Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow may be letting his hair grow but he's not letting it down. When he showed up for his first media appearance of the spring Tuesday, Seamless Joe had his signature game week laser focus.
"I think I had my best year last year. I think I've improved every year and still a lot of room to grow," Burrow said when the horde asked him to break it down. "There is always room to improve every offseason, every game, every week. You just try to find a way to get better every year."
The hair? He's just mixing it up.
"I needed something new. I had that same haircut for a while," Burrow said. "Decided to change it up and we'll see how it goes."
But he won't change anything else. The man who came off an ACL rehab to lead the Bengals to a Super Bowl and the guy who followed that up by bouncing out of a hospital bed with a training camp appendectomy to lead the Bengals to their longest winning streak ever looks and sounds as healthy as he's ever been in the NFL.
I'm feeling really good. I feel strong. I feel stable. I feel grounded," Burrow said. "I'm excited about how my body is feeling."
Burrow, who went into the offseason as the NFL's most accurate passer of all time, has an idea of how to stay there after spending last season adjusting to defensive adjustments.
"I think I just became more aware of situational football," Burrow said. "Aware of when I could take a sack, when I can't, finding the (running) back when I can make a play in a certain moment when a different part of the game I would not try to make that play. I think I took strides there. I think there are more strides to take in that area."
CHASING T.J.: Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase surfaced this week for the first time after breaking camp at his offseason training facility in Austin, Texas and he never minds sharing his goals for the upcoming season. The wish list he always puts on his mirror heading into Year Three is more franchise oriented.
"Cincinnati stuff. Stuff to have my name written around this whole facility," Chase said. "Every receiver record they have."
Chase says he looked them up. He already broke Chad Johnson's club record for a season when he put up 1,455 yards as a rookie, but he noticed T.J. Houshmandzadeh's 16-year-old record for catches in a season with 112. He's gunning for that.
"It's hard getting catches in a game. Especially if you're doubled and there's another star receiver on your team," Chase said. "You almost have to catch every pass that comes your way."
That fits in nicely with another goal he's trying to get with Tee Higgins, that other star receiver.
"I plan to have (for both) 1,000 catches before the season. I'm tracking both our numbers," Chase said. "Put 50 balls in a garbage can. Catch them, do it again and then we're done."
Higgins has a goal, too. No Bengals receiver has had 1,500 yards in a season. What about both?
"Need 3,000 yards. Pro Bowlers. And hopefully a ring, man," Higgins said. "That's the biggest goal."
DAMAR DAYS: Higgins, Chase and slot receiver Tyler Boyd met up with Bills safety Damar Hamlin for a few days during the offseason and it seemed to work well for everybody. Earlier this year, after Hamlin made a routine tackle on Higgins, he collapsed and had to be revived on the Paycor Stadium field. He's recovered enough to try and play this season.
"It helps a lot. Obviously, on the field, you are playing against somebody you got a job to do and that's to win the game," Higgins said. "After the game, good game, bro, you did your thing and stuff like that. It means a lot to not have animosity towards each other."
Boyd is Hamlin's childhood friend and things went from there.
"He's welcomed everything with open arms," Chase said. "He realizes his life has changed dramatically and the best thing he can do is pray and be himself again. That's the best thing for him. I'm glad he'll have an opportunity to play football again."
WELCOME ARMS: Speaking of open arms, Burrow is giving the two new offensive starters, left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and tight end Irv Smith Jr. big welcomes.
"Irv is upstairs all day every day learning the offense, watching tape with James (Casey), so that's exciting to hear," said Burrow of the Bengals tight ends coach. "He's looking smooth, big strong, athletic, smooth hands so we're excited to have that guy … (Brown has been) everything you could hope for so far. He's a great locker room guy, big, strong, athletic things are going great. Love that guy."
CHEMISTRY RE-PACKAGED: The Bengals locker room chemistry has been wine the past two seasons of five playoff victories. But Burrow knows there have been changes. Maybe not as many as the 2021 offseason, but enough. Two new starting safeties. New tight end and left tackle. Maybe a new punter.
"When you do have a lot of new faces, you do have to kind of find what your culture is going to be like as a locker room," Burrow said. "You have a lot of new faces in there, a lot of new rookies, a lot of new faces on defense. So you have to build that culture from the ground up and that's what this time, right now, is all about. Just getting around the guys. Getting to know them. Getting to know who they are as people, who they are as players and finding their place on the team and building that culture."
Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins are back with the 2023 rookie class and the rest of the team for Phase 2 Training at the Kettering Health Practice Fields.
OTHER NUMBERS: Here's another look at how head coach Zac Taylor's locker room chemistry is stirred by the attitude of the biggest stars. Both Burrow and Higgins are now eligible for extensions and they're both here for the voluntary workouts.
"At the end of the day I love the game. Whatever happens with my contract happens," Higgins said. "I'm not worried about that right now. Hopefully we can get something done soon. Right now I'm just here to work.
"My agent was even like, do what you want to do. It's what you want to do. I'm not going to tell you what to do. That was my decision to come back and come work out."
All eyes, of course, are on Burrow and his deal. Like everything else, if it's not football he's not going to give you a whole heck of a lot.
"I'm involved. That's in the works. That's not really something that I like to play out in the media," Burrow said. "That's something, just the way I think they want to do business, I want to do business. We prefer to keep that between us."
And, yes, he wants a deal that can help them keep guys together. Such as Higgins and Chase, eligible next year.
"I'm pretty clear on what I want in the contract and what I think is best for myself and the team. We're on the road to making that happen," Burrow said. "You've got to have good players. It doesn't matter how good your quarterback is. If you don't have good players around him, you're not going to be a very good team."
That doesn't surprise Higgins. The three of them have been talking about keeping the band together.
"It just tells everybody he wants to keep his weapons around. Hopefully we can do that and keep building from here," Higgins said. "Obviously we talk about staying together for the long run. Hopefully we can do that and get something negotiated to where they can keep all three of us."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Higgins is wearing his Clemson No. 5 now after wearing Chad's No. 85 his first three seasons in the league.
"It's my childhood number. My cousin actually started off with the number," Higgins said. "Just going back it meant so much to us and hopefully I will represent it well in the league." …
Jonah Williams' first NFL start came in Burrow's first NFL start. Now that Brown is here and Williams has requested a trade after they moved him to right tackle, Burrow offered his support.
"We love Jonah. Jonah's been a big part of our success for the last couple of years so hopefully we have him back," Burrow said. "But business is business and whatever Jonah thinks is best for his career, what he's going to do, we'll support him in whatever he decides." …
While Williams (kneecap) rehabs, Jackson Carman is at right tackle …
Count Chase as another guy pumped up by the March signing of Irv Smith, a guy he knew playing high school ball in New Orleans.
"I was actually hyped as hell. Zac texted me and I sent Zac like a dancing GIF when we got Irv because Irv and I used to work out in high school together, same trainer. We go way back. So it was pretty cool seeing Irv again, seeing him out on the field. It feels good to see another person from New Orleans," Chase said. "I know exactly what he's capable of. We played against each other in high school and in college, so we've been following each other the whole journey, but I feel like he's good with the ball in his hands and he can make a play, he has YAC, he can definitely make a guy miss. He's not the average speed tight end. He's a smart player, too, and all that plays a part in his game."