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Combine Quick Hits: Fellow Buckeyes QB Emulating Burrow; Local Knowledge For Bengals As NFL Mulls TEs 

Joe Burrow: Ohio State's C.J. Stroud is watching.
Joe Burrow: Ohio State's C.J. Stroud is watching.

INDIANAPOLIS _ Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin says he only compares Joe Burrow, his quarterback, to Joe Burrow, a Pro Bowler and two-time winner of the AFC North.

Another former Ohio State quarterback who has been compared to Burrow appreciates the comparison.

"One of the top two quarterbacks in the world," said C.J. Stroud Friday after he stepped off the media podium here at the NFL scouting combine.

Stroud says he's met Burrow and while they haven't spoken very much, he liked how he came off.

"Really humble guy. Really honest. You can kind of tell he's got dog in him,"

 Stroud said. "And he's going to compete and he's not going to let anybody take his job and failure is something he's not used to. He doesn't want to fail again, so he's going to fight like hell not to fail again."

Stroud, who led the Buckeyes to the playoffs, puts Burrow on a short list of quarterbacks he's trying to emulate. 

 "One of the reasons I wore No. 7 was because of Michael Vick," Stroud said. "He inspired me not only just to be athletic and use my athleticism but as a black quarterback to stay in the pocket and throw. That's something he was very underrated in. I looked up to Deshaun Watson a lot. That's somebody I have a similar playing style to.

"And then Joe Burrow, being able to create. Not being the fastest guy, but being a guy who can extend plays and throw guys off view and just be tough, and that's something that I feel like I do in this game."

Like Burrow, Stroud lost the last game of this season in a heartbreaker in the last few seconds and it sounds like he's going to do what Burrow does and use it as fodder to rebound.

"Not beating that team up north and not winning a national championship were two goals of mine," Stroud said. "And of course, not winning the Heisman (Trophy) was I feel because of those losses. That kind of hurts. I feel like I could have won Heismans back-to-back if I win those two games. But I think it's part of God's plan and I don't question that."

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: University of Cincinnati tight end Josh Whyle has some solid local course knowledge over here as a possible second-day pick at a position that his hometown team has, at the moment, a deficit with Hayden Hurst, Drew Sample and Mitchell Wilcox pending free agents.

"I think there's an open spot," said Whyle Friday with smile of a child of the Child Please Bengals. "That'd be pretty cool playing ten minutes away."

Whyle played at Cincinnati's LaSalle High School, where they unfurl banners with the name of alumni NFL players, and is coming out of a UC program where the sign in his position room says, "Through these halls walk the best tight ends in the country."

One of those names on the LaSalle banners is Brent Celek and Whyle just happened to break his UC record this past season for career touchdowns by a tight end, a heady list that includes future Hall-of-Famer and current Super Bowl champ Travis Kelce. Celek got a ring, too, in the last game of his 11-year career with the Eagles.

But Whyle grew up a Bengals fan ("Carson Palmer, T.J., Ochocinco, those guys, when I was really young") and he's still watching.

"Especially the last couple of years. Hard to miss," Whyle said. "It's really exciting. JoeyB can really sling it. It seems like they have really good chemistry. They all really play together well. It's a really exciting offense with lot of playmakers."

At 6-6, 247-pounds, Whyle fits the athletic receiver mold the Bearcats tight ends assembly line keeps rolling out. This from scouting: "Loose upper and lower body allows for easy ball adjustments, recognizes lurking zone defenders and sinks into safe spaces for QB, excellent timing as high-point pass-catcher."

Until Whyle hurt his foot in last year's Cotton Bowl, the CW was he'd go for the pros, but he's glad he stayed.

"It was only good for me," Whyle said. "Learning a little bit more. Put on some more weight, put on more muscle, learn the game a little more."

MIC'D UP: Of course, Whyle isn't the only tight end prospect who grew up watching the Ochos expected to go early. But the Bengals may not even get a shot to think about Covington Catholic's and Notre Dame's Michael Mayer. He's a projected first-rounder, maybe even the first tight end off the board, and the Bengals are on the outskirts at No. 28 and may have to wait to fill the spot from what is one of the best drafts ever for the position.

Mayer is almost as close to Paycor Stadium as Whyle, although the kid from Independence, Ky., is going to have to work on the name. He called it, "Who-Dey Stadium," but it's the thought that counts.

"I remember being a Bengals fan, and I remember Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and boys like that just going out there and doing their thing and having fun playing football," Mayer told the combine media Friday. "And I just remember thinking like, they look like they're having fun out there, man. And that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to try to go out there, play the best football I can, and have some fun doing it."

Mayer sounds like a beauty, kind of a cross between the uninhibited Kelce and the intense Hurst.

"My favorite route's got to be a sail route against man," Mayer said. "I feel like there's nobody that can cover me in the sail route, man. It's definitely one of my favorites."

But he's certainly got the insides any team is seeking.

"Look, man, I was a captain last year. We started out 0-2. We didn't really know what to do," Mayer said. "We had a captain's meaning. We said, 'Look, what do we need to change?' And the answer was, 'We're not going to change anything.' We're going to stick to our standard, stick to our execution, same amount of periods every day. We're just going to keep working hard. We're going to keep a positive mindset. We're going to positively communicate. Nobody's going to walk in this facility hanging their head. Nobody's going to complain. Things like that. And that's what we did. We kind of turned the season around, and I feel like we had a pretty positive season."

The Bengals love to draft captains. Burrow loves throwing to his tight ends, be they Hurst, C.J. Uzomah and ….?

"It would be awesome. Joe Burrow throwing me that ball, man," Mayer said. "Look, he's a national champion. He's taken his team to the Super Bowl. And so obviously I'm trying to win ballgames, man. I'm trying to go to the NFL, I'm trying to win ballgames and win a Super Bowl. So yeah, I want to be put in a good position for sure to be able to have a good quarterback throwing my way, be able to win some Super Bowls and things like that. Growing up 15 minutes from Who Dey Stadium, it would be awesome There's no doubt about that."

PRIDE OF SPRINGFIELD: Here's another local tight end who is far from the ballyhoo of Mayer and his UC teammate Whyle. But he's intriguing just the same. Leonard Taylor, who grew up in Springfield, Ohio, about 70 miles from Paycor, is 6-5, 248 and is primarily a blocker. Maybe he goes late or even in free agency, but he had a long college career and he's got a great story.

The Bengals also love guys with a lot of experience and some intangibles to them. Taylor is one of the few players with 60 college games (28 starts)and that's because of COVID, which turned out to be a gift and a curse for him. It also stole his beloved grandmother, his role model who passed in 2020. She's the reason he chose to play at Cincinnati and not look at some interested bigger schools.

Asked what NFL tight end he admires and watches, Taylor said the Raiders' Darren Waller. Not exactly a blocker. But Waller battled drugs and Taylor can relate. His mother is a recovering addict and he understands the struggle.

Because he's got average size and isn't a sprinter, his grades aren't the greatest, although he's good enough to be invited here and to the East-West Shrine all-star game. And NFL Draft Buzz says, "Good effort at the point of attack and second level as a blocker. Intelligent and will quickly acclimate to an NFL offense."

Taylor, who says one of his goals is to win the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year, wants to give back to his hometown. He's not aware of the city's heritage in the league and says he's going to look it up.

Here it is:

Taylor would be Springfield's 10th NFL player and first position player since wide receiver Rick Upchurch returned eight punts for touchdowns and caught 267 balls in nine seasons for the Broncos of the late '70s and early '80s. Todd France, a kicker, had one season with two teams in 2005.

Bengals president Mike Brown has always been fond of tight ends who are good basketball players. Taylor qualifies. He was a long-time AAU player and appeared at all five positions as he led Springfield to three district titles and two Division I regionals.

"Basketball helped me out tremendously for my football," Taylor said Friday. "It helped me with my route running, my feet and it helped me find a way to be real agile and versatile in my game."