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Hobson's Choice: Give It Time Before Cooking Up Comparisons For Burrow

With the pads coming on Tuesday, Bengaldom weighs in.

Joe Burrow has flashed his sweet throwing motion already.
Joe Burrow has flashed his sweet throwing motion already.

Hi Butch, I have not heard any one compare Joe Burrow to Greg Cook yet. I think there are some similarities. What do you think? Dave Skinner, Duffield, VA

DAVE: You're right. There are some intriguing similarities. Both of them come from just off State Route 32 in southeast Ohio (Cook from Chillicothe and Burrow from Athens), both were basketball stars in high school, both were recruited by the University of Cincinnati and both were top five draft picks.

Unfair, however, to compare Burrow to anyone right now. Heck, he hasn't worn NFL shoulder pads yet. I'm an old school scribe, but not that old. I was only 10 when Cook won the 1969 AFL passing title as a rookie. Never saw him play. And let's give Burrow the courtesy of having his first NFL practice in pads (let alone his first game) before saying anything at all.

From the many conversations over the years I've had with Bengals president Mike Brown, a guy who scouted both Cook and Burrow, Mike always thought Cook was a rare athlete and rare player. He often compared him to John Elway, physically. He had moxie and was a good leader that connected well with other players. Can Burrow be that guy? Early reports are good.

Both Cook (6-4) and Burrow have good NFL frames. Burrow measured in over 6-3 at the NFL Scouting Combine, which, for some reason to me was a mild but pleasant surprise. Cook was bigger, but maybe not as much as you think. Both can move and both like to throw the ball downfield. Both have quick releases. But let's be honest. For quarterbacks, it's all about what Yogi Berra said: "the game is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical." If Burrow can be close to Cook instinctively, the next decade will be fun.

I do know that Mike has always talked wistfully of Cook. He's convinced if Cook didn't hurt his shoulder during that '69 season the Bengals would have owned the '70s. If Burrow can be close, who knows what can happen in the 2020s? But let's give the kid room to breathe, make some mistakes and get started just being No. 9.

Hello Geoff, I am real excited to see Joe Burrow and the rest of the offense this year. But even more excited about the new guys on defense. With such a deep defensive line what are the chances Carl Lawson see some snaps at linebacker? David Merola, Halfmoon, NY

DAVID: With a nod to Henry Hudson, let's take a look.

They've bulked up their depth at tackle. They like the end position with Carlos Dunlap, Sam Hubbard, and Lawson. They did add an interesting draft pick in Khalid Kareem, but the coaches value Lawson and he'll play a lot as a pass rusher. He's clearly at his best as an edge rusher going upfield and I believe that you'll see Lawson early and often. You need at least three of those guys and, the thing is, they do drop at times occasionally as a linebacker in this hybrid 3-4.

But that's not what they do best. By taking three linebackers in the draft and signing middle linebacker Josh Bynes, they've got plenty of talent to process there, too. The way it is shaping up is that Lawson is a defensive end and is going to count as one of the nine or 10 or ever how many linemen they'll keep.

Know your not a fan of the FB but we need a bruiser on 4th and inches. Which TE will cover the 491 snaps Eifert had? Like to hear from Michael LaPlaca. Enjoy his articles and would like to see what his views are. Truth does hurt sometimes. Brad Schlueter, Florence, KY

BRAD: I forwarded your email to Michael and here is his answer:

This is a good question. What we saw last year in short yardage situations was guard Michael Jordan being utilized as an extra blocker. That won't happen this year because he has excelled at the starting left guard spot. In fact, Jordan is probably receiving the most praise for how he showed up at training camp. Look for him to have a good year.

Depending on the game situation, two candidates could fill your role. First would be tight end Drew Sample. Pro Football Focus back in 2019 had Sample earning the highest run-blocking grade in the nation (82.3) among draft-eligible tight ends. The coaches believe Sample uses his smarts and toughness to play with good technique and strong hand placement as run blocker. That's critical when fighting for a yard or a few inches.

The other option would be another offensive lineman, whoever is that sixth man could take a few snaps at fullback if needed. For instance, if he doesn't win a starting position coming out of camp, Fred Johnson has done nothing but catch people's eyes since he arrived here, and he can lead block or cut-off the backside. Fred usually wins one-on-one matchups, and the coaches will find a way to use him as a starter or role player.

As far as the pass catching side, an increased role for C.J. Uzomah appears natural. The easy comp came in 2018 when Eifert missed the final 12 games of the season. Uzomah stepped up and carved out a nice pass-catching role with 43 catches for 439 yards and three touchdowns. Uzomah's numbers dipped in 2019 to 27 receptions for 242 yards and two touchdowns with Eifert playing a full season. Uzomah's versatility as a blocker and pass catcher could make him a quiet X factor in the offense. Sample will play a role there, too. He's big (he checked in just under 6-5 and 255 pounds at the combine) and he ran well with a 4.70 in his Indy 40. This picture will come into focus better with time.

More of a comment than a question but I think having this much youth on the team might help us. Sometimes not knowing that what you're accomplishing isn't possible is a good thing. Youth can often bring boundless optimism. John Dahlgren, Clinton, MI

JOHN: Couldn't agree more. But this is either going to be the toughest season in history to be young. Or the best.

Sure, Andy Dalton and A.J. Green went to the playoffs as rookies without the benefit of spring practice. But they at least had four pre-season games. (Yes, Dalton and Green played in that usually hands-off pre-season finale with the Colts, enough that Dalton hit six of nine passes and Green caught two balls for 14 yards back in 2011.)

Burrow, Tee Higgins and the rookie linebackers don't have that luxury. But then again, they're all rookies this year. No one has ever done this. Watch Bengals head coach Zac Taylor be extremely secretive about this training camp because with no pre-season games, no one is going to have any idea how he has fit Burrow into his offense.

Now, it's not rocket science because people are obviously watching last year's tape from both LSU and the Bengals. But there's such a blanket over the league now that some teams are going use the element of surprise to their advantage.

So, 2020 could be good to be young. But it's going to be tough for sure.

Hey, Hope you're well and stay Covid Free. With no preseason games and limited practices with contact, how will ZT get this team ready for the physical demands of this game? I'm worried this could be recipe for unnecessary injuries. Maan Aboulhosn, Titusville, FL

MAAN: They're taking great care of us down here. I hope you and yours are as safe as well.

Great question that every NFL team is grappling with on a daily basis. It truly is the question of camp. Zac has hinted this has to be a more physical camp than usual. I would think when the scrimmages take place on Aug. 21 and 30, you'll see the biggest training camp hits since Marvin Lewis did away with the intrasquad scrimmage and Oklahoma Drill.

But, really, that doesn't mean we're going to see fourth-and-ones out of an AFC North scrum, either, just because of what you say. Taylor has to draw a very delicate line getting his team primed. Maybe he can find the same balance that Paul Brown owned. PB was famous for keeping his teams healthy but making sure they were fighting ready come game time.

The Bengals' decision to sign vets on defense should surely help. The offense may be new, but on defense they've signed NFL war horses at every level in nose tackle D.J. Reader, middle linebacker Josh Bynes, and in the back end with Vonn Bell, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and LeShaun Sims. Plus they've got their own stand-bys with a lot of NFL tackles like Dunlap, Hubbard, Geno Atkins and Jessie Bates. So they've been around long enough to know how to hit and when to hit and the defense should be further ahead. Think of this. They may not even start a rookie on defense.

Doesn't a quick training camp bode well for the run game? That first month is going to be the real preseason and, in my opinion, favors good running teams. Many teams are going to be looking to a nice, safe run game to stabilize things and with running back Joe Mixon seeking a third straight 1,000-yard season in an offense that finished sixth in the NFL in rushing over the second half of the year, the Bengals can ease in a rookie quarterback a little easier.

What are the brassiere looking things (called Catapult?). All the players seem to be wearing in most of the picture and videos the last week? Michael Freeman, Cincinnati, OH

MICHAEL: Those vests are used when the players aren't wearing their jerseys so that strength and conditioning coach Joey Boese and his staff can wire them up with a GPS to track speed, strength and endurance during practice. When the players do wear their jerseys, there is a pouch in the back to place the wiring. The Bengals have been doing this for years, but the system has changed and so has the look.