Joe Burrow, decked out in a Cincy stocking cap and a Cincy sweat shirt, is in it for the long haul and the long ball as he met the Cincinnati media Tuesday for the first time as a second-year quarterback.
With Burrow back in town to continue his rehab from reconstructive knee surgery at Paul Brown Stadium, he endorsed head coach Zac Taylor and his offense that he hopes to enhance by also rehabbing his deep ball.
"I think they did a very good job of understanding what I do well and tailoring it to me early on," Burrow said of his Rookie of the Year season that was cut short in the tenth game with a torn ACL. "And I think I took steps later in the year that allowed us to open up the offense a little bit. The next step is just hitting on those deep balls. We were so efficient in the short passing game that when we start hitting on those deep balls, it's going to be tough to stop us."
Most everybody charted Burrow near the bottom of deep accuracy, those passes beyond 20 yards. He not only also has a plan for his knee (throwing in the middle of next month, jogging a couple of weeks after that, practicing only in the preseason), but also for doctoring the deep game.
"I hope we have an in-person offseason," Burrow said. "Just being able to watch guys run routes. I might not even be able to throw to them, but just having extra time with the guys, understanding how they do it. I don't think that will be an issue next year."
Burrow made it clear he has no issue with the head coach and continued to endorse management's decision to bring Taylor back for a third season. He reiterated the sense that 2021 is the year the program moves.
"I was excited about it. I think Zac's going to be a really, really good coach," Burrow said. "Obviously we didn't win as many games as we expected this year. We had a lot of key injuries that kind of prevented us from doing that, but with one more offseason I think next year's going to be a lot of fun and we'll take a big step."
The feeling is clearly mutual. When Burrow pulled back into town Sunday just in time to watch the Cleveland Browns beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card Game, he ended up hosting the brain trust of Taylor, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan and quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher. That's four quarterbacks watching old Bengals quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt call the plays for COVID-stricken Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski.
"It was mostly just watching the game, but any time you've got coaches and players you know you're going to talk a some Xs and Os," Pitcher said. "It was good catching up with Joe after not seeing him for something like seven weeks. I really think he's in a good place."
As another way to improve the long ball, Burrow says he wants to strengthen his body without putting on weight. Pitcher, like Burrow, is looking forward to just plain snaps. Although it's unclear when in training camp Burrow takes the field, he'll certainly have more time with his receivers than he did last year.
"There's a lot that goes into that. A lot of accumulated reps throwing to guy he's going to be throwing to in game situations," Pitcher said. "Understanding their body language. How some guys have a tendency to separate earlier on some vertical routes. Some guys have a tendency to separate late.
"You just kind of learn intuitively how to throw the ball to those different receivers. It just takes time and reps and that's something we should get better at because we certainly have guys that can make plays on the ball down the field."
Burrow has picked up chess in the past year and has become a fan of the miniseries The Queen's Gambit, which means he's got a fan in new offensive line coach/run game coordinator Frank Pollack. On Monday, Pollack said he sees a game week where coaches play chess crafting a game plan and players executing in practice and a game as simply as if it is checkers. Burrow has already heard how much his veteran teammates welcome the return of Pollack to the board and if he didn't, then running back Joe Mixon made sure.
"I think everyone was really excited when we hired coach Pollack," Burrow said. "I don't know him personally. But I know Joe was really excited. He called me fired up, hootin' and hollerin' and was very excited. I know Zac's excited about the hire. So I think he'll do a really good job with those guys and I have full faith in that."
It's a bit ironic that Burrow ended up sitting around watching a playoff game between AFC North teams with his coaches because one of the hot topics is that the injury prevented Burrow from facing Pittsburgh and Baltimore a second time. When he got the Browns again, he had had them beat with 67 seconds left on 406 yards via 74 percent passing.
"I was excited about it. It was going to be a fun challenge," Burrow said. "It was good to get the win against Pittsburgh on Monday night. I wish I could have been a part of that, but that was fun to watch on TV.
"(The Browns) brought more pressure in game two. Kind of a different style of game. We were ahead most of the second time and they were (ahead in) the first one. The first game they played a little more soft and second they were a little more aggressive."
Pitcher was also looking forward to the rematches. He thinks Burrow's personal playbook could be lethal.
"He's got excellent recall," Pitcher said. "I think as time goes on and he has more chances against those division teams, he can put stuff in the bank mentally and then access it the week of the game. Over time, I think he'll be really good against the teams he'll see over and over again."
For the moment, Burrow is going to submerge himself in the grimy grind of leg lifts, quad exercises, hip flexors. When he comes to the surface next month, he'll be throwing a ball. A long way away. But closer than today.
"He's equipped with everything that he's going to need to come out of it on the other side better than he was before," Pitcher said. "It will be hard. I'm sure it has been hard already. But I've got all the confidence in the world in him."