After they reconvened following Tuesday's padded practice, quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase shared a quiet fist bump. In the wake of last week's frustrating installation, the Bengals combo for the Zooming '20s deserved it after what was the offense's best day of training camp.
Burrow, so vocal a few days ago about his thirst for normalcy in the pocket, seemed quenched by Monday's off day. Looking like his old swashbuckling self, he looked good even when he put the ball down and took off.
In a flashback to last training camp, he hit 10 of 15 passes and led the first offense on another long drive, this one consisting of 11 plays and capped off by running back Joe Mixon's two-yard run that was complete with a spinning ball and dance.
"I thought we had a good day today as an offensive unit," said Chase, the rookie wide receiver who flashed on a catch each in seven-on-seven and team and turned yikes into yards on the touchdown drive. "We capitalized last week on how we came out. Joe came out ready, all the receivers came ready. The running backs, the line. I think the majority did a good job."
More so than the previous practices, Burrow was bouncing around in the pocket, bobbing and weaving away from the rush and, more importantly, stepping into his throws. In a third down team period, Burrow sidestepped the rush to keep the play alive and gunned it to wide receiver Tee Higgins over the middle.
Burrow was 6 of 7 in the move-the-ball period with the incompletion coming off a scramble throwaway following good protection. He scrambled for one first down and threw for three others.
One came when he pulled the ball out of a zone read and hit a quick out to Higgins. He went for about 20 on a beauty down the seam to slot receiver Tyler Boyd. Chase picked up a first when he bobbled a screen, but corralled it in stride.
Mixon did the rest near the goal line, getting it to the 2 on a catch in the flat and then following Billy Price's good block on the touchdown run.
PLAYER OF THE DAY: WR Ja'Marr Chase
Hand it to Chase. Sure, the Bengals drafted him because he was the best wide receiver in the nation back in 2019 and they also happened to have Burrow, the man with whom he made such beautiful jazz on the bayou.
But Tuesday is also why they took him with the fifth pick in the draft. Not because of a couple of catches. But because Chase is so deadly serious about his craft and approaches it like a 10-year vet. He cares about it, takes to coaching and loves the grind as much as Burrow. And his teammates know it.
After Burrow threw him a touchdown on a great route in 7-on-7 that left him wide open, his excited mates came up to greet him. In the first team drill, Burrow hung in the pocket and threw Chase open on the sideline as the second option and Chase reciprocated with a sure catch for a first down. Then, there was the screen he bobbled on the touchdown drive, but he caught it and chewed up some yardage in space.
"I've got to take it slow," said Chase, looking already to stack tomorrow on top of today. "I realized this offense is very detailed. I had to take my time. The first couple of days I wasn't doing so well. Of course. (He was frustrated.) I kept pushing forward. Me sitting out that year, I'm not going to be so fast getting back to my normal self. It's all mental. It's all mental right now."
It's nice that two of his closet college friends are on the same side of the Bengals locker room. Burrow and tight end Thaddeus Moss.
"I talked to them about how I feel right now," Chase said. "It was plays I knew I could make. I had some drops on them. Thad just told me to relax. 'Rome wasn't built in a day.' That's exactly what he told me. 'Keep a level head.' (Burrow) was saying how we both were out for a year and we have to come back completely different, stronger, faster. The main thing is about being on the same time and getting our stuff together."
Chase agreed it's about the best they've looked this camp. A few days ago, after a particularly rough practice, wide receivers coach Troy Walters ran Chase out of the chutes on about five sprints where he had to come out low and stay low.
"That's what he's been working with me on the most, getting off the ball," Chase said. "He wants me to come off the ball a little differently this year. Just come off with a better burst of five yards so I can get into my route faster. It's something new. I'm willing to learn. We'll see how it works."
That's why they got him.
This also why they got him. Seven-on-seven. Inside the 10. Lined up tight on the hottest cornerback in training camp, Chidobe Awuzie. Chase ran at him, suddenly got on top of him and flashed to big separation for an easy touchdown. A sign he's getting more comfortable.
"It's a route we have to identify as an identical route," Chase said of the deke. "Same release. Just try to set him up. Make sure that he knows it looks like I'm running the same route. Trying to make everything look the same. Just beat him with my quickness."
Mixon was one of the first guys to him.
"Got on top of him by making it look like it was something else," Mixon said. "Tough to cover."
Chase continues to build Rome in Saturday night's preseason opener (7:30-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in Tampa.
"It's just about getting back. Feeling a practice. Feeling a hit. Feeling a game," Chase said. "Can't wait. Can't wait."
PLAY OF THE DAY: SS Vonn Bell
Bell had another nice day. He made a couple of big plays. He dropped running back Samaje Perine for a loss on a screen on the touchdown drive, but we're picking his play in 7-on-7 because the secondary has spent the camp emphasizing the importance of getting turnovers after getting just 11 interceptions in each of the last two seasons.
Bell didn't have any picks last season, but he got one here when Burrow tried to hit Higgins in double coverage on a fade from inside the 10. Higgins made a great effort to catch it, but Bell took advantage of him not being able to get a hand on it and he went up to catch it.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Chase on advice from close college friend and Bengals tight end Thaddeus Moss:
"'Rome wasn't built in a day.' That's exactly what he told me. 'Keep a level head.'''
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Rookie kicker Evan McPherson went 5-for-6 on field goals with the miss coming from 53 … Here was a play worth noting, showing that Burrow is getting more comfortable back there. After a fumbled exchange with center Keaton Sutherland, he hung in there and still handed it off to Mixon for a good gain.