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Heaven In Seven-On-Seven As Joe Burrow Returns To Bengals Practice

QB Joe Burrow ____ practice at Kettering Health Practice Fields on Wednesday, August 30, 2023.
QB Joe Burrow ____ practice at Kettering Health Practice Fields on Wednesday, August 30, 2023.

After Bengals All-Pro quarterback Joe Burrow completed every pass he threw while sifting a 7-on-7 drill Wednesday, his locker room had the same reaction when he left the practice field with a strained calf 34 days ago.

Cautious optimism.

"He looked way better than I thought … I don't mean that with any disrespect," said wide receiver Trenton Irwin. "Coming back from a month and rarely seeing him for a while … Fun to see. Very fun to see. Creative throws. He threw some good balls out there. Excited to see him move around. He throws special balls. That's what he does. Good to see him back out there doing what he does."

Seven-on-seven is far from 11-on-11. But even though Burrow wasn't bouncing around in the pocket, after five weeks of alt-control-delete it's close enough to get his team re-booted for an opener that is suddenly ten days away on Sept. 10 in Cleveland.  

Wednesday's toe in the water doesn't mean he's going to be named the starter against the Browns. But it does get his team thinking about swimming the channel.

"It's a good way to get the rhythm in his steps back, knock off the rust, and get back to being Joe," said slot cornerback Mike Hilton, the other guy on Skyline's first series of new Bengals cups.

"You could kind of tell when he's out there, everybody's a lot more focused. That's how much he means to this team and this organization. He's our leader and every time he's on the field, we're lucky to have him."

Whether he's the face of a cup or league, Burrow's aura always offers a jolt of good. Such was his return from training room exile.

(For instance, it softened the blow a bit of seeing pass rusher Joseph Ossai's foot in a boot.)

Center Ted Karras, the Bengals' newly appointed NFL dean of the locker room as the only 30-year-old on the Burrow Bengals, says there's always a slight uptick in practice when he's in uniform. Ja'Marr Chase, who has caught more balls from Burrow than any being, says they're all a little more dialed in with him out there because Burrow reacts so quickly to coach up the play.

"Extra juice," said wide receiver Tee Higgins. "He looked good. He looked fluid. He threw a dime today. I was like, 'Oh yeah. He's back." It was to Chuck Sizzle. A deep one. Put it right in the breadbasket. Had no choice (to catch it). A hundred percent ready to go."

That would be a go route to rookie wide receiver Charlie Jones, lined up on the outside. Jones has rarely done that since he's been here, but then, he hasn't caught a ball from Burrow in anything but routes on air until Burrow saw him pressed by cornerback Allan George at the line of scrimmage.

"I knew it was probably coming to me," Jones said. "A perfect throw."

No one seemed to know he was coming back Wednesday. In the last 34 days, headlines have broken out everywhere. From Jonathan Taylor to Hurricane Idalia to a Camp David summit. Everywhere but the radio silent Burrow Bureau in Bengaldom.

"I didn't know until I saw him with you guys," Karras said. "Breaking news for you guys, too."

Higgins didn't know, either, until he saw him on the Kettering Health Practice Fields: "I was like, 'Oh, Shiesty's back.'"

Hilton looked down the locker room and saw him getting ready for practice and heard some accompanying snap-crackle-and-pop around the room. When Burrow ducked into the huddle, nothing had changed, said his receivers. He said what he always says.

"What's up guys? How's it going?"

"Then he called the play," Higgins said. "It was back to business."

Chase, his national championship teammate and Heisman Trophy catch partner, is always the Go-To for the JoeyB Barometer. Chase says it was the first time his receivers had thrown together with Burrow since he hit four straight passes in a July 27 team drill before went down racing out of the pocket.

"Not much movement, we'll see," Chase said. "No hobble from what I see. He looks good. He doesn't look like he's having problems moving or anything. That's a good sign.

"They're slowly working him in. See how he feels. He knows how to stay positive. He's still coaching everyone on the side. That's the biggest thing about him. His role as a leader."

Chase has seen him do it all. Will Grier, the new practice squad quarterback who just pulled in from Dallas Wednesday, hadn't seen him do anything live until 7-on-7.

"Great. He looked awesome," Grier said. "He's a big reason I came here. I think I can learn a lot."

On Wednesday we learned that Burrow can still sift seven-on-seven. After 34 days, that was enough for his locker room.

"Now," Chase said, "it's about the small details."