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Joe Burrow's Silent Spring Broken With Echoes Of A No. 1 Work Ethic 

Joe Burrow can throw on the run.
Joe Burrow can throw on the run.

Jimmy Burrow knows how thin the pandemic's isolation has worn everyone, particularly his 23-year-old son Joe, the first player taken in an NFL draft yet to be deployed and somehow oddly frozen in time.

But as he went through the car wash Thursday morning in Athens, Ohio, James Arthur Burrow Jr., figures five years from now his family is going to look back on the spring of '20 with some fondness.

For instance, he hasn't watched this much TV with his son in years. While Joe Zoomed through the spring with his new Bengals coaches and teammates in an endless exercise that ended Thursday, he and his dad also zipped through "The Office," and "Law and Order SUV," and are now embarking on "Billions," with a few "30 for 30s" thrown in.

When the remote hides, Jimmy Burrow, the retired Ohio University defensive coordinator who has stacked five decades in the game getting paid to either play or coach, can put on his Bengals gear and walk five minutes down the road to watch his son throw to his two third-grade buddies at Joe Burrow Stadium. Friends have also given Jimmy and wife Robin homemade Bengals masks.

The socially-distant workout is where Jimmy Burrow can see another nostalgic sight joining Joe and the Luehrman twins. Nathan White, the Athens High School head coach who ran the offense back when Joe Burrow and the twins stormed Ohio with points records galore, is reading plays off Joe Burrow's phone as the Bengals offense creeps as close to life as possible in the middle of the track in front of passerbys like the Athens High School volleyball team.

"They were going through their off-season conditioning," says Adam Luehrman, "and when he went over to take off his cleats and put on his shoes, they all stopped what they were doing and just stared."

For a career coach whose two oldest sons were born when was playing in the Canadian Football League, Jimmy Burrow knows how to savor time at home.  

"We don't go out as much as we usually do and that's never been one of Joe's things," Jimmy Burrow says. "He very rarely goes out. He keeps busy during the day with the Bengals coaching staff and he throws once or twice a week. He's backed off because there isn't a report date yet for sure.

"It's the first time in at least five years we've had this much time as a family. It's been tough for Joe, but I'm sure we'll look back on these days and say this is a pretty special time for us."

In the year 2025, when Zoom is still alive, Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan probably won't be as nostalgic about the 2020 offseason that never was. Especially with a rookie quarterback and two wide receivers that have never taken a game rep in this system. Throw in the six weeks he spent vetting Burrow on Zoom even before the draft and there's been so much talk and so little action.

But after getting in about "95-99 percent," of the offense and "hearing," Burrow attack the playbook, Callahan feels excellent about it all even though he admits "nothing is stamped," until they get on the field.

"It's an incomplete picture, but from everything we've seen from virtual walk-throughs and communication with players in the meetings and with us on the coaching side, all the things lead you to believe it's going to be good," Callahan says.

"The guys see his preparation and work ethic. His knowledge of an offense that he's new to, that always grabs people's attention. When they come in and know what to say and how to do it and all the things that are required of a quarterback in an NFL offense, he's exemplified all these things and that gets everyone's attention first. Plus, his past precedes him. He's got some pelts on the wall and these guys see all that."

But, like Callahan says, no one has been together in the locker room or the huddle or even taken a snap, so what really can be said? Except that Burrow is working it like only he can work it with the same cast he led to a state championship game.

Along with three months of Zooming with Callahan and quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher, Burrow has also had White whispering in his ear to simulate what he'll hear on the headset while snapping him the ball. After White reads off the play, Burrow echoes it as if he's in the huddle.

"It's a far cry from when Joe was in high school," White says. "We used as few words as possible. We were more focused on running plays as fast as we could and go up tempo. It's amazing how wordy some of the stuff is. It's definitely a different ballgame at that level."

White finds himself saying the same things he's been saying for about seven years now. After he rattles off a 15-word play, White watches Burrow react while telling the twins where to line up and which routes to run. He calls the whole wonderful weird experience "a flashback," to not so back in the day.

"You can tell he's been watching tape," White says. "Every time I'm around Joe, whether it's a game or he's just going to go throw, I'm always impressed with how focused, how prepared he is."

Not even LSU's Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson have caught as many balls from Burrow as have Adam and Ryan Luehrman.

They're the mirror 6-4 post players who were Burrow's go-to wide receivers in the era that put Athens football in the picture. When Burrow moved on to Ohio State and then to Baton Rouge, the twins stayed home to become college tight ends and now the Ohio University tandem is heading into its senior season as pro prospects after an unexpected offseason of workouts with their buddy. 

"He wears his Bengals stuff," says Adam Luehrman, who grew up wearing orange and black as the son of a Bengals fan from the Cincinnati suburb of Milford. "It was weird the first time I saw him in his Bengals stuff. He never had an NFL team so I never him saw him wear any team stuff. To see him, 'Oh, he's now a Bengals guy,' and he's wearing all the Bengals stuff they sent him."

But everything else, except the caution of social distancing, is the same. Right down to the twins' OU workout togs and Burrow's command of the offense. Adam and Ryan are the only receivers he's had the last couple of weeks. They've been everything from A.J. Green (the X receiver) to Tyler Boyd (the slot) to C.J. Uzomah (the detached tight end). Or maybe the spots were all flopped.

(The pre-training camp throwing sessions with Burrow that Green envisioned have yet to come off, which isn't really a surprise since each of the top five receivers have been in five different states. Plus, the union has now discouraged workouts before next month's start of camp.)

And Burrow is calling out routes that look familiar. After Burrow was the MVP of the national title game, the twins would ask him about certain routes from that night and Burrow would explain concepts they had never seen before. Now Adam says he's running some of them.

"He seems to like it," Adam says of the Bengals offense, "and now that he's picking it up that seems to help him. They've asked him about his favorite plays."

Burrow has always been a quick learner. "He just has to put it into action," Adam says. He got a dose of it when they asked Burrow about a certain word that sounded a bit fancy.

"It meant a naked bootleg and if he kept it or not and the terminology they used for it," Luehrman says. "He was able to explain it to us, what the sequence of words meant to him."

To make the amazing downright absurd, in the name of social distancing as well as privacy they've been throwing in front of virtually no one. The first labor pains of a No. 1 overall draft pick birthing a new era are barely heard. If Cincinnatians are known as unfailingly polite, what about Athenians?

They were so serious about the shutdown in Athens that the gag was even Joe Burrow couldn't throw at Joe Burrow Stadium. Then when things re-opened, it was like the old days in the summer when Burrow would call White to open up the place.

If it's in the morning, there's virtually no one there and even if it's later White doesn't think they've had a knot of people bigger than ten. Jimmy Burrow is often there. Sometimes the twins' parents show up. "I think some people drive by and they see some guys out there and they stop to see what's going on," White says.

And, really, no has bothered them. One time about ten members of the Athens football team walked out of their staggered lift and just stood there, gaping.

"They'd never seen him before," Adam Luehrman says. "'This is actually what he is in person.' … It was kind of funny."

White has noticed something familiar, though.

"It's exciting to see him be excited. It's similar to last year. I get a similar vibe when he was getting ready to go play. And I think every player in the country is excited to play football again after all that down time," White says.  

"He's very excited about the offense, very excited about the guys playing around him and he's very impressed  with the coaching staff."

Hopefully, Burrow and the rookies can report to Paul Brown Stadium sometime around July 20. Until then, Jimmy and Robin Burrow will savor it. This weekend their oldest son, Jamie, comes to town from Omaha with his wife and two children and Jimmy, Robin and Joe are taking them to the lake at Burr Oak State Park.

The youngest grandchild, four-year-old James Burrow IV, otherwise known as IVie, apparently has a nice set of athletic skills already.

"We'll find out in the backyard, won't we?" asks Jimmy Burrow, who very well could be wearing his Bengals ballcap.

"We're 100 percent in," Jimmy says.

So it seems is Joe Burrow, echoing Bengals plays in an empty Joe Burrow Stadium.

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