The Bengals get a shot of good karma when they open training camp Wednesday with quarterback Joe Burrow under center in 11-on-11 action for the first time this year.
It's apparently not the only shot they're going to get.
At Monday's training camp luncheon in Paul Brown Stadium's East Club Lounge, head coach Zac Taylor said fewer than 10 players haven't received a COVID-19 shot.
"Our players have done a great job. We are 90 percent in the process of being fully vaccinated," Taylor said. "Really, two weeks from now there's another 10 that will be considered fully vaccinated. We are in a good spot. We have had great conversations with all these guys and proud of the way they have attacked it and communicated it. They have allowed us to be put in a really good position to be as normal as possible going forward."
With all coaches and staff vaccinated, that means life is pretty much back to normal for most of the roster. Unvaccinated players still have to follow the NFL's COVID protocols, meaning they have to wear masks indoors and socially distance in meetings and the locker room.
Bengals president Mike Brown lauded the way the NFL had handled COVID and has taken note of last week's scathing memo from Park Avenue warning teams of forfeits and fines if there are outbreaks among unvaccinated players.
"I'd like to get it up to a full 100 percent. But people have to agree to do this. We're not compelling them to do it," Brown said. "We're asking them to do it. We're trying to convince them to do it and we're making good progress at that … I like to think we could work through this cooperatively … I'm aware of it and probably that's what they wanted. They wanted us to take notice and that might incentive us to do the things we need to do to give us the best chance to have a complete season."
Ahead of the start of the Bengals 2021 Training Camp, quarterbacks, rookies and other select players worked out at the practice fields on Monday.
BURROW'S REGIMEN: Taylor held off on any 11-on-11 during the spring and went to great lengths to protect Burrow's reconstructed left knee. During the spring Burrow looked terrific throwing the ball out of shotgun and during drills, but Taylor kept him 10 feet away from everybody else. That meant no handoffs and no center snaps.
No more. He's back in the game. An 11-on-11 game.
"Now he'll be under center, he'll be participating in that. At some point, you can't be overprotective," Taylor said "Its football. And you've got to let him get out there and experience it. So that's what we'll do.
"He's cleared to do everything. Now it's on us to be wise and take it week to week. Obviously he wants to get the reps, be ready to play Week 1 against Minnesota. That's our focus. It's hard to say something's set in stone. You want to take it week to week. But so far, so good."
Mike Brown pretty much said not to expect to see Burrow play in any preseason games and Taylor threw out a reminder that when he was with the Rams Jared Goff didn't work until the regular season.
The only difference is that Burrow did miss valuable snaps from the last six games of his rookie season. Taylor sounded like a coach trying to devise a simulated pass rush fierce enough to get him ready for a game without putting him in a game.
"Sometimes it can be a little overstated. I know coming off injury it's different because he did miss the back half of the season there," Taylor said. "Just finding ways to simulate that in practice and taking it week to week and figuring out how we're going to utilize him, if at all, in any of the preseason games."
Burrow may not take every snap right away as they ease him in. Nick Cosgray, the Bengals director of rehab, is still getting the call.
"You still want to keep up some of the rehab stuff with Nick Cosgray. Nick's done a great job with him. I think that stuff has been really beneficial with him," Taylor said. "I know Joe's felt that way. So you want to keep that up. And sometimes if that is a day on the field that eats into some of the reps, so be it. We want to make sure that he's still 100 percent when we're ready to go. I think he feels that way now. But again, we've just got to be wise with our approach."
Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan thinks it is all about confidence and comfort. The confidence is there. The comfort may take about another month or so.
"He's in a good place now, he's got a lot of confidence going forward as it is. It's something he does not lack in general," Callahan said. "I feel good about where he's at, and it's going to be a process of getting through 11 on 11 drills. Every one is a step. It's the first time he's in 11 on 11 since the middle of the season. Then it's going to be the first time, now nobody is around him. You just incrementally increase those things. It'll take the bulk of training camp I would imagine."
Go behind-the-scenes at the Bengals annual pre-training camp luncheon held at Paul Brown Stadium.
INJURY LIST: If it wasn't for Burrow, the reconstructed knee of center Trey Hopkins would be the most discussed body part of camp. Hopkins tore his ACL six weeks after Burrow and even though he's just six months off surgery, he'll be out there Wednesday. He'll probably start in a limited way, but it's still a Herculean feat.
"We have to be really careful of him in camp," Taylor said. "He's a guy we will manage early on and take it week to week like we talked about with Joe. Probably hold him a little bit more early on."
Also a rehab beast is nose tackle D.J. Reader after he blew out a quad in last year's fifth game. It looks like he'll be full go right away.
Taylor did say they've lost seventh-round pick Wyatt Hubert for the year when the defensive end from Kansas State tore a pec away from the facility. Fourth-round pick Cam Sample is day-to-day with a "slight," hamstring pull and undrafted rookie wide receiver Pookah Williams should be ready to go Wednesday after showing up sick.
Undrafted rookie punter Drue Chrisman is shelved for a couple of weeks with a hand injury and backup nose tackle Renell Wren, who suffered the same kind of quad injury Reader did during the first week of last year's camp, should be back in a couple of days once he gets cleared.
SAM SONG: Mike Brown is a big fan of left end Sam Hubbard and, like everyone else with the club Monday, applauded the move to extend him through 2025. Duke Tobin, director of player personnel, said free safety Jessie Bates III is next on the list.
"He has sound ability but he's really a good person. He's an example for the other guys," Brown said of Hubbard. "He's a leader in that sense. He does everything the right way. He practices the right way. He behaves himself the right way. If you knew him as a person, you would really admire him. I like him a lot. I would like to have 53, Sam Hubbards, at the end of the day. But the fact that we have him, pleases me, and I think he makes our team better."
O-LINE SUPPORT: Brown knows Burrow's offensive line is under massive scrutiny and he knows it must get better. He thinks the hiring of offensive line coach Frank Pollack is one of the keys to what he predicts is going to be a major improvement.
"Our offensive line is going to surprise people. I think we have an excellent offensive line coach," Brown said. "I think our guys are a mix of youth and experience. We've added new people last year, this year. We have people who have been with us who are coming along. Jonah Williams. I think he'll show that he's up to it this season. We know it has been something of an Achilles' heel. It has to be addressed. We've tried our best to do that. We think it will show better."