After watching quarterback Joe Burrow work a second straight day in limited team situations as he comes back from a strained calf, Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan concluded he's not far off where he needs to be for the Sept. 10 opener in Cleveland.
Callahan believes his strengths of anticipating, timing, and throwing with a killer rhythm that has allowed Burrow to become the NFL's reigning all-time completion percentage leader are intact after the five-week hiatus.
"I think he's in a good place. We've got a good plan in place for him to get ready for week one," Callahan said. "From everything I've seen, it hasn't been an issue at all in the last two days. I think everything's looked relatively normal as far as timing and anticipation goes and, and accuracy and all that.
"Those are the things that he does outstanding. I wouldn't expect them to be much different. Any player needs to get the feel back again, but I don't think it takes long. I've felt really good about the work he's put in the last two days. "
Callahan says they're going slow with the team stuff and he imagines that an intense one or two team periods are needed before the real thing on Lake Erie. After a break this weekend, the heavy days of a game week are Wednesday and Thursday.
"He's not doing a ton. We're still being real cautious about having people around him and having him have to react to the burst and suddenness that would come up in a team period," Callahan said.
And he points to the stability Burrow has enjoyed since he arrived three years ago as another reason the fallout of a preseason can be absorbed without losing an opener.
"He's in a unique spot with the continuity we've had here. The continuity of the system, the continuity with the players. It doesn't take him a whole lot of time," Callahan said. "It's part of what makes him special to begin with. And so those are his strengths that he's playing into."
The Bengals, of course, lost last year's opener to the Steelers, when Burrow threw four interceptions after losing his preseason to an appendectomy. Callahan says the two rehabs can't be compared.
"To have relative physical health outside of your muscle strain is a bonus. Last year was very different because it was a surgery and it was a sickness and all that stuff that goes into play. It's a little easier to kind of get back on the bike and, and ride than it was maybe last year. That part has been good to see. He's proven that as far as getting out and throwing and throwing on time and throwing with velocity, all that stuff is all still there."
COACH JOE: We've got Seamless Joe and Joe Shiesty. There is Jackpot Joey and Joey Franchise. Now there is Coach Joe.
"Smartest guy in the room," said tight end Mitchell Wilcox.
Smarter than the coaches?
"It's close," said Wilcox after a pause, with a smile. "He sees everything. He takes all that information in and he processes things fast because he's studied it. He's seen it on film. He'll call you over and have a quick conversation, or in between plays say something really quick."
Wilcox doesn't have to worry about offending the coaches. That's how they want their franchise quarterback to be. According to Callahan, after 42 games, two AFC title game appearances, and a Super Bowl berth, Burrow returned this spring more vocal than he's ever been as a Bengal.
"He coaches pretty actively now. Probably more than he ever has. He's not afraid to speak up," Callahan said. "It's not like he's talking the whole time. He's very selective as (the press knows) with what he says and how he says it. And so it lands with maximum impact when he has something to say."
If anyone can critique a coach, it is Callahan, the son of a one-time NFL head coach. But then, Burow is the son of a long-time collegiate defensive coordinator.
"He's an excellent coach. I think he's very clear what he wants and his expectations of what plays to be looking for, what he wants routes to look like, where he wants the spacing to be," Callahan said. "I could say the same thing. But it's always going to land a little more heavier when he says it versus even if I were to say it."
NEW ADDS: In the past two days the Bengals plucked a pair of NFL veterans for their practice squad in Cowboys No. 3 quarterback Will Grier and Browns wide receiver/running back Demetric Felton. They still have the 16th and final spot to fill.
There is no more slash for the 5-9, 190-pound Felton, a 2021 sixth-round pick of the Browns out of UCLA. Cleveland had him playing both when he played in 24 games and caught 20 balls for 189 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 20 yards on eight carries. One of his touchdowns came against the Bengals in the 2021 finale on a 10-yard touchdown catch, but he's out of that business now and is strictly a running back for the Bengals.
"He's kind of played out of position," Callahan said. "He is doing a lot of slot receiver-ish type things, not as much pure running back. It'll be fun to see what he looks like for us as a back. And I think he's got some legitimate skill."
Callahan scouted Grier coming out of West Virginia in 2019 and had been a fan before the Panthers took him in the third round. Like everyone else, he's impressed with the 306 yards Grier unfurled in last week's preseason finale knowing the Cowboys were cutting him after the Trey Lance deal.
"He's got a great feel. You can see when he goes and plays games," Callahan said. "There's something else about him when he plays. He's got a little edge to him. He's really smart. I'm happy he's here. I think he's going to help us. I've been a fan of his, just (watching) quarterback play. I like to watch him.
"I thought it was really cool what he went out and did the other night in Dallas. That was a kind of back against the wall trying to prove how you can play in this league. And he did. I thought that was a pretty cool moment for him personally and I'm excited to have him."
Check out the best practice photos from practice on Thursday, August 31, 2023.
TW READY: Running back Trayveon Willams knows the deal on the active roster at running back. He, Chris Evans, and rookie Chase Brown are still competing for the third-down back job behind Joe Mixon. But don't count out Williams being a factor in the opener even though he, like Burrow, missed virtually all of the preseason (ankle) and returned this week in limited fashion. He says he'll be 100 percent next week.
"This is year five for me," Williams said after Thursday's practice. "I know exactly what to expect in my first action. I've made plays in big moments. I know what to expect."
It could be reversed this year. Last year, Williams played in the preseason but was inactive for the first nine games before the bye. With Evans down before the game and Mixon going down during the game, Williams had an eight-yard run on his first carry of the season to put the Bengals into the red zone as the clock ticked under six minutes in a 27-23 game the Bengals led. Williams also had his first five NFL kick returns, one a Bengals' season-long 42 yards that was a nice answer to the Steelers cutting it to 24-23 late in the third quarter. He also had three teams tackles.
Then the next week in Tennessee, he made himself available to a scrambling Burrow on third-and-12 for a 24-yard catch that set up a tying touchdown in a 10-10 game. Then with the Bengals trying to run the clock with a 20-16 lead in the final five minutes, Williams turned the corner for a six-yard gain on second-and-two.
So, he knows how to come out of a snowbank.
"He was a guy that was making really great progress in a lot of areas leading up to (the injury)," said head coach Zac Taylor. "We want to see what he is all about. He still gets an opportunity to do that. I'm not going to say it's nailed down and this is the way it is going to be all season once we make the Game 1 decision. I think it needs to be a fluid situation for us where these guys know there is potential to continue to improve, to get more opportunity.
"The game doesn't always present a lot of great times to be able to work on that and win that battle, but we are going to do our best to factor in every rep, every bit of preparation, every question they can answer on the protection in protection meetings. That's all stuff we will continue to weigh as we go week to week."