GEORGETOWN, Ky. – The Bengals don't venture into the land of free agency often but when they decided to shake up the offense they went shopping in Indianapolis. There they found tight end Ben Utecht, a relative unknown hidden behind the star power of Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne but a player who entering his fourth season in the league is ready to shine on his own.
Utecht has caught 68 passes the past two seasons as the second tight end in the Indianapolis offense behind Dallas Clark. Bengals tight ends combined have caught 67 passes the last two seasons. The position group hasn't been a focal point for the Cincinnati offense but that could change this season as Utecht brings with him the ability to line up next to the tackles in a traditional role as well as split out wide and cause the defense to matchup.
Utecht took some time after a training camp practice this week to talk to JungleInsider.com about life with the Bengals:
Q: It's been a whirlwind of sorts for you coming from Indy hasn't it?
A: It has been. It's a transition I didn't think I'd have to make this last year being a restricted free agent but the Bengals stepped up to the plate and put a great opportunity for me on the table so I'm really excited to be here. They want to utilize a receiving tight end and during training camp and the preseason we're incorporating that. I've got a great guy in Reggie Kelly to learn from; he's a phenomenal blocker and really a player I strive to be like. I think this could be a great situation for tight ends on this team.
Q: Compare and contrast the offenses at Indy and here with the Bengals:A: They are different offenses, different run schemes but there is the same type of power and talents. You've got Pro Bowlers at all of the different positions, you've got an incredible quarterback, so coming from Indy to here there are no surprises as far as talent is concerned. It's about having to get used to the different ways we run the ball, the different patterns we have but, boy, is there a lot of talent.
Q: Face it, you're spoiled.
A: I am very, very spoiled. I've been asked that question from Day 1 about going from Peyton Manning to Carson Palmer. I just have to giggle about it and say that I'm a lucky tight end.
Q: What has been the biggest change for you in learning this offense?
A: We run a lot of power offense, we are going to run the ball right down your throat and that's something we didn't do much at Indianapolis. We were an outside zone/inside zone team. This is a little more smash-mouth football, which is good to get into as a player. It's just a matter of getting used to the different run schemes.
Q: The team wants to utilize receiving tight end but you come with a reputation as being a good blocker as well. Which do you prefer?
A: Catching balls. Absolutely. I'm going to throw that out there right away and you can quote me on that. I came into college at Minnesota recruited as a wide receiver and I put enough weight on they felt I'd be best used as a tight end to beat the linebackers. But we ran the ball 90 percent of the time with (Laurence) Maroney and (Marion) Barber. We were a great running team and what that did was force me to become a blocker. When I came to Indianapolis I still had strengths as a receiver but had to be put in a position where I had to learn to block at this level. I think it is something that has helped become a more all-around tight end to where they can put me as a tight end out there but yet we can run either way and still threaten with the pass.
Q: How much of an emphasis have coaches put on the offense improving, cutting out the numerous mistakes that plagued it last year?
A: It's huge. We've been hearing a lot about getting the little things done right since Day 1. It's been about how the little things could mean the game, period. Coach (Bob) Bratkowski has been talking over and over about ball protection. He wants us to hold on to that ball and bring all the way back to the huddle because we have to get it into our minds that those kinds of turnovers can cost us a game.
Q: Is it tough to live up to high expectations when you have this much talent?
A: I don't think it's tough at all and the reason why is that we're professionals. Anybody that is going to complain about having expectations put on you to never fumble, to catch every ball and the such, well that's your job and you should be expected to do those things. I'm all for it and I will be the hardest person on myself if I turn it over or drop a ball because it shouldn't happen.