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For Openers, Joe Burrow Vows, "I'm Going To Play My Game'

QB Joe Burrow (left) and WR Ja'Marr Chase walk during practice at the Kettering Health Practice Fields on Wednesday, September 6, 2023.
QB Joe Burrow (left) and WR Ja'Marr Chase walk during practice at the Kettering Health Practice Fields on Wednesday, September 6, 2023.

One of the many reasons Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. brought his Super Bowl ring from Kansas City to Cincinnati over the offseason is because of the way Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow operates in the pocket.

And even though he's had just three team practices with him, Brown is unconcerned about their timing and is convinced Burrow is going to show up like many of his nicknames in time for Sunday's opener (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in Cleveland.

"He looks ready. His body looks great. I think he's more than ready," Brown said after Wednesday's practice. "At the end of the day, it's all about muscle memory. That's the majority of football. He's a great quarterback who does a great job presnap, getting the ball out during the snap, and figuring out who he wants to get the ball to right away. It's not a concern."

That's how his locker room seems to be reacting.

"Hell yeah, he's ready," said wide receiver Tyler Boyd, the longest-tenured Bengal on offense as he gets ready for his eighth opener.

There's no question Burrow looks and sounds like, well, the Burrow of legend ("If he comes, they will build it") and song ("run, pass or boot"). There are those who work closely with Seamless Joe who believe it's the best he's looked physically on the eve of an opener in the last two years. Burrow himself is saying he's spinning it like never before.

He also agrees with what everybody has been saying since he went down with a strained calf on July 27, which, by the way, seems like two years ago. There's no comparison of how he feels now to last Sept. 6, when he was six weeks removed from his appendix removed.

"I was able to maintain lifting through the whole process, so I'm in great shape," Burrow said. " As good a shape as I've been in heading into Week 1. Much different than last year when I was just trying to get back to full strength and full health. I feel much better going into Week 1 this year."

A mid-week Burrow news conference is usually a version of Good Vibrations, and this one, his first since July 26, was no different. He cleared up any Opening Day angst with another full-throated endorsement of ownership and head coach Zac Taylor on the subject of his contract extension while delivering a love letter to the Republic of Who-Dey.

"This is where I want to be. This is where I want to be my whole career," Burrow said. "We're working toward making that happen. You've seen what the front office has done and what Zac has done in their time here. I'm a small part of that. I'm excited to be a part of that. And we have great people in the locker room that grind every day, that are excited to go and showcase their talents and excited to go and do it in the city of Cincinnati. We have the best fans and so this is where I want to be."

Burrow also sounded cautious as well as confident. Hey, he's an MVP candidate for a reason. If you want to know if the calf is going to allow him to avoid Myles Garrett (and that's a must on Sunday with 11 of his 74.5 sacks coming against the Bengals), Burrow wants to find out, too.

"That's what these days of practice are for and that's why this week of practice has been and will be important," Burrow said. "We're feeling out that process right now. (Thursday) We're in pads and so speed will ramp up even more than today. Feel these next two days out and see where it is.

"When you get out there, your instincts kind of take over. That's what we'll find out the next two days. I feel really good about where I'm at. But things may change over the next couple of days."

He says there have been good days and bad days. Wednesday, he said, had been a great day. But there is just enough unknown that he's not going to give answers he doesn't have.

What if it tightens up in a game?

"Depends on how bad. Lot of variables there."

Do you have to manage it all year?

"We're managing it now. For how long that's the case, I don't know. I've never had a soft tissue injury like this before, which is part of the reason we've been so careful with it. We'll see. I don't really have an answer for you there."

There are things to be done over the next 48 hours. And they have nothing to do with the contract. ("That's the last thing I'm worried about.") He said he's thinking only of football and the Browns and since this is Burrow, there is no doubt. What must be done on the practice field, he says, is fine-tuning.

"I feel good about it. That's going to come," Burrow said. "Operation in and out of the huddle. Footwork in the pocket. All that stuff didn't get ironed out in camp because I wasn't out there. I'm ironing out that over the last two or three practices."

Burrow is one of the toughest and most resourceful customers Bengals fans have ever laid eyes on. If he has to rely on his wits, who in the NFL has better wits?

"It's tough. But I've been able to find the places that I can (go full tilt). I've been lifting hard, working hard in rehab and treatment. So we're in a good spot," Burrow said. "I'm going to be myself, I'm going to make the plays that are there, I'm going to take what the defense gives me, I'm going to take shots like we always do and I'm going to play my game."

For his fourth opener, Burrow has a fourth right tackle, but it's a guy he knows well. When he was a left tackle, Jonah Williams made his NFL debut in Burrow's NFL debut in 2020.

"He looks great. He looks really, really good (on the right side)," Burrow said. " As good physically as he ever has. He's in a good place mentally, too. He's excited to go out and showcase what he is going to do and I am excited for him to do it because he's looked great in practice."

The 6-8, 345-pound Orlando Brown Jr. is in Williams' spot and you can't miss him. Burrow hasn't. He thinks Brown is going to bring a different pocket.

"We'll see. I think so. He's big, strong, athletic, we know what he can do in pass protection and the run game," Burow said. "I haven't been out there a ton, and we haven't seen game action yet. But I'm going to continue to play my game, and he's going to be great for us … he's always thinking about ways he can find an advantage. He's always asking me about my drops. He's just a student of the game."

One of Burrow's many franchise quarterback qualities is inspiring confidence in the locker room. This week, then, has been a success.

"He's been getting outside the pocket," said cornerback Mike Hilton. "Just watching him move and stuff, it looks like he's feeling good. We're excited."