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Quick Hits: Bengals Rookie Covets Reunion With Childhood Pal Ja'Marr Chase; National Champ Cole Burgess Keeps Snaring Longshots

Head Coach Zac Taylor during rookie mini camp on Friday, May 10, 2024 at the IEL Practice Facility in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Head Coach Zac Taylor during rookie mini camp on Friday, May 10, 2024 at the IEL Practice Facility in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Head coach Zac Taylor celebrated his 41st birthday and the annual initiation rite known as Rookie Minicamp Friday morning when he gathered the newest Bengals for an hour in the IEL Indoor Facility before sending them home.

It's a dated term since there are no longer five practices jammed into the weekend. "Rookie Orientation," is more like it because most of them will be back Monday to join the veterans.

"I advise these guys to look over the roster and know who these veterans are," said Taylor after he dismissed them. "'These guys have made a lot of plays for us. They have earned your respect even if you don't know who they are yet.' That's kind of their homework for the weekend."

Two undrafted free agents have already completed the assignment.

Tulane cornerback Lance Robinson is best friends from childhood with Bengals three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, but Chase is also no stranger to SUNY Cortland wide receiver Cole Burgess.

Burgess, who like Chase starred for a national champion, didn't hesitate after practice when asked to name his favorite NFL receiver.

"If I'm being honest, No.1 in the locker over there," said Burgess, nodding to a locker room housing the vets. "He's my favorite guy. We were in the same class. I was watching him at LSU and since he got in the league, and I've been following his and Joe's (Burrow) career. I just like his game and the way he plays."

Robinson knows Chase's game so well that it impacted their one-on-ones during his workouts before the draft.

"He knows my tendencies, I know his tendencies," Robinson said. "We stayed away from each other. He said, 'You do your thing, I'll do my thing.' I feel like if I can do well against him, I can do well against anybody."

They've known each other since they were about five years old is how Robinson figures it. The families, too. They were born 19 days apart in March of 2000 in New Orleans and played youth and middle school sports together before Chase went to Archbishop Rummel and Robinson went to De La Salle High School. A group of about eight or nine guys has remained close.

Before they set out for Cincinnati from New Orleans one day last week, Chase's father Jimmy served them a meal.

"Mr. Jimmy cooked some burgers and steaks for us before we left. I talked to (Ja'Marr) this (Friday) morning," Robinson said.

"He just told me, 'Do your part.' It's something not too many people have done. Two best friends on the same team that can impact the game all day. He can catch touchdowns and hopefully I can catch interceptions."

The 5-10, 185-pound Robinson had four of those last season. Also impressing the Bengals is tape showing, "he plays bigger than his size," and a pro day where he ran 4.49 seconds in the 40-yard dash and 4.37 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle.

Robinson became drawn to the Bengals not just because of his friend. It was in large part because of the plan cornerbacks coach Charles Burks sketched out for him before he agreed to sign.

"He said I could come in and learn different positions. Be versatile," Robinson said. "Corner, nickel, safety if anything happens. I played (safety) in high school and (Kansas State) and when I came to Tulane I played corner. I've got a good background."

He thought he was going to the Texans. They gave him a private workout and invited him in for a visit, plus they had three seven-round picks. But when the last day of the draft started, he heard from the Bengals for the first time ever. The Dolphins also called to say they would like to get him.

It's paying off already. Robinson loves what Burks told him Friday. Study all nickel for the coming week and then next week they'd move to another position. But he's going to keep watching and listening to his buddy.

"(Chase) told me don't make the same mistake twice. Of course. Be coachable. Listen. Don't miss any meetings," Robinson said. "Just do what you do. Football is football. They'll love you regardless, so just be you.

"He's a top-five pick for a reason. Great guy on and off the field. He's a role model to follow even if he's my friend."

SMALL SCHOOL, BIG TIES: Burgess has quite a story to tell. His graduating class at Greenwich High School in upstate New York had 60-something kids. Growing up a bit south of the Adirondack foothills and about 35 miles from Glens Falls didn't exactly translate to a big stage.

"I never went to any camps. I was playing against other small schools. I wasn't on anybody's radar," Burgess said. "My dream is coming true and I'm going to make the most of it every single day."

No big-time offers, but Burgess made the most of his career at Div. III SUNY Cortland, nestled among the leaves of Syracuse and New York's Southern Tier. He caught the touchdown pass with 1:41 left in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl last December that gave Cortland its first Div. III national title and you can bet that was on the radar in Bengaldom.

Dan Pitcher, who played quarterback for the Red Dragons when it was Cortland State in the previous decade, was watching on his couch pleased after a Saturday night of prep. As the Bengals quarterbacks coach, Pitcher the next day against the Vikings would guide Jake Browning to his third straight win backing up Burrow.

A few months later as the Bengals offensive coordinator, Pitcher caught Burgess' measurables from his pro day workouts at Syracuse and the University of Buffalo during the same week in March and reached out. A 4.46-second 40, an 11-foot broad jump, and a 41.5-inch vertical leap will do that.

"Once it became apparent he had the measurables to justify an opportunity, I wanted to make sure he knew everything that was going to happen," Pitcher said. "We were going to have interest, but also, how the process worked because I want him to have success and I'm glad we got him.

"I knew watching him play during the year he was a talented guy. But it's hard from that level of competition to really know what's going to translate and what isn't. When he tested the way he tested, OK, he's an NFL athlete. Now you get a chance to work with him and hope he can develop some of the things he showed at a lower level."

Burgess appreciated how Pitcher walked him through the different stages of the draft process as he headed into the visits and hooked him up with Bengals wide receivers coach Troy Walters for a Zoom. One Red Dragon helping another.

It was Pitcher who made the call after the draft with the offer. Burgess also heard from the Patriots, Bears, and Ravens, but now he finds himself getting ready to be in the same receiving line with Chase.

"Full-circle moment," he said.


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