Bengals' first-rounder John Ross still on mend, eases back into practice

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals rookie first-round pick John Ross pictured his season going differently than it has so far.

Ross spent most of the summer recovering from labrum surgery that limited him to short appearances in the final two preseason games. Shortly into the fourth preseason game against the Colts, he tweaked his knee. That same knee has bothered him all season, putting Ross on the injury report during the Bengals’ tumultuous start.

“I just think I was pushing it," Ross said. "That’s probably a lot on my end not communicating. I just wanted to get out there to try to prove myself. It’s a young mentality. Now I’m in a better state of mind and definitely treating it better as far as what I should be doing as opposed to what I think they want.”

Ross has played only five offensive snaps, all of which came in Week 2. That's fewer than any other first-round pick this year, with the exception of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who hasn't been needed with Alex Smith entrenched at the starting position.

There's a possibility Ross finally could get back on the field soon. He practiced on Monday after spending weeks doing work on the rehab field. But Bengals coach Marvin Lewis warned last week that Ross was going to need time after being out for so long.

“Whenever John Ross comes out there, looks like everybody else and I watch him practice, we’ll have an idea. We’ll see whether or not he deserves to dress," Lewis said during his bye week press conference.

"He’s not been out with the football team enough. He needs a lot of time and a lot of practice. That’s important. That’s probably as important as getting back healthy where he can begin to practice football again. He needs that. We have to get back to that point first.”

It would not be a surprise to see the Bengals take the cautious route with Ross after the choppy start to his NFL career. Ross said he was doing a lot during Monday's practice, but has not progressed to 11-on-11 drills yet. The Bengals did not release a Monday practice report, but Ross likely would have been listed as limited if they had.

“I’ve always kind of felt pretty good, but I think it’s smart to not rush back into things, especially being in the NFL," Ross said. "It’s a long season. In college you rush back, it’s a shorter season. I’ve always kind of been feeling pretty good, but definitely wanted to make sure I was in a better position to where I can get out there and do more than what my leg was letting me do.”

Ross implied that it would be all or nothing if he did suit up, meaning that it seems unlikely he would come in for just a play or two on Sunday.

"That’s one thing we all talked about. They don’t want to do that to anyone. They don’t want to have guys come in for these certain things or anything," Ross said. "It was more ‘learn everything and once you do, you’ll get more reps.’ And that’s obvious for any guy."

With Tyler Boyd nursing a knee injury, the Bengals could be down to five receivers against the Steelers on Sunday if Ross isn't able to go. That would mean that rookie Josh Malone likely would be active for the first time. Malone has been a healthy scratch all season in favor of Cody Core and Alex Erickson.

"If they give me the green light, I’m not going to say no, I’m just waiting on what they have to say," Ross said.