CINCINNATI -- Preseason openers are all about two things: 1) fulfilling football fans' insatiable appetites by finally bringing back games; and 2) giving rookies and other newcomers their first chance to prove why they belong on their respective rosters.
With football's return to Paul Brown Stadium on Friday night, Bengals fans (and fantasy owners) will want to pay close attention to recent second-round draft pick Tyler Boyd. Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has been keenly observing the former Pitt standout since the receiver arrived in May. Boyd's play has Lewis already confidently saying that he came to Cincinnati even better than advertised.
"Tyler's exceeded my expectations of things," Lewis said a day before this preseason opener with the Minnesota Vikings. "He's really entered training camp and come back and worked and done the things we expected him to do and be able to do. He's taken it and he's grasped it and ran with it."
Lewis' words backed up comments made by offensive coordinator Ken Zampese following last Saturday's simulated game. Also impressed with what he had gotten from Boyd by that point, Zampese said that "bit by bit" parts of his game were getting better. Boyd even caught a 32-yard touchdown pass in that practice. Still, Zampese contended it would be a process to get the rookie exactly where they want him by the start of the regular season. They're looking for him to be a dependable, durable and consistent weapon by that point.
"As long as we stay hyper-vigilant on a daily basis to our effort and energy on a competitive level, it's going to happen as fast as it possibly can," Zampese said.
That, of course, would be a good thing for a team still looking for receiving complements to Pro Bowler A.J. Green. Behind Green, the pass-catching ranks have more question marks than they did the past three years. For now, veteran Brandon LaFell, an offseason addition in free agency, appears to be the Bengals' No. 2 receiver after Green. Boyd's ability to line up inside the slot and on the outside makes him the likely No. 3. Veteran Brandon Tate follows him, and then comes a mass of young receivers that includes the likes of the formerly undrafted Jake Kumerow, and Mario Alford, James Wright, and Cody Core.
Expect Boyd to be on the field for several series in the preseason game as he builds up live-action NFL reps. He might not play long with starting quarterback Andy Dalton, who typically exits after one series in preseason openers.
Versatility has been among Boyd's strongest traits after he lined up in numerous spots throughout Pitt's constantly changing offense in college. In addition to catching passes, he ran out of the backfield and even threw passes, much like he did on Day 1 of Bengals training camp when he caught a pitch from Dalton before lobbing a strike to Tate deep downfield.