Skip to main content

Combine Quick Hits: Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase Offer Advice To LSU's Next; Coach Domata Peko; Brian Callahan Channels Zac Taylor

Auburn defensive back Nehemiah Pritchett runs the 40 yard dash during the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine on Friday, March 1, 2024 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Kevin Sabitus/NFL)
Auburn defensive back Nehemiah Pritchett runs the 40 yard dash during the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine on Friday, March 1, 2024 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Kevin Sabitus/NFL)

INDIANAPOLIS _ Heard in the hallways and lobbies this week at the NFL scouting combine:

SOUND FAMILIAR?: Jayden Daniels and Malik Nabers, the current LSU quarterback-receiver combo that is all the rage of the NFL Draft, arrived here with words of wisdom from their Pro Bowl Bayou ancestors in Cincinnati who jumped from their top 5 drafts to transform the Bengals.

Joe Burrow has told his fellow Heisman quarterback "to stay who I am," and Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase has basically said the same thing to Nabers. In between Friday's media stops, Nabers said he's been corresponding with Chase.

"The process, at the end of the day, is just the game of football," Nabers said of Chase's advice. "All that stuff is going to happen. Don't worry about the cameras and stuff. Just do what I know and play football."

The 6-0, 200-pound Nabers, who could go as early as the fifth pick like Chase did in 2021, has a similar build and, more than that, because he makes it a point to study the three-time Pro Bowler Chase.

"I model my game a little bit after him," Nabers said. "He's an aggressive player. He's a speedy guy that can catch the ball pretty well. Can run routes, vertical  routes, he's pretty shifty."

Daniels isn't the overall No. 1 lock like Burrow was in 2020. But he looks destined to be in the top three. Burrow offered Daniels advice during his run to the Heisman late last year and Daniels said when they spoke in person recently Burrow gave some words on the draft process.

"A hundred percent," said Daniels of Burrow's willingness to help at any juncture. "I spoke to Joe and he said just stay who I am."

Daniels loves Burrow's game, especially his approach.

"For him, it's his process. His mental take. IQ," Daniels said. "Joe is cool. With Joe, you always know what you're getting each and every day."

MORE JA'MARR: Chase also has a fan in the guy that may go No. 1 overall, USC quarterback Caleb Williams. Williams could be overheard Friday telling CBS that Chase is one of his two favorite NFL receivers. Justin Jefferson is the other.

Bengals wide receivers coach Troy Walters has been a Chase fan longer than that. He's already talked to Nabers this week and he'll see the similarities up close Saturday when he's on the Lucas Oil Stadium field helping coach the drills for the first time.

That should give the Bengals a leg up on scouting the receivers, but as Walters says, Nabers is not getting to the Bengals at No. 18. Walters' take is they're similar, but Chase is stronger and that's no surprise because the NFL vet is almost always stronger than the rookie. Plus, Chase just may be the strongest receiver in the league.

EVEN MORE JA'MARR: Brian Callahan, the former Bengals offensive coordinator and now head coach of the Titans, made it quite clear what he thinks of Chase when asked to compare him to Titans wide receiver Treylon Burks.

"It would be really hard for me to compare Ja'Marr to anybody but Ja'Marr," Callahan said. "He's incredibly talented. There's not many receivers like him in football. So to compare anybody to him, I think would be unfair.

"I would say Ja'Marr's development is in a whole different stratosphere. He didn't need a whole lot of it."

SCOUTING DOMATA AS DOMATA SCOUTS DTs: Bengals senior defensive assistant Mark Duffner never was on a team with Bengals 11-year iconic nose tackle and fan favorite Domata Peko. But after working with him the past two combines on the field during the defensive line drills, he's sold.

"Really nice guy and you can tell he's a good teacher. I think the players he's coaching are lucky to have him," Duffner said.

Peko, 39, who retired after the 2020 season, is part of an NFL legends group that helps players at the combine workout before they do the actual drills. He works out draft prospects in California and while he didn't have a tackle here, one of his guys, UCLA edge Laiatu Latu, solidified his first-round stock with a strong outing Thursday.

"The thing about Latu," Peko said, "is his bend. He can really bend the edge."

Peko is impressed how the tackles ripped off their 40s and says it looks like there'll be a good three technique available at No. 18. Like Byron Murphy II of Texas and Braden Fiske of Florida State.

As for a mauling nose tackle who can also bring heat if needed on the pass rush, Peko asked, "What about my man Sweat?" The 366-pound T'Vondre Sweat of Texas chose not to run his second 40 after going 5.27, but Peko was talking about him in the drills.

"He's huge, but look at the way he moved. He showed some quickness," Peko said.

Analyst Robert Griffin III tweeted it was like a 180-pound man running 4.26. Whatever, Peko, an unabashed DJ Reader fan, hopes he's back in the middle of next season: "You have to love Reader."

BAND BACK TOGETHER: The estimable Paul Guenther, one of Peko's defensive coordinators in Cincinnati, was here during one of his first days on the job as the Cowboys' new run game coordinator under old friend Mike Zimmer.

(How about that? Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll are out. But Zim, Paulie G., and their Bengals boss, Marvin Lewis, are back in the NFL.)

Zimmer, the Cowboys' new DC, brought Guenther to Minnesota in 2021 in what proved to be his last of eight seasons as the Vikings head coach. Now the band is back together after a two-year hiatus.

"I had time to watch plenty of college and pro tape," said Guenther, who'll also serve as Zimmer's third-down guru as he was during their six seasons together with the Bengals. "When you get away like that, you spend a lot of time reflecting on what you did well, what you didn't do well. You come back refreshed and ready and that's how we feel."

It is Zimmer's second stint in Dallas after a 13-year run, seven of them as DC, and Guenther says you can tell.

"That's where he got his hold in the league and a lot of people in the team are still there," Guenther said. "It's like in Cincinnati. There's a lot of love and respect for him down there."

How will they stop Burrow?

"I can't tell you. We play you guys this year," Guenther said. "I know this. He's been transformative for them in a lot of different ways. The kind of guy you'd like on your side."

FRIDAY FREAK-OUT: That's the name of a fan segment in the popular Sirius NFL Radio show "Moving The Chains." The cast of the show, canny former NFL quarterback Jim Miller and sagacious former personnel man Pat Kirwan, kept everyone from freaking out this Friday as they smoothly interviewed a relentless assembly line of prospects.

"Guyton," said Kirwan during a  break when a familiar face barged in at their table looking for their Bengals pick at 18 and he opted for Oklahoma tackle Tyler Guyton.

"Not if one of those big receivers fall," Miller said.

"We had your head coach on and I told him when you've got a quarterback like Joe, you can't keep using top picks for receivers," Kirwan said. "There are other areas you need, like tackle and nose tackle. I wouldn't take a nose first. You can get a wide body. Get the tackle.

"Take Guyton. I love that kind. He loves to finish. Nasty. Plug him in and play."

Miller also defers to protecting Burrow instead of a nose. But he'd take Alabama's J.C. Latham.

They're convinced the Bengals are keeping wide receiver Tee Higgins and not dealing him and Miller likes the idea of big receivers on the outside.

"Joe likes throwing to (Andrei) Iosivas," Miller said of last year's sixth-rounder. "Just slide Ja'Marr into the slot."

A Friday, but nobody was freaking out.

LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION: Charles Davis, whose analysis is as sharp as his wardrobe, had an unsolicited observation for a familiar face. In his role as a top game analyst for CBS, Davis has been a familiar figure himself at Paycor Stadium and he also blankets NFL Radio.

"I've known Justin Rascati since he played in college," said Davis of the Bengals new passing game coordinator. "He was a really good player and watching his career develop has been fun. He's done it the right way. From the ground up."

Davis covered Rascati when he was on the college beat and Rascati was leading James Madison to the Division I-AA national title. They were introduced by a mutual friend and have stayed in touch the last 20 years or so through Rascati's brief run in Arena2 and decade-long college coaching career before an NFL career now in its sixth season and third team.

"He's learning all the nuances to be good. No job is too small. Take it all on and I think that's going to translate really well for him in Cincinnati," Davis said. "Experiences shape us. He's not afraid to do the hard work. Anytime you go play in Arena or Arena2, that tells you something."

ZAC PART 2: You can't help but notice how at ease Callahan is in his new job. It's almost as if he's been there before and, in a very key way, he has.

He watched everything Bengals head coach Zac Taylor did, and that includes his first six tempestuous weeks on the job.

"There's a lot of really challenging things that come up in the first year. And having been a part of that with Zac and him being open to sharing those experiences has really helped make me feel like I'm prepared for this moment," said Callahan, standing at the combine podium as if this were a post-practice Wednesday with Cincy scribes.

"It's not been overwhelming at any point. I feel very confident in my day-to-day operation. A lot of that's because of the access that Zac allowed me and the things that he talked about with me. There's going to be adversity that comes, and I think the most important thing I learned from Zac is, if you can be yourself, and stay the same and be consistent, you're going to have a chance to get through all the things that come your way."


2024 NFL Combine

The Bengals source of news, interviews and more at the 2024 NFL Combine.