‘Great with the football in his hands’: What to expect from Bengals' new tight end Irv Smith
PHOENIX –Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor hinted the team had something coming at tight end when he spoke at the NFL’s annual league meetings on Monday morning.
As it turns out, the move he was foreshadowing was the Bengals signing Irv Smith to a one-year deal, first reported by NFL Network's Peter Schrager.
“We've got plans,” Taylor said on day the team landed Smith late into the night. “We talk about it every day. I feel good about where it's going to end up.”
Smith, 24, just completed his third season with the Minnesota Vikings. The former Alabama standout was a second-round pick in the 2019 NFL draft.
Much of Smith’s career thus far has been hindered by injuries. He started 15 games and played in 37 during his tenure in Minnesota.
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Irv Smith fills Bengals' need at tight end
Smith fills a positional need for the Bengals after the team lost Hayden Hurst in free agency to the Carolina Panthers. He will enter the season as the projected starter but it’s likely the team will add another tight end in the draft next month.
Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell spoke to The Enquirer at the NFC coaches’ media session on Tuesday morning about Smith’s strengths as a player.
“Great with the football in his hands,” O’Connell said. “We found ways with either screens or on some of the keeper game movement game, we found ways to get them the ball. And then once he has the ball in open field, he's very rarely going to get tackled by the first defender.”
Spoke with Vikings HC Kevin O’Connell about the #Bengals new TE Irv Smith:
“Great with the football in his hands and is very rarely going to get tackled by the first defender.”
“I think there’s a lot of really, really good football in front of Irv.” pic.twitter.com/UwLnxTW0cR
— Kelsey Conway (@KelseyLConway) March 28, 2023
Smith caught 91 passes for 858 yards and nine touchdowns in three seasons with the Vikings. His best season was the 2020 season where he saw career-highs in every statistical metric.
Injuries hampered Irv Smith with the Vikings in 2022
As mentioned above, Smith’s injuries, specifically last season, are one of the reasons in the dip of production. He only played in eight regular season games last year. O’Connell said Smith was off to a great start in training camp before injuring a finger injury then suffering a high ankle sprain in early November.
“I thought he was having a great training camp and had a little bit of a hand finger injury that happened. That didn't slow him down by any stretch because he was still out there working but just getting acclimated in our offense. He was having that great training camp. So, it was tough to see that but just watching the way he obviously he got off to a good start with us. And then he got dinged up with the ankle during the season. Just loved seeing the way he battled and came back from that to be a part of our team in the end and help us in Week 17 in the playoffs and you know, I really enjoyed coaching Irv and wish him nothing but the best. “
Schrager also reported Smith had multiple offers and “chose to play with the Bengals because of Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase and an opportunity to win.”
Smith will be the third starting tight end to benefit from playing with Burrow. After the 2021 season, CJ Uzomah earned a three-year deal worth $24 million with the New York Jets. Hayden Hurst followed in Uzomah’s footsteps. Hurst signed a three-year deal worth $21 million with the Carolina Panthers after one season with the Bengals.
If Smith can stay healthy, he’s set up for success in Cincinnati and his former head coach believes he’s destined for it.
“I think the best thing just because of where he's at in his career, I think there's a lot of really, really good football out in front of Irv,” O’Connell said. “ I know he's motivated to go do that.”
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati Bengals sign Irv Smith: What to expect from new tight end