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Training Camp Report: Bengals 'Fire Out' Of The Blocks; Burrow Does It All On First Day; Pollack Says Jonah Looks All Right At Tackle

QB Joe Burrow throws the ball during the first day of Bengals Training Camp 2023 at Kettering Health Practice Fields on Wednesday, July 26 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
QB Joe Burrow throws the ball during the first day of Bengals Training Camp 2023 at Kettering Health Practice Fields on Wednesday, July 26 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Bengals head coach Zac Taylor felt it last month, even before his team left for the six-week break. So did one of his top advisers and confidants, head strength and conditioning coach Joey Boese.

And they were proven right during Wednesday's first practice of training camp on the Kettering Health Practice Fields. Their team was ready to play and more than the 95-degree heat was hot. A scrap on the second snap of team drills. Then Pro Bowl quarterback Joe Burrow's feathery touchdown bomb to wide receiver Tee Higgins on the next play.

"It felt like an in-season practice," said Chidobe Awuzie, their No. 1 cornerback still sitting out practice but getting close to his return from ACL rehab and impressed with the competitiveness of those taking his reps. "The chemistry is already building."

Worthy of their status as Super Bowl contenders, the Bengals' first scrum was on third-and-long between Pro Bowlers, sack ace Trey Hendrickson and new left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., straight from the World Champion Chiefs. The pair were fresh off their titanic matchup in the AFC title game and after some words on the previous snap, Hendrickson emerged with some blood on his neck and a man-up apology from Brown, a football lifer whose dad, the late Orlando Brown Sr., played 129 games for the Ravens and Browns.

"Nothing serious. It comes with football in training camp. I apologize to Trey and my teammates for what I did. I never want to be that guy," said Brown, who compares it to Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes' verbal dustup against the Raiders last season.

"Sometimes when you don't hear the whistle, you just black out. (Like) Pat talking to Maxx Crosby. It's like he probably couldn't tell you at the time what the hell he was saying. It was just one of those situations. I'm intense. My dad had a reputation as a blue-collar guy. It's always been my approach to the game, but I don't want to hurt anyone or affect practice or anything like that."

One big reason it may have seemed so different is that these were the first team snaps Burrow has taken in July in his fourth year in the league. 2020 was COVID. 2021 was rehab. Last year he had an appendectomy the day before practice.

"The thing I really feel right now is like these guys are in the starting blocks ready to fire out. And that's just the sense you get being around these guys is they're just ready. You've really felt that since the spring," Taylor said before practice. "Joey Boese made that comment to me a couple of times during OTAs leading into summer break. These guys wanted to start going now and start playing these games and you don't take that for granted because that's not always the case. And in the years I've coached, you don't always feel that, and this is one of those years I certainly feel like these guys are ready to go."

Burrow can feel it, too. He says it's not because they've been so close the last two years, but that they are simply close.

"We have been together for three years for the most part. Additions here or there, but the core group of guys have been together," Burrow said after practice. "We know what we have to do throughout training camp to improve our skills and craft and get to where we want to get to. Through the whole offseason guys were training that way and taking things very seriously. The relationships in the locker room are why everyone is excited to be back."

Edge Sam Hubbard, the most tenured Bengal on defense, reminded you that last year Burrow "had his organs removed three weeks before the first game," and just his presence had an impact on the first practice.

"We had a great offseason program. They did a good job of putting us at a tempo that was more teach tempo and they've been saying all offseason, camp is when it's time to compete, ratchet it up," Hubbard said. "Today was the first day they let the reins go and let us go full speed. You saw the speed of practice. That's what happens when you take care of your players and practice and do things right. The fastest (first practice?) About the hottest."


It could have been wide receiver Tee Higgins, who dashed all about. But more on him later. To borrow a phrase from Burrow, "What are we doing?" How could it not be Burrow?

First of all, he bounced in the pocket and found everyone he had to, like his old friends Higgins (deep) and Ja'Marr Chase (a bullet to the sidelines) and after practice pronounced himself one of the best in the world.

"I know I'm going to be able to get a lot more out of this training camp than I have the last couple, as long as stay healthy, which like I said, 'knock on wood.' Nothing's happened yet," Burrow said. "The more reps you get at the position, the more game speed reps, the better you're going to be when it comes Week 1. I've grinded all offseason and I'm in a great spot physically and mentally. So, I'm ready to attack this training camp with intensity and shoot for perfection. That's what I'm excited about."

He also used his Houdini disappearing moves in the pocket to avoid the stream of contract questions the day after Justin Herbert signed his $52.5 million annual average extension. The national buzz says Burrow is next.

"It gets done when it gets done. I'm focused on getting a deal done that's good for us, good for me, good for the team and good for everybody," Burrow said. "That's obviously the goal when you get into the league to get a second contract and play well on your first one, but I've played well. I've done everything I can do. When it happens, it happens and I'm just excited to be back playing football. That's what I really love about this whole process and why I think I've been so good because I love the game. That's all secondary."

He did it all Wednesday. He was even his own security guard as he made the foray into signing autographs.

"There was some grown man pushing some kids to get up front," Burrow said, "and I was just, come on guys, what are we doing?"

And, plus, Burrow said he was good Wednesday.

"Pretty damn good," he said.

PLAY OF THE DAY: Burrow to Higgins TD bomb

On the third snap of team drills, no less. With Awuzie out, cornerback Sidney Jones IV, the free agent who otherwise had a pretty good day, lined up on Higgins. Higgins ran by him down the left sideline and a clean Burrow dropped it in stride a play after the Hendrickson-Brown scuffle.

"I saw it out of the corner of my eye going back to the huddle," Higgins said. "We were able to respond. We wanted to start off on the right note and we were able to do that on offense. We've got that connection, we're just trying to build on that."

Higgins, the two-time 1,000-yard receiver, is in his contract year and was asked why he didn't show up until he got a new deal.

"Y'all know me. I just want to get my work in and contribute to the team the best I can," Higgins said. "That will happen. That's in God's time."

Higgins could have been player of the day. He caught two other Burrow balls over the middle, where he also dropped one trying to run before he had it. Which is the one he remembered.

"There's always room for improvement," he said.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: LT Orlando Brown on the daily battle with RE Trey Hendrickson:

"That's the best part of football. The sport is going against the best in the world at what they do. Nine One is one of the best in the world. Top five at what he does. Every day it's going to be a battle between me and him. It's not going to do anything but make me better. I'm so excited for the challenge."

SLANTS AND SCREENS: Punter Drue Chrisman was not at practice and went to a hospital with what Taylor called "a medical situation."

"The good thing is the situation was taken care of quickly. He's been responsive, he's been talking to us, he's been in great spirits," said Taylor, who wouldn't elaborate …

Taylor said the right tackle rotation is going to be daily and while Jonah Williams started out at first team right tackle, he emphasized they'll be cautious with his knee. The thinking is he'll be rotating with Jackson Carman. The early nod to Williams for his first NFL work at right tackle shows they believe he's responding well to his offseason surgery for a dislocated kneecap. Williams has made all 42 NFL starts at left tackle, but after practice offensive line coach Frank Pollack said it looked like Williams, "had been on the right side for years."

"He's a pro. He was quick. He seemed pretty at ease at it. Comfortable. Getting more comfortable as we up our different variety of blocks. He definitely didn't stand out and that's good to see." ...

Check out the best photos from the first day of Bengals Training Camp 2023.

Awuzie looks good on the rehab field and he's been cleared to practice, but he says there are still steps in the process and won't give a timeline. He was quite impressed by a secondary that lacked not only him, but incumbent safeties Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell.

"It looks like there's some chemistry building already. That's all you can ask for this early in camp," Awuzie said. The technique stuff, the game plan stuff, that's all going to come, but we're building chemistry and putting effort in every play and being aggressive. The rest will handle itself." …

Awuzie thought second-round cornerback D.J. Turner had an excellent day. Working behind Jones and Cam Taylor-Britt, Turner knocked away a couple of passes and made a big-time break to the sidelines on a deep ball and almost made a diving interception. But he did get a hand on it.

"I knew he had some balls caught on him, but he was in great position for those balls. You can coach that stuff when you're a rookie," Awuzie said. "I see him as a player who's very coachable."

Awuzie said he's also impressed with seventh-round cornerback DJ Ivey: "In the meetings, I don't think (both) have answered a question wrong." …


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