It was a very good day for the Bengals new quarterbacks as they primed their respective units for Friday morning's scrimmage that basically amounts to a pandemic pre-season opener.
After Joe Burrow got pilfered by Josh Bynes during the Thursday morning practice, the rookie quarterback who was the NFL's first draft pick of the 2020s, approached the 10-year vet who broke in under Ray Lewis in Baltimore.
Bynes, picked up on a one-year deal in the offseason from one of the Bengals' archest of rivals, can't ever remember being approached by a rookie quarterback to have his brain picked. But there was Burrow, the defending Heisman, advancing on Bynes, the only 30-year-old in the Bengals' suddenly revamped back seven.
"You can tell he's hungry and wants to get better," said Bynes, after letting Burrow know what tipped him off and how he got that interception dropping into the middle of the field. "That's what I like about him. I think everybody is knowing that, especially on offense. They're gravitating towards him because right now he has to lead the way for this offense and we're looking forward to it."
After watching him struggle in Tuesday's red zone practice, then open Thursday with a bad overthrow followed by his pick, Bynes saw why the pundits raved about Burrow's cool and composure.
On his next 19 passes in team drills, Burrow hit 15 of them on some of his first deep balls (to wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Mike Thomas and tight end C.J. Uzomah) in front of an offensive line that protected better. When they didn't, it usually wasn't a problem because Burrow simply had the ball out and gone.
It all earned a term of endearment from Bynes.
"He's definitely got, an old term, dog in him," Bynes said. "He has that want-to-win-I-want-to-be a-champion-I want to prove each and every day why he's the No. 1 pick."
Don't tell Bynes, but he's going to turn 31 on Monday. Heck, he can't believe he's 30. He was appalled the other day when one of the kids called him "OG," but this is what happens when your 101 NFL games are more than the rest of the linebackers on your team combined.
"Does this face look old?" Bynes asked the reporters on Thursday's Zoom call. "I told my wife I thought I'd only play three years in this league. Then I told my wife, 'all right, five.' Then I told her seven. And I'll be damned, it's year 10. You just never know. I just carry myself in the offseason, as much as anything else, take care of my body and train for that year and make sure I'm in the best position -- healthy. And mentally I'm in the right position. I feel great mentally and physically and I just want to continue to show these young guys that I can play this game as well and that I'm not, like, old, like all right, this is it, he needs to throw in the towel kind of thing."
The Bengals signed Bynes not to throw in the towel but to snap it in the direction of the rookie backers they knew they were going to draft for an overhauled position group tattered by three bottom-of-the-NFL-basement-seasons against the run. They were looking for a mentor for a group adrift since Vontaze Burfict couldn't get away from the NFL office and the Bengals training room in 2016 and 2017. A long time to be searching, but in Bynes they get a guy fresh off stabilizing the Ravens' fifth-ranked run defense.
Baltimore had to go get him off the couch, the day after Cleveland beat a confused scheme on 193 yards rushing. He got ready for the Steelers in four days and the Ravens won when they held Pittsburgh to 77 yards on the ground. With Bynes in there straightening it out, they didn't lose again until the playoffs.
"He is like a walking football library. He's so smart. He is the smartest player I've ever been around personally," said Logan Wilson, one of those kids. "He knows so much football. He knows why the offense does things this way or how we should respond to playing it. There's a reason why he has been in the league for so long and played with a lot of guys and in a lot of systems and learned a football. I'm just going to piggyback off him and try to learn as much as I can from him, because he's about as smart as they come."
Oh, Wilson, their third-rounder, is going to get plenty of that. Wilson, who did it all at Wyoming as a three-year captain, was born the year the Ravens drafted Hall-of-Fame linebacker Ray Lewis. 1996. When Bynes came out of Auburn undrafted in 2011, Lewis was at the end but he would mentor. Bynes' biggest teacher was safety Ed Reed, but Lewis and Reed, two of the Bengals' all-time thorns, both taught him to pay it forward.
"I studied a lot of film with Ray and Ed Reed was one of my bigger mentors as well," Bynes told Bengals.com back in March when he agreed to the deal. "He's a safety, but as far as learning the game teaching the, game, we watched film together. I love Ed Reed to death. That's a guy I still hit him up, text him and he'll answer the phone and that guy's there. He definitely gave me insight on how this game is played. I see the field differently."
The OG is OK on the new-fangled stuff, too.
"I noticed even during Zoom meetings in the spring some stuff he would ask the coaches and I was like, 'Woah, I need to figure my stuff out first,'" Wilson said. "That's just where he is and just how smart he is. He's played so much football so he's experienced a lot of different things that offenses have thrown at him. He knows a lot of football and I'm just going to try to take as much info from him as I can."
And Bynes doesn't mind at all. He knew the drill. That's why defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo wanted him. On Thursday, he started next to fourth-rounder Akeem Davis-Gaither. On Tuesday it was second-year player Germaine Pratt. Soon, no doubt, it will be Wilson and seventh-rounder Markus Bailey.
And you can see Bynes directing Davis-Gaither in the huddle, checking in with Wilson on the sidelines and maybe grabbing Bailey or the undrafted rookie, Marcel Spears, Jr., during special teams.
"I'll ask a question real quick while he's paying attention because I don't want to take away from Darrin's (Simmons) special teams and he'll get mad at a rookie for not paying attention," Bynes said. "Something real quick. I just want each one to know they can come to me and ask a question even if you don't feel comfortable in a meeting. I'm open ears because, hell, we've got nothing else to do right now but be in camp anyway, so we might as well ask it and get those things ironed out while we can."
The one thing he can say about all those young guys, four rookies in all, is how athletic they are.
Still, he can't believe he's talking about these guys like a coach. To him it was just last month Lewis and Reed were showing him the ropes.
"He's actually a great kid – I say kid like I'm old, geez, I say kid? Wow," said Bynes when asked about Wilson. "Right now he's doing great. He's picking up the defense well. He's doing everything we ask him to do. I say we like I'm the coach. Lord Jesus. I meant, the coach is asking him to do. But he's picking up the defense really well and going out there trying to get better. Just like I said to him and a few of the rookies, letting them mistakes go and build on that and let that be lessons learned to not make the mistake again the next day.
"That's what it is all about. Especially as a rookie. You dread that mistake because you feel like you have a microscope on you 24/7, which you do, but you can't let that wear you out and just move on to the next play. Akeem, Logan, Markus, they are all pretty athletic and all do their thing. Akeem as well is showing his athletic ability covering guys as well. Markus is going 110 percent each and every play regardless of what is going on he is going to give it his all. All three of them are doing a great job right now. They have to grow up really fast. Like Joe and all those rookies have to grow up really fast because before we know it Sunday is going to be here and we are going to need them to depend on them on Sundays."
Bynes, who got a Ravens Super Bowl ring as a special teams maven in his second year, grew up in Ravens head coach John Harbaugh's steel-belted culture. A bit ironic that he's trying to pass it on to the kids that are going to carry the Bengals into the '20s.
"It's huge. Guys are willing to sacrifice and just go out there and win games and knowing what it takes each and every day. I learned that my early on years there," Bynes said. "Obviously my second year we won a Super Bowl, and being with those guys, those veterans who led the team and dictated everything from how practice went to how the day goes. That's what we're trying to do here now."
And now he's over on the other side of the ball, too. If Burrow asks.
"Of course, I'll talk to him as well and give all the knowledge I have," Bynes said after a good day for the two new quarterbacks. "I have ten years of experience and if he asks questions, of course. I'll give him answers as much as possible …To put us in position to win."