As a rookie, and in an offense with two accomplished wide receivers who were the focal point of the passing game, TE Jermaine Gresham played a complementary role in the Bengals' attack last season.
That's no longer the case.
In a West Coast passing attack that emphasizes targeting the open receiver and lends itself to spreading the ball around, Gresham has become one of rookie QB Andy Dalton's top targets.
Through five games, Gresham ranked second on the club in targets (35), receptions (21) and was tied with rookie WR A.J. Green for the team lead in TDs (three).
In 2010, Terrell Owens (139 targets) and Chad Ochocinco (126 targets) were then-QB Carson Palmer's go-to receivers. Gresham, who finished fourth on the club with 83 targets, hauled in 52 passes for 471 yards. The Bengals' wide receivers were the downfield options in the offense, with Gresham a short-area target. On average, he caught the ball 2.1 yards from the line of scrimmage in 2010.
He has been more of a downfield threat this season, something that's a function of Jay Gruden's scheme, TE coach Jonathan Hayes told PFW. The 6-5, 260-pound Gresham's athleticism and development gives the Bengals a variety of options on how to use him, Hayes said.
"That's the thing we want to do, is create mismatches whenever we can," Hayes said.
Gresham's size, explosiveness, body control and strength are among his top attributes. "The thing that he gives you obviously is the big-play (ability) that he has in him," Hayes said. "He was a multisport athlete, and you can see some of the basketball come out in him." He referred to Gresham's 17-yard TD vs. Buffalo, in which the tight end shielded Bills S George Wilson, leaped, tipped the ball with his right hand and secured it with his left hand for a TD, as a "low-post move."
Hayes made it clear that Gresham isn't a finished product. Nor is the Bengals' offense, in its first year in this system, he said. He compared it to playing an instrument. "As it goes along, you start feeling the music as the notes come off the piano," he said.
Hayes added, "I think we feel good about our progress, and it's starting to sound like music."