Joe Burrow ended his spring session the way he began it.
Burrow went flinging into summer hitting all of his passes in a brisk seven-on-seven session of quick throws and check-downs that turned out to be the final set of scrimmage snaps of the mandatory minicamp.
Four of the nine throws went to his college buddy Ja'Marr Chase, but the prettiest was the first on an absolute seed down the seam to wide receiver Tyler Boyd beating tight coverage from slot cornerback Mike Hilton.
The ball isn't supposed to hit the ground in seven-on-seven and this set was heaven. In a series of check-downs, quick outs and slants, the most demanding throw was probably to Boyd.
But the key is that everything was on target, like the slant to Chase knifing inside aggressive cornerback Trae Waynes.
"We were clicking. I think all camp, the ball might have hit the ground once in 7-on-7," Burrow said Tuesday after head coach Zac Taylor liked things so much he cancelled the final two days of camp. "That's the way it should be in 7-on-7 with no rush. We're going to continue to execute. And that also comes with routes on air, just knowing the timing of the receivers. We're getting better and better each week."
Taylor was hesitant to say anything definitive about Burrow's status for training camp, pre-season games and the regular season, although he managed to allow cautious optimism that Burrow is "in a really good spot."
On the other hand, Burrow had no problems saying he'll be ready for Opening Day (barring setbacks) or that this spring stretch is the best he's ever played. Which makes you wonder how good that really is if you're thinking about that three-week window in his 2019 Heisman Trophy season of 393 yards against Alabama, 489, against Mississippi and 327 against Arkansas on 79 percent passing.
"I feel great. My body feels great," Burrow said. "The knee still has a little ways to go, but my upper body, my right leg, everything else feels better than it ever has before. When I'm on the field and executing, I'm playing better than I ever have before."
So no wonder while his mates take their summer break, he'll stick around Paul Brown Stadium, for the most part, and keep working with Bengals rehab ruler Nick Cosgray.
"I'll continue the program we were on and get back to 100 percent before camp," Burrow said. "Get better and better. Add some more weight (to get to 220 pounds). Continue to do what I was doing before OTAs started."
Burrow also ended the mandatory mini the way he started the voluntaries.
Let's face it. As adept and bright as NFL Players Association rep Jessie Bates III is, if Burrow went into exile to rehab the ACL of his left knee, head coach Zac Taylor wouldn't have got a quorum this spring instead of what amounts to perfect attendance.
But that was the farthest thing from Burrow's mind, realizing his team has to go through all the things they couldn't go through last spring because COVID shut down the NFL.
Bates pointed to how better the learning is in person as opposed to Zoom meetings while Burrow zoomed into the culture.
"The vibe in the locker room is awesome," Burrow said. "Everyone talks to everybody. There's no offense by themselves, defense is by themselves. We have great camaraderie in the locker room and I think that's is the first stepping stone to being a great team."
Burrow tells you it's not an act. It can't be.
A look at some of the best images from the Bengals 2021 Minicamp held at Paul Brown Stadium.
"I've never really consciously thought about leadership too much. I just try to be myself, talk to a lot of different people, have conversations with a lot of different people," Burrow said. "I enjoy doing that. I enjoy hearing from guys in the locker room who maybe don't talk a lot and hearing their stories. I think that goes a long way a lot of the times. Not speaking up too much. Don't be a rah-rah guy that yells at people all the time so when you do have something to say, people will listen and take it seriously. I just always try to be myself and that's been enough."
Taylor feels as if he's given Burrow enough even though he's kept him on a short leash this spring. He has yet to let Burrow take a snap from under center, hand off the ball to a running back or face a rush in the pocket. Taylor was true to his word until the end. Burrow took no snaps in the 11-on-11 walk-through run period.
"We just haven't done it as a precaution for the same reasons I mentioned to you guys earlier in training camp. You don't want a guy who trips and stumbles into him," Taylor said. "There's been times he's been in the shotgun and made some protection calls, but you guys haven't missed anything in that way. We've been protective of him during that period."
Taylor did admit that he felt better Tuesday than he did on the night of May 24, the eve of Burrow's first practice since the December surgery.
"Really an unknown going into this process. As you guys heard me on the first day here, certainly very guarded in our approach there," Taylor said. "I think he's done a great job. He looks good, certainly not all the way there yet, so there's still a process we have to follow leading into training camp, but you guys have been out there. I think everybody's optimistic. I think he really enjoyed getting out there. It was probably good for him to get the jersey on, put the helmet back on and get in the huddle and call plays, just to be able to throw the ball and see coverages in 7-on-7."
Burrow has been working on speed. Both getting rid of the ball and diagnosing defenses. He says he's getting more and more comfortable.
"You always have two plays that you can get to at the line. You call two in the huddle but then you also have the plays you have in your back pocket," Burrow said, "if you see something that you might have seen before but it wasn't what you're expecting and you know what to get to right then. It's just the quick processing that I'm going to continue to get better and better at.
"I'm excited to execute that in the season. Because there's nothing better than when the defense shows you something that you weren't expecting and you know exactly what to get to. And then the defense gets frustrated and then they start going out of their game plan and making mistakes … Knowing all the answers I can get to if we get stuck in a bad play against a bad defense. Knowing the good play against that defense that I can get to quickly within the shot clock, that just comes with reps and time."
Even though there was no rush on Burrow on Tuesday and even though there was no game clock to rush Burrow, Taylor liked that seven-on-seven. But you can tell he's waiting for the live action of camp.
"That's always been the challenge in 7-on-7. I've heard coaches before say it's useless because there is no clock and guys have all day," Taylor said. "I don't agree with that, I think that it's a great time to get your rhythm and timing versus different coverages and with the receivers. And the DBs matching concepts and getting a lot of work with those coverage types. But it is best done in a real pocket and with guys really bearing down on you. Fortunately sometimes we get that work in walkthrough with (ends) Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. They act like its full games and get some of those reps whether you like it or not. That's just something that we'll have to work through as training camp gets going and that's usually when you get the best sense of your timing is when the bullets are really flying at you."
But bullets or not, Burrow is rifling it. And he's got a target:
First snap of camp.
"We should be good to go then," Burrow said. "It's not really my decision but I'm sure we'll have that discussion as we get closer. But I'm hoping to be in a good place to be able to do that. Take all the reps I need to get better."