Healthy again, Bengals' Burrow embraces 'normal' offseason
By MITCH STACY
CINCINNATI (AP) Joe Burrow is entering his third season in the NFL.
However, this is his first reasonably normal offseason for the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback.
He's not taking it for granted.
Burrow, the top overall pick in the 2020 draft, entered the league amid the uncertainty and chaos of the pandemic. A serious knee injury in the 10th game of that rookie season required surgery, and his rehab continued even as the 2021 season got underway.
So the 25-year-old Burrow is healthy for offseason team workouts for the first time, shedding the brace he wore on his repaired left knee all of last season when he improbably took the Bengals to a Super Bowl for the first time in 33 years.
"I've just been able to focus on the entirety of myself, weight room and conditioning, on field, throwing, mechanics, all of it, not really focusing on the knee," Burrow said Tuesday after a sweltering practice at Paul Brown Stadium, the first of three sessions that will wrap up team activities until the start of training camp in late July.
"I'm just getting stronger, body is getting more connected, moving more efficiently, the whole nine yards," he said.
Coach Zac Taylor appreciates the head start the Bengals are getting this time with Burrow at full speed and knowing he can map out the preseason with his starting quarterback ready.
"I know that was something he mentioned months ago was looking forward to being healthy for spring and having a real spring," Taylor said. "I think he just continues to raise the standard of what we expect. He is certainly a leader of the offense and this team and he holds himself to a very high standard and expects those around him to raise their standards as well."
Burrow was the most sacked quarterback in the NFL last season, and the Bengals acted quickly during free agency, signing veterans Alex Cappa, Ted Karras and La'el Collins to help try to keep their franchise QB upright more often. Cappa is recovering from a core muscle injury, but Taylor said he is confident Cincinnati's new center will be healthy by the start of training camp.
"The biggest thing is just getting the chemistry back with the receivers, obviously, but getting that relationship built back up in the locker room," Burrow said. "We got some new faces in there, and so you've got to kind of start from the ground up every year and build that relationship throughout the locker room. Every year you have 15 to 20 new faces with all the rookies and free agents that you bring in. So just building that team cohesiveness played a big part in our success last year."
The Bengals started slow in 2021, and Burrow admittedly didn't feel fully confident of his left knee until about the halfway point.
Cincinnati came on late, won the AFC North with a 10-7 record and then pulled out playoff wins over the Raiders, Titans and Chiefs. The subpar offensive line was manhandled in a 23-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl.
Taylor, who was 6-25-1 in his first two seasons as Bengals head coach, knows how difficult it is to get a team to the Super Bowl, but the journey seems more manageable behind Burrow, who is feeling good and is, as always, tremendously confident.
"You want a guy who's really got the mental makeup of exactly what you want from your quarterback," Taylor said. "We have extremely high expectations for Joe, but I don't think anyone has higher expectations than he has for himself. He's played for championships now at every level, and that's what you want driving your ship."
The Bengals on Tuesday signed offensive lineman Cordell Volson, the last of their 2022 draft picks to sign. Volson, a fourth-round pick, was a two-time team captain at North Dakota State University and played in a school-record 65 games for the Bison.
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Updated June 14, 2022