First, some background: NFL teams are allowed a maximum number (53) of players on their active roster during the regular season, but can only dress/play 46 for their active gameday roster. The undressed seven is typically a collection of injuries and backups, often dictated by their opponent’s style. For example, if the opposition includes a strong rushing offense, you’ll want to dress more defensive linemen and linebackers to enhance your rotation. If the opposing defense has serious flaws in coverage, you’ll want to dress more wide receivers, or players that would constitute a greater advantage in the passing game.
When Cincinnati announced their inactive list last Thursday against the Houston Texans, second-year receiver Tyler Boyd was a surprising inclusion.
Why was he out?
Before diving head-first into that, a quick note: Maybe this is the first time I’ve really taken notice; head coach Marvin Lewis is applying more fear and punishment as teaching tools than I can remember. When Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson placed his helmet on the football, forcing rookie receiver John Ross to fumble his first NFL carry, Lewis essentially benched the kid; he played five snaps. Then on Wednesday, Lewis threatened players during the press conference:
“You have to do the work. Offense, defense and special teams alike. We got (Ken Zampese) out of here, not Ken. We (helped cause it). The players have to understand that — they were part of that. The next time, look around and there will be different guys sitting around (in the locker room). They realize that. The other day, I had one of the defensive players come to me with that. They understand that. Pretty soon, everyone starts looking around and looking the other way.”
An argument can be made that the threat of unemployment, or punishment for failure, is one coaching method that’s worked in the past. Coaching legend Paul Brown wasn’t opposed to trading/releasing a superstar for any number of reasons. It remains to be seen if Ross has learned his lesson, or if players will dedicate more effort now that their coach publicly threatened their livelihoods. It’s also extremely important to note that these aspects in Lewis’ “get off my lawn” persona are public; there could be a completely different vibe going on privately. We’re not there. We’re not seeing those interactions play out organically.
So how does this connect to Boyd?
When Boyd was listed as inactive, theories emerged. Did he break a team rule (ala, Chad Johnson arriving late to a team meeting)? Was there an injury? Are there performance concerns?
Boyd played all 16 games last season, generating 603 yards receiving on 54 receptions, both being tops among Bengals rookies since A.J. Green. In addition, Boyd posted 22 third down receptions, highest among all NFL rookies in 2016, and impressively seven shy of NFL leader Dennis Pitta (29). Of Boyd’s 22 third down receptions, 16 were converted into first downs (also tied with Giants receiver Sterling Shepard for most among NFL rookies).
With Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones leaving for Atlanta and Detroit respectively, and A.J. Green dealing with injuries last year, Boyd stepped up.
Now he’s out.
While writers, readers, bloggers, fans, were speculating on why Boyd was inactive, NFL Insider Ian Rapoport tweeted that Boyd had a “tight hamstring”.
Boyd has a tight hamstring, I’m told. Came real late in the process. https://t.co/GfyKHZjsxX
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 14, 2017
Cool, case solved.
When asked why Boyd was inactive during the postgame press conference, Marvin Lewis said “I can only suit up so many players.” Wait. So this wasn’t due to a medical reason?
Even Boyd was a little confused.
“I guess they needed more roles on special teams or whatever they need, but I haven’t gotten a specific answer,” Boyd said Monday via the Dayton Daily News. “Every day I go out there to prove myself, just go out there and compete. That’s the type of guy I am. I don’t feel like what I was doing on offense was bad, because they haven’t really came and said anything negative about my performance or play.”
WKRC digital sports columnist and anchor Richard Skinner added that “(two) sources have said that the reason Boyd was inactive was due to his practice habits.” We’re back at Lewis’ methodology of coaching through punishment and threat of unemployment.
Marvin Lewis on Tyler Boyd being inactive in Week 2: “It’s up to Tyler to know what he’s doing all the time so he can be part of the 46.”
— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) September 21, 2017
At one point, Boyd admitted to being overwhelmed with Ken Zampese’s concepts:
“There were times where I just felt like he would overwhelm me with things to do out there in terms of details and what to do and what not to do – just making me think too much,” said Boyd via Local12.com. “In certain plays I felt like I should just go out there and just play – get my route and get my depth and be the guy. He’s a smart coach; he’s a great offensive coordinator. He put us in a lot of good positions to win. I can’t really say much about it. I’ve been here for a year (two now actually). I thought he was a great coach. I didn’t really see a negative he was doing wrong. We just have to find our momentum. We have to find us again that’s all.”
Cincinnati fired Zampese on Friday and announced that quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor will take over play-calling duties.
Boyd has one reception for 11 yards this season. Depending on whom Lewis wants to punish more, Boyd (alleged practice habits) or Ross (fumble), the second-year receiver could play this weekend against the Green Bay Packers. All Boyd has to do is not make Lewis grumpy.