CINCINNATI — Just like he has during his entire National Football League career, Darlington native Alex Erickson endured a grueling training camp battle with a young and talented group of receivers to earn a spot on the Cincinnati Bengals’ roster.
This year’s challenge may have been more difficult for Erickson than any of the other training camp battles he survived since his rookie season when he was an undrafted player out of the University of Wisconsin. Not only was this year’s corps of Bengals’ receivers in camp deeper than ever before, changes to the NFL preseason due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic made for less opportunities for some players to standout.
The five-year veteran wide receiver/kick returner approached this year’s camp like all the others — with a smile on his face and a workman-like effort every day to carve out his spot on the Bengals’ 53-man roster.
With no preseason games being played and teams having just one cut date this season, the camp battles went right down to the final day. On Saturday, the Bengals trimmed the roster down from 80 players to 53, and once again Erickson was among the group of seven wide receivers retained by the team.
Despite finishing second on the team in receptions (43) and third in yardage (529) — both career highs — and seeing the field on 56 percent of the team’s offensive snaps a season ago, there were no guarantees that there would be room on the roster for Erickson again this season.
Darlington graduate Alex Erickson is a former wide receiver for the Wisconsin Badgers and is in his fifth year as WR and returner for the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL.
Last Game, Week 1:
Chargers 16, Bengals 13
2 PR, 29 yds
81 Rec, 947 yds, 1 TD; 13 rush, 71 yds; 1x1 passing, 26 yds; 105 KR, 2,601 yds (24.8 ave); 113 PR, 871 yds (7.6 ave); 7 tackles
The Bengals’ top two receivers in yardage from last season — Tyler Boyd (1.046) and Auden Tate (575) — are back again this season along with two key receivers returning from injury (All-Pro A.J. Green and speedster John Ross). Two newcomers have also been making headlines at camp — free agent pick-up Mike Thomas from the Los Angeles Rams and highly-touted rookie Tee Higgins out of Clemson — making the Bengals’ wide receiver room full of both talent and experience heading into the second season of head coach Zac Taylor’s offensive system.
Throw in sensational rookie quarterback Joe Burrows, the overall number one pick of the 2020 draft who is set to start in Cincinnati from day one after guiding LSU to a 42-25 National Championship victory over Clemson in January, and 1,100-yard rusher Joe Mixon, who recently signed a large contract extension to stay with the Bengals another four years, and you have an offense that is about to take off.
Erickson improvement from year-to-year as an NFL receiver has been noticed by the Bengals’ coaching staff, while his work in both the kickoff and punt return game the past four seasons gives him a versatility few other players on the roster possess.
Erickson has played in all 64 games of his pro career with 12 starts. He has 81 catches for 947 yards and a touchdown through his first four seasons, and has also registered 13 rushes for 71 yards and has completed his lone pass attempt for 26 yards.
On special teams, Erickson has recorded 105 kick returns for 2,601 yards and 112 punt returns for 842 yards, and had also made eight tackles.
And, while Erickson relishes the chance to remain with the Bengals; family for another season, his own family continues to grow as he and wife, Kelsi, welcomed daughter, Harper, in June, to team along with their son, Owen, 1.
The Bengals open the 2020 regular season at home against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, Sept. 13. Kickoff is set for 3:05 p.m. CST. Due to restrictions put in place by Ohio, there will be no fans allowed at Paul Brown Stadium for the game.