This was before Joe Burrow's return to the podium from his annual self-imposed offseason media exile. Before The Headband and The Contract and The UFC Moves tried to zap all the football out of Tuesday.
Burrow, with his January to May to January focus, never let it, of course. But before all that, before Burrow stalked to the podium and sat down saying, "Let's do this," as if he were igniting a huddle, someone asked Bengals strength and conditioning coach Joey Boese how Burrow looks after the most normal offseason of his four in the NFL.
Does he look better than last May?
"He's in great shape. Look at him," Boese says. "I think he does right now. There's a reason for that. Because the guy is putting in the work when no one is watching. Millions of people never see it because he's not videotaping and posting everything he does. He's a superstar. One of the most elite quarterbacks in the game. But the thing that people don't see is an elite work ethic like I've never seen."
The two guys who have seen it, indeed the two guys who have most likely seen him more than anyone else since Chiefs tackle Chris Jones grabbed him and the AFC title nearly four months ago are not his marketing people or agent or the latest MMA star, but the two guys he sees in the gym.
Boese, the giant of the GPS, gets him when the team returns in April. Until then, Dak Notestine, the old Ohio University strength and conditioning coach recruited to Athens by an assistant coach named Jimmy Burrow, gets him as he has for pretty much the last decade. Notestine, who went from walk-on to starting defensive end for the Bobcats, has helped the always underdog Joe Burrow go from the prom to the Pro Bowl.
If Burrow appears a little more ripped than usual, maybe it's The Headband, a look from the '80s when muscle mania reigned. He says he's trying something new with his hair and since it's longer, he needs the headband when he's working out. But he says there has been no particular emphasis in the gym this offseason.
"I wouldn't say I had a specific goal. It's always just feeling as good and strong and healthy as you can going into the year," Burrow said at the podium. "I have a great trainer that really thinks about my body and watches my game and understands what part of my body can get stronger and get more stable. I'm really lucky to have Dak. I've been training with him since I was in high school, so he really understands my body and what I need to do to improve and stay at this level."
Notestine, now the director of performance for Black Sheep Performance in the Cincinnati suburb of Blue Ash, has probably kept him out of as many gyms as he's opened for him.
"He takes a couple of weeks off after the season. But I'm getting those text messages pretty quickly (after the season)," Notestine says. "He had to be encouraged (not to train) late in that second week. He's about what he does and he's passionate. He wants to be a leader and do all the things that a leader on that team is required to do. He lives it, it's just not talk."
Four to five times a week. Maybe as much as two hours a day if there is field work or as little as 40 minutes if it's simply fine-tuning. Since Burrow is the anti-jetsetter, Notestine says he's "rarely," out of the gym for a stretch. Maybe for a long weekend to go to a fight.
"He's committed 100 percent. He's dialed in," Notestine says. "The holistic approach. Trying to give him every tool rather than focus on one parameter … When we try to train him in the offseason, we're trying to attack where he's 'lacking,' but he doesn't lack a whole lot because he's pretty aware of everything he wants. He makes my job easier because he's so in tune with everything going on."
What's going on has never gone on since Burrow was drafted No. 1 overall in 2020.
"Having a full offseason and a full training camp is so beneficial in so many ways. It's not really something that I've had yet," Burrow said. "I'm excited to hopefully have that this year and be able to make those strides in camp where last year I was just trying to get back to where I was pre-camp. I'm excited to find that improvement during those 4-6 weeks when I haven't really had that yet."
Never mind the appendectomy that robbed him of last season's training camp. He's never had a routine in spring and early summer. Until now.
His rookie spring was the COVID season working out with the Athens High Twin Towers, otherwise known as the Luehrman Twins of state tournament fame. The next spring was the ACL rehab and so really was the spring of '22, since it takes two years or so to get all the way back.
But nothing has been in the way of 2023.
"He was running solid throughout (last) season. It gave us a better place to start our offseason training," Notestine says. "Him being healthy gives me a lot more opportunities to work on the things I would like to work on rather than being pre-determined for me.
"I've enjoyed how this offseason has gone. I wouldn't be against it happening like this every year after, you know?"
Notestine stresses the blueprint is always being adjusted and this offseason is no different.
"There's more of an elastic component to the training," Notestine says. "We definitely tried to increase his power, we tried to put a little more horsepower in the engine."
And then there's his nutrition taking "another step forward."
"There's no secret sauce for what makes up his diet," Notestine says. "It's really, really balanced. Quality proteins. Quality carbohydrates and he eats healthy fats and he's making sure he's taking care of those macro-nutrients and making sure every box is checked."
It all gets back to the holistic agenda. The big picture that Burrow is so aware of seeing. It's not the '80s anymore. Like getting more velocity on his throws.
"I feel like that's getting better every year. I try to improve every area of my game every offseason," Burrow said. "There are obviously specific things that you want to work on, but as a whole, I'm working on every part of my game, every part of my body to just improve it all and that hopefully will, in turn, create more consistency and make me a better player."
Along with experiencing the relentless work ethic, Boese thinks Burrow is showing the knowledge of a four-year vet who now understands the ebbs and flow of an NFL season. "He knows what an NFL calendar looks like. When to push, when to back off. He's dialed in." Burrow said the same thing at the podium.
"(The workouts) evolve every year. I think I'm getting the hang of what I want my offseason to look like, what I want my routine to look like, what I want my body to feel like going into camp," Burrow said. "Just becoming more aware of my training, my body, how my arm is feeling, how my knees are feeling. We're evolving every year to try to make myself better."
But Boese thinks it all gets back to simply how he runs sprints.
"He runs the fourth one as hard as he runs the first one," Boese says. "When no one is looking. Joe is Joe for a reason."