John Ross III has always had the ability to move quickly. That we know.
But it’s how quickly Ross has been able to move on from missteps and setbacks that gives him hope that he can put together the kind of breakthrough season the Cincinnati Bengals expect in his third season in the NFL.
The former University of Washington wide receiver will return to Seattle this weekend for Sunday’s season opener between the Seahawks and Bengals at CenturyLink Field.
Ross, limited by a hamstring injury in the preseason, is listed as a starting receiver for the Bengals in their first game under new head coach Zac Taylor, a former Los Angeles Rams offensive assistant.
“John has been great,” Taylor said Thursday. “He didn’t play in any of the preseason games, but he’s fully healthy, he’s been dialed in along the way, he’s always been in the meetings and had been focused when he’s been around. So now he’s up to speed, and we’re really confident we’ll get the best version of John in Week 1.”
During his four seasons at UW, Ross battled through a series of knee and shoulder injuries, the big blow a torn ACL in his left knee that cost him the entire 2015 season. That injury, he said, changed his outlook on life and football.
“It made me look at life in a different perspective,” Ross said in a phone interview Thursday. “Like, no matter what’s going on I can change. No matter what the outcome is, I have the ability to change how I respond. So whatever I go through — it’s obvious I haven’t had two great years (in the NFL) or anything. My first year, I played 17 snaps and it wasn’t good. Last year, I had seven touchdowns, but it wasn’t the way I wanted to do it and it wasn’t the way that quote-unquote people are seeing me doing.
“But those are things I can’t worry about. I can only worry about moving forward.”
Ross, of course, returned to action for the Huskies in 2016 and put together one of the best seasons by a receiver in program history, with 81 receptions for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns, while helping UW win its first conference championship in 16 years.
He then famously flashed his 4.22-second record-setting speed in the 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, and the Bengals selected him a couple months later with the No. 9 pick in the NFL draft.
Injuries derailed his rookie season; as he said, he played just 17 snaps and had no catches in 2017. He was healthier and better in 2018, posting 21 catches for 210 yards and seven touchdowns. But he needed 58 targets to accumulate those 21 catches, for a catch rate of 36% — the lowest among all qualifying receivers in the NFL last year.
Certainly, there’s room for improvement, and Ross says he’s embracing that in Taylor’s system.
“New coaching staff, new offense and I have every right to be excited and I have every opportunity to make something better of myself than I what I already did,” Ross said. “Every day I wake up and I’m like, ‘It’s time to change.’ However you see yourself, forget about it. You can’t go back. All I got is what I’ve got going forward. No matter what happens, I have to keep the right mindset.”
Ross said it’s been fun having tight end Drew Sample, a former UW teammate, with him on the Bengals roster. Sample, a Newport High School product, was the Bengals’ second-round draft pick this spring, and Taylor said both former Huskies will be key pieces in his offense.
“Drew was a pro the second we drafted him,” Taylor said. “He’s a guy who really impressed us in the pre-draft interviews. He’s come in and just played like a vet, to be quite honest with you. He’s really good in all three phases — he’s a reliable catcher, he’s great in protection, he’s really solid in the run game. He picks up the offense very quickly. … Drew is certainly one of those guys that we’re counting on.”