious, try fixing up some classic Kansas City sides to pair with your entrée to perfection.

RELATED: What to know about Rihanna, the Super Bowl LVII halftime performer

Chiefs chocolate chip cookies

While there is no specific dessert that defines the Heart of America, you can still show your Kansas City pride with these ever-colorful Chiefs chocolate chip cookies.

Make sure to have your food dye handy, because the red and yellow hue of these cookies are sure to show everyone whose side you are on.

Or, if you’re feeling artistic, design an eye-catching Chiefs jersey out of the fan-favorite rice krispie treats. Whether you make Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce or Chris Jones, you’ll have the tastiest Super Bowl jerseys around.

How to watch the Super Bowl 2023 – Philadelphia Eagles vs Kansas City Chiefs:

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