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Burrow, The Talk And The Bengals' Bid To Write History With A Proud Ohio QB

Joe Burrow at work Wednesday.
Joe Burrow at work Wednesday.

Joe Burrow had never heard The Talk like this.

So when Bengals president Mike Brown did what he always does but couldn't do last year because of the pandemic, Burrow was all ears earlier this week when Brown opened training camp with his annual talk in front of the team.

It's not a speech. It's a talk. And it's a lot more than that if you're a guy like Burrow that eats blitzes for breakfast, long balls for lunch and screens for supper.

Because during those 15 minutes, Brown takes his players through a whistle stop tour of the Bengals and since it begins and ends with his father, Paul Brown, it is an eyewitness account of NFL history.

If you're a guy like veteran guard Xavier Su'a-Filo, you go up to head coach Zac Taylor after The Talk and tell him despite eight years in the NFL with three teams you just never knew Paul Brown did all that.

"I like to hear the history of the organization," Burrow recalled Wednesday during the first full day of training camp. "We didn't get to hear him talk last year very much. Whenever the owner speaks, you want to be attentive and listen to everything he has to say."

What Brown had to say is that football runs in the blood at Paul Brown Stadium. His dad started the Bengals, he told them, after he had been fired by the Cleveland Browns despite leading them to 11 straight championship games.

"That's the game," Brown said, "that is now the Super Bowl."

And Burrow liked how Brown wrapped it up with how nice it would be for Chapter 53 (the Bengals' first season was 1968) to be "The Bengals win the Super Bowl."

"We never had a Super Bowl. That's the biggest one. We want to bring that to town," Burrow said. "The city would go crazy when we do that. That's the biggest goal right now."

Mike Brown told the kids how he steered his father to Cincinnati because Paul Brown's name was made in Ohio and detailed how the Bengals went from the AFL to the newly merged NFL 50 years ago and how to this day when they play the Ravens, he considers them the old Browns because they moved to Baltimore all those years ago.

"I wouldn't say anything surprised me," Burrow said. "It was fun to hear the history of his father and the Browns and the Bengals and how it all started. I thought that was cool. Over half our division is rivals to him. I love it."

It sounds like Burrow loves being part of the story.

"That's something I'm extremely proud of. Being an Ohio guy and being the quarterback of the Bengals," Burrow said. "I always say that Ohio people are the toughest people in the world. Nobody has proved me wrong yet. So I think it's a great spot for me and my family."

This Ohio kid's toughness was already legendary before he got to P.B.'s stadium last year. From carrying little Athens on his back through the big Ohio towns to taking those ungodly shots in the Ohio State spring game to bouncing off the ropes from the biggest hits the SEC could offer as the savvy welterweight knocked out heavyweight after heavyweight.

Now center Trey Hopkins, who rehabbed his ACL with Burrow this grim offseason, has seen the toughness of a pro.

"He attacks everything. He never lets you see him defeated," Hopkins said. "Every single thing I seen him do, the rehab, he attacks, the playbook, he attacks it, on the field, ultimate competitor. I saw him keep that up throughout this offseason. Whenever I saw him working never seen his head down. It's always about what's the next goal, what's the next day."

Burrow had to admit Wednesday that the road he had just traveled, from surgery less than eight months ago to taking the first snap of camp, is about the toughest thing he's ever done.

"It's a long process, both mentally and physically. I still have a little ways to go, but we're in the home stretch," Burrow said. "The toughest thing was 24-7 having to think about it. To do it. Having to do exercises every single day. At the beginning it's three, four, five hours of rehab every single day with your knee and it's the most painful thing you've ever done and you have to do it all day. That was a long, long process and I'm glad to be through it."

Probably the most revealing thing Burrow said Wednesday during his news conference is that he put off his rehab long enough during those four weeks in May and June so he could work with his teammates.

"You didn't feel it get better throughout OTAs, and that was frustrating," Burrow said. "It was more beneficial for me to get out there and practice and throw with the guys than it was to rehab every single day. But it was frustrating because you didn't feel that progression in the knee. As soon as we got out, I got back to my normal rehab schedule and it just kept going up and up. So we're in a great spot right now. But it was frustrating for a while.

Presented by Gatorade, check out some of the best images from the Bengals first training camp practice on July 28, 2021.

"We looked at it as risk versus reward. It was a higher reward for me to go out there and throw with all the receivers and be in the huddle with those guys than it was to get two extra weeks of rehab in. You can get those two weeks back on the back end."

There was other great stuff Burrow offered in what amounted to his first face-to-face meeting with the Bengals media in the visitors' tunnel before a masked group. Finally. After an overall No. 1 pick, 13 touchdowns, a heartbreak opener, 406 yards against Paul Brown's first team and one stunning injury.

On how No. 1 pick Ja'Marr Chase is different than he was two years ago at LSU:

"He's two years bigger and stronger and faster. Smooth. He's a really smart player. People don't give him enough credit for that. I'm not going to have to tell him what to do every play. He's a really smart guy who's in the playbook who understands his role.

"We live pretty close together so we've hung out quite a bit. I'm sure everyone saw we went to the FC Cincinnati game. That was fun. Had a lot of guys there. We have a good rapport. Great friends. You feel that across the team. It's a great camaraderie in the locker room right now. We have great guys in there."

On if he'll be the same swashbuckling guy he was before the injury, when he showed surprisingly deft moves throwing on the run:

"I'm just going to play the way I play. And I'm hoping when I get out there my knee feels great. It's going to feel great. But I'm hoping what I did before. I will eventually. We'll find out in practice here how it feels. I've done all the movement stuff out here on my own, but I haven't done it in a live game situation, a live practice situation, so I'm excited to see how that feels. And see if I can still make those plays that I did."

On his new-found velocity opening up the deep ball:

"I had the arm strength last year to hit those, I just upped it this year. I think it will translate more on deep out routes, resetting to maybe a back-side comebacker 18 yards down the field that I can now hit that I couldn't."

On if he feels grateful for being back on Day One:

"I don't know if grateful is the right word. A lot of hard work went into that. Grateful to me seems like there was a lot out of my control and I worked really hard to get here. I had great people around me that worked really hard to get here. There's a lot of hard work from a lot of different people that helped me. So I am grateful for the help that I had. But I also put in the work."

After he left the tunnel on a golf cart, he pondered that hard work before going out to the first practice. Don't take that away from him. Burrow prides himself on being a gym rat. He's one of those guys that likes to prove in the offseason what the naysayers say he didn't do during the season. That's why he made such a huge decision to sacrifice a chunk of his rehab so he could throw to his receivers.

That means, of course, the long ball. It turned into a long shot when he couldn't start throwing to his receivers until this time last year. Pro Football Focus spit out numbers that said the Bengals' deep ball was among the worst in the league.

"That was a part of it," Burrow said of the decision to practice instead of rehab. "It was tough last year because guys get here, you didn't want them sprinting 50 yards down field on deep balls every day at the beginning just because they're going to get hurt. You can't do that at the beginning. We just never really got a lot of full speed deep ball reps last camp. It's not an excuse for the season but I think it's a reason why we weren't as good.

"That's something I wanted to focus on in OTAs and we had a couple of days that's all we focused on. We're going to do that at the beginning of camp right now and I think it will translate to the field. You can't expect to go out in a game and execute something you haven't repped."

This thing about the arm strength makes him smile. It fits right into the Burrow legend that he always seems to turn the naysayers into believers.

"You're always trying to prove yourself to coaches, teammates, fans, everybody," Burrow said. "There's always somewhere you can go. You're never the best person or player you can be. That's what I try to do every offseason. Just get better and better to prove that I can."

That probably is going to bring a smile to Mike Brown. The Bengals began as the ultimate second chance café when Paul Brown proved the game hadn't passed him by.

"I was not a super highly recruited guy and I've kind of always carried that with me," Burrow said. "Being from Ohio, I couldn't be in a better place."

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