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Bengals Notebook: Gio's Road Map For Burrow

Giovani Bernard: two courage awards.
Giovani Bernard: two courage awards.

As for timelines on Joe Burrow's return, there won't be any until they open up his left knee in surgery and head coach Zac Taylor said Wednesday he doesn't have a date on that yet.

But be sure when he does hear the date doctors and trainers say he should be back safely and soundly, Burrow is going to bristle and vow to show them he can beat that.

The good ones do.

Guys like running back Giovani Bernard.

When they kept him out of the early days of training camp in 2017, eight months after he tore his ACL on Nov. 20, the timeline was he'd be back for the third game of the season. When a reporter asked him about that (back in the days of open media locker rooms), the affable Bernard suddenly glared back, offended the man assumed he wouldn't be back for Opening Day.

Fast forward to Sept. 10, less than 10 months after the surgery. The opener against the Ravens. After Bernard bolted 39 yards for their longest play of the day and carried seven times for 40 yards that included a 23-yarder for the longest run on either side, the simmering Bernard saw the reporter postgame and merely said, "Third game, huh?"

"I wouldn't say I was mad. I was more in a joking manner because I know I'm going to get back there much faster than the norm," recalled Bernard in a Media Zoom Wednesday that is the 2020 norm. "That's just who I am. That's just how my DNA is and how I'm wired. No matter what it is, no matter what task is in front of me, I'm going to try to achieve that even better and faster than I did before."

If that doesn't sound like Burrow himself, but Bernard is good counsel. He's been there before. He's gone through ACL reconstruction twice. The first time he did it he was named the ACC's Most Courageous Player when he received the Brian Piccolo Award in 2011 at North Carolina. Six years later when he did it with the Bengals and was the team's Ed Block Courage Award winner.

So it's not going to surprise him when Burrow is the 2021 Block winner, given by head certified athletic trainer Paul Sparling.

"He's the type of guy that's going to hit that rehab," Bernard said. "He's going to grow from this entire thing. It's going to make him a stronger player on the back end."

Every injury is different. Every knee, every surgery, every rehab, every person is different. But Bernard's road map is not unlike the path Burrow is going to follow. It all comes down to genes, what kind of knee and heart you got from your ancestors.

"I credit that to my Haitian culture, where nobody is going to feel sorry for you, either," Bernard said. "I know how hard and how difficult it was to get to that point to have trust in your knee again. The biggest thing is going and hitting the rehab. It's such a mind game and mind situation as well.

"Whether that's fear, anxiety, whatever it may be, you have to that battle within yourself each and every single day to say, 'You know what? Nobody is going to feel sorry for me.' … Because at the end of the day, there's nobody out there feeling sorry for you."

CULTURE CLUB: Bernard is a captain and one of the more influential members of the locker room. That was clear in the tense, emotional days when the players crafted their statement on social justice. Now as his team copes with a 2-7-1 record and the loss of the quarterback, Bernard was asked before Wednesday's practice to take the pulse.

So was one of the new leaders, free agent safety Vonn Bell, a veteran of five playoff starts. Bernard has been here for three playoff games.

"I feel like it's in pretty good shape," Bell said of the room. "We've got a good group of guys really trying to gather around the team and the coaching staff, too. We really are just pushing forward … We're all here supporting each other, and we're all here with one cause to win games."

Bernard also doesn't see the thing coming apart and is wondering about what head coach Zac Taylor calls "the outside noise," since the pandemic has brought restrictions to the locker room closing it off to all outsiders, including media.

 "I've never seen that," Bernard said. "People are frustrated, we understand that. Guys are pissed off and if they're not pissed off then there's an issue there. At the end of the day it's how do you work to alleviate that pissed-offness."

Bernard says Taylor has kept it together despite a tumultuous year ranging from the pandemic keeping his overhauled team off the field until a truncated training camp to a series of injuries capped off by the worst case scenario.

"I have faith in the coaching staff. I have 100 percent faith in Coach Taylor. He's done an unbelievable job," Bernard said. "I've had my conversations with him. To have what's happened here throughout the two years that's he been here and to still come here each and every single day with a smile and being a leader shows a lot to me and to a lot of other players as well. It's just one of those things that people don't really speak about, but it should be known the type of coach that he is. He cares for his players no matter what circumstances and no matter how many wins or losses we have."

SLANTS AND SCREENS: Bernard (concussion) didn't practice Wednesday, but it sounds like he'll be able to play. The vets (A.J. Green, Geno Atkins, Mike Daniels) got their rest day and wide receiver Mike Thomas (hamstring), who was out last Sunday, didn't practice …

Slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander (hamstring), who played a nice game against the run with five tackles in Washington, was limited … So was rookie linebacker Markus Bailey (hamstring) …

Burrow has been around Paul Brown Stadium as he decides on when and where he'll get the surgery done and teammates and coaches can't get over his same-guy demeanor.

"His spirits remain the same as they've always been and that's one of the things you love about Joe," Taylor said. "I haven't seen Joe down yet. Sitting on the plane with Joe he wanted to know what happened the second half, what where the adjustments both teams made. He didn't want to talk about himself. He wants to talk about what we're doing to get better."

View some of the best photos from the Bengals series against the New York Giants.