Katherine Terrell, ESPN Staff Writer 20d

Delayed development makes Bengals' John Ross a healthy scratch

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Cincinnati Bengals first-round pick John Ross is a healthy scratch for the first time this season, but that's not a huge surprise based on his development to this point.

With Cody Core returning from a concussion this week and five other receivers available (Tyler Boyd is out with a knee injury), Ross lost the numbers game.

Ross has played in only 11 snaps this season because he injured a knee after a Week 2 game against the Houston Texans that he had previously injured in the preseason. He played just six snaps in his return last week, and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said Ross was not part of the game plan.

Lewis hinted they would bring Ross along slowly, pointing out that his development had been delayed because of shoulder surgery that caused him to miss OTAs and part of training camp.

"The one thing he was never able to do was practice against the defense," Lewis said in late October. "And to me, that's one of the best things, as far as honing your craft, when you have to practice against the other side of the ball. But now you're getting as live replicated reps as we can get you. And he didn't have that for all of training camp. That's a lot. That's a lot of snaps that were lost. Just figure, he had a third of the snaps at training camp, a third of the snaps at OTAs, that's 600 snaps he hasn't been a part of. Then you come to the season and you have roughly 60-70 snaps on both sides of the ball each day."

Ross wasn't allowed to lift weights while recovering from the surgery, which hindered his development. While Ross has the ability to blow away defenses with his 4.22-second 40-yard-dash speed, he's also behind the other receivers on the team in terms of his all-around development.

It's not just one factor that has kept Ross off the active game-day roster. He doesn't contribute on special teams like Josh Malone and Core, and an attempt to turn him into a punt returner was shelved after he injured his knee. Alex Erickson, who made the team as a rare seventh wide receiver, has been the primary returner for two seasons.

At less than 200 pounds, Ross doesn't bring much to the table as a blocker, either. He badly missed a block in his limited outing against the Indianapolis Colts.

The Bengals feel that Ross hasn't had enough practice and timing with quarterback Andy Dalton to move ahead of other receivers in the ranks. It doesn't help Ross' cause that Malone, the Bengals' fourth-round pick this year, has emerged after being a healthy scratch at the beginning of the season.

The Bengals haven't given up on Ross by any means and knew going into the draft that there would be a timetable for his development, particularly with the shoulder injury. Injuring his knee only set that timetable back further. The team feels he's a smart young player with a lot of potential, but he simply needs more practice time to develop chemistry with Dalton and turn into a more well-rounded receiver.

It's likely Ross will continue to be a healthy scratch until they feel he's put everything together. Lewis has said that he doesn't feel the need to put him out there if he's not ready simply because of his first-round status.

When will Ross earn a bigger role in the offense? Right now, they don't have a timetable, but until they feel he's ready, he likely won't see much of a role.

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