The Joe Burrow Rehab took an encore bow Tuesday morning when he opened then Bengals' second set of voluntary practices the same way he opened the first last week with receivers shaking their hands after catching one of his blistering darts and coaches watching in approval.
"It's been fun watching him because he looks good throwing the football," Zoomed head coach Zac Taylor after practice., "Obviously, he can't do all the moves and stuff and what he'll be doing once the season rolls around. But just watching him throw the football, it's the same old Joe."
Last week offensive coordinator Brian Callahan and quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher detailed for Bengals.com how Burrow tweaked his throwing mechanics (balancing his weight between both feet, closing his hips more to the target) to get more velocity on his throws.
After Tuesday's workout where the receivers continue to run routes on air and not against defenders, C.J. Uzomah got confirmation from one of Burrow's old targets at LSU, fellow tight end Thaddeus Moss, that Joey B. is indeed bringing the heat. Uzomah just wanted to make sure he hadn't fallen that far behind in the second week of his own return off last year's injured reserve stint.
"Thad was like, 'Yeah, he's humming the ball right now.' This isn't me,''' Uzomah said of Moss' reassurance. "He said, 'No, no, no, he's ripping it.' I don't know if he is changing up his throwing motion or his mechanics or things like that but he definitely has some zip to it.
"Even today on some of the routes, it's like, yep, this thing is coming. Tight coverage will not matter right now because it's getting on you quick. I like it. It took a second and I was like, 'Oh, hold on, let me put the gloves on and make sure I'm ready for this.' But I like it better right now just the way it is coming in. Maybe that's just me being with him in the rehab stuff and just getting used to it. But it feels good. Feels like he's doing well, feeling well, throwing well."
The wide receivers are feeling it, too.
"Earlier Tee (Higgins), had dropped the first ball because Joe's smoking them," Tyler Boyd said. "They're coming. So we've got to anticipate that because Joe got stronger last year as well. So hands was out there stinging a little bit, but we've got to adjust to it. We're receivers, we've got to catch everything that's thrown at us."
Burrow is also going long, too. He grabbed a couple of receivers after practice and threw some 40-yarders their way. He's still not doing a lot of rolling out (although he's doing robust footwork drills in the pocket), so the majority of his passes are drop backs out of the shotgun.
"There's a couple of things he's continuing to work on and that's not out of the realm of things that he's OK to do right now," Taylor said of the deep stuff. "He looks better every single day I see him. There's a little more movement there. Certainly the distance stuff is something that is not off limits for him right now. I know he's just trying to get re-acquainted with some of these receivers and get some extra throws in and that's been good to see."
CHASE-ING BURROW: Has there ever been a Bengals first-round pick slide so under the radar through the first four days of spring practice than LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase? That's because Burrow's comeback is getting all the buzz, but players and coaches are both talking up Chase's versatility and running ability. Taylor adds he's pleased how quickly Chase has picked up the offense.
Boyd talked last week about the Bengals' need to get more yards after catch, a category they've been in the bottom half of the NFL the past three seasons. On Tuesday he noted how Chase's 6-foot, 201-pound running back-ish style helps.
"He's definitely a little thicker than usual, but he still has the speed and the athleticism," Boyd said. "He seems like he has got the total package. The more the better, and we can put him anywhere on the field. I feel like we can put him in the backfield if we really wanted to. He's a guy that can play any position on the field."
While the Bengals pretty much kept A.J. Green the X receiver last season, it looks and sounds like Boyd, Chase and Higgins are interchangeable in Taylor's offense.
"What I really like about Ja'Marr is he has the size and the speed to play outside and the physicality. He also has the quickness and the body control to play inside as well," Taylor said. "So it gives you a lot of flexibility to move all three of those starting receivers around, and then you work in the other guys we have behind them.
"That might be Ja'Marr in the slot on one play and TB outside. Where another play big bodies like Auden Tate and Tee Higgins inside on a concept to maximize their height and range. It's a lot of fun to work with and gives us a lot of flexibility."
Boyd can see how Chase's style differs from the 6-4 jump ball artistry of Green and how Taylor is going to use it.
"This offense we can kind of play around with that," Boyd said. "We can have the Z backside. We can have the Y tight end backside. Everybody can be all over the place and that's why I said kind of the difference between him and A.J. it's not a big difference, but I feel he's more of a versatile player. He can do jet sweeps, he can line up in the backfield, he can do things like that to utilize his abilities to line up in different positions. Not saying A.J. wasn't doing that, but I think we've got a lot more balance and can just call anything now. We don't (have to) worry about guys being in certain spots."
Certainly Taylor is pleased that Chase was available at the No. 5 spot as a unique blend of runner and receiver. While on Tuesday Boyd talked about how Burrow and Chase are already flashing that old college rapport from 2019, Taylor is thinking about the alma mater's YAC. In 2019, Chase had about double the 350 YAC Boyd led the Bengals with in 2020.
"He's really strong with the ball in his hands. He's a guy when you watch his tape he doesn't go down on the first hit. He reminds me of Gerald Everett, a tight end the Rams had who is now in Seattle," Taylor said. "Gerald's M.O. was he never went down on first contact. Ja'Marr watching his receiver tape seems very similar where guys have a hard time bringing him down initially.
"Secondly the thing that helps with YAC is he has outstanding body control. So a lot of times initially watching him with routes on air and some of those routes that end up on the sideline at first glance you don't think he's running full speed, but really what you realize is he just has really good body control where the ball almost seems to slow down as he's catching it so now he can get on balance and put his foot in the ground and get up the sideline without just naturally running out of bounds."
Check out some of the best photos from Week 2 of the Bengals Organized Team Activities.
WAYNES WORLD: Only in a Burrow rehab could the first week of practice by the third highest paid free agent in Bengals history go by the boards with nary a mention. A "relieved" Trae Waynes practiced for the fourth time Tuesday since he signed in March of 2020 before missing the season with a torn pectoral muscle even before stepping on the practice field.
"I don't have to sit on the sidelines and do nothing anymore," Waynes said. "So just the fact that I'm out there, it's just a relief and I'm finally getting my feet back under me."
He's not exactly getting emotional over meeting his old team when the Vikings come to Paul Brown Stadium to open the season Sept. 12. He says it wasn't so much head coach Mike Zimmer, a secondary expert during his highly successful run as Bengals defensive coordinator, that mentored him as a 2015 first-round pick in Minnesota. Waynes said it was a former Bengals cornerback, Terence Newman.
"I would say I learned most of it from Terence Newman. T New really took me under his wing when I first got there," Waynes said. "And I've said this before, but he was like another coach to me. A lot of the vets, like Xay (Xavier Rhodes) … they really took me under their wing and they coached me up pretty well."
Waynes said he signed with the Bengals to get a fresh start after five seasons in Minnesota and he likes what he's seen so far.
Make that, heard so far from the coaches.
"I mean, the biggest thing is communication. You know, they're always willing to reach out and just check: 'How's your day? How you doing?'" Waynes said. "You know, little stuff like that, which I wasn't really used to. So whenever it would happen, I was like, 'did I do something wrong?' and they were just calling to check up on you."
Waynes was a Michigan State teammate of former Bengals first-round cornerback Darqueze Dennard and back in the day when the Bengals and Vikings were running the same scheme, Waynes says Dennard helped him with the ins and outs in the offseason. That's not the case anymore, but Waynes says he's getting the hang of defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo's playbook. He's volunteered for these workouts because he says he needs the reps.
"It's just I'm an in-person learner," Waynes said. "So like, I'm the kind that has to do it, mess up, just see my mistakes. I mean, you know, last year was tough because the majority of it was over Zoom. And, I'm an in-person kind of guy so being here actually really helped."
He comes with an enthusiastic endorsement of right tackle Riley Reiff, their biggest off-season signing on offense.
"I love Reilly. (We) were actually locker mates in Minnesota," Waynes said. "So you know, I mean, he's a typical Iowa football player, lineman, wrestler, physical, you know, scrappy. So that's the kind of player you're going to get."