When the Bengals used their seventh round draft pick on wide receiver Mario Alford last year, the reason was obvious.
“We just couldn’t pass up his speed,” said head coach Marvin Lewis.
Alford was timed at a blistering 4.27 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his West Virginia pro day, but his transition to NFL football wasn’t as fast.
“When you come in as a rookie it’s a little complicated to adjust,” Alford told me. “Everybody goes through it.”
But it was even more challenging in Alford’s case because he had not been a wide receiver before his two seasons at WVU. Mario was a quarterback in high school and played running back for two years at Georgia Military College.
So when his first season as a pro ended, the 24-year-old went back to college.
“I trained in West Virginia back at my school and did stuff that I need to work on like route running and getting in and out of my breaks,” said Alford. “Little stuff like that.”
Alford spent his rookie season on the Bengals 53-man roster, but only saw action in one game making a 15-yard reception at Cleveland. During the Bengals’ OTAs and minicamp, he showed flashes of his big-play potential.
“Mario needs to continue to be consistent,” said receivers coach James Urban. “As I tell him all the time, he’s like a tease. You see, ‘Hey look what you can do.’ And then the next (play) it’s, ‘Ahh.’ He needs to make the ‘Ahhs’ go much more away.”
“Mario Alford has been a 50-50 proposition,” said my broadcast partner Dave Lapham. “They’ve figured out ways to feature him – sometimes he’s delivered and sometimes he hasn’t.”
Following the departures of free agents Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, the 5’9”, 180 pound speedster is clearly in the mix to be one of the receivers on the Bengals’ 53-man roster.
“We have bigger guys, we have smaller guys, we have guys that can really run, and we have guys that are really crafty,” said Urban. “We’ll put ‘em all in the pot, stir it up, and see what the best ingredients are.”
“I’ve got a great opportunity,” said Alford. “I’m not worried about what number I am (on the depth chart) right now, I just have to go in and work my tail off. We’ll see. It’s going to be interesting.”
After returning two kickoffs for touchdowns as a senior at West Virginia, he’s also a candidate to return kickoffs and punts.
“I feel 100% confident going into this season about what position I’m going to play and what role I’m going to have on this team,” Mario told me. “I feel very good about the upcoming season.”
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