Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow met the media for the last time before training camp Tuesday and went into the summer thinking about hiking. As in scaling a mountaintop that is already inhabited.
"Being the best in the world. I think that's always been my goal," mused Burrow when asked about a list.
The best in the world at what he does right now? He answered as immediately as teammate Ja'Marr Chase did when asked who the No. 1 player is in the NFL.
Except Chase answered Burrow. Burrow opted for Patrick Mahomes, the man who avenged his AFC title game loss to Burrow back in January with his second Super Bowl MVP after his second NFL MVP season.
"I don't think there is any argument now, it's Pat. Until somebody has a better year than he's had. He's the one to knock off," Burrow said.
That surprised Chase when he was told Burrow said, "Pat."
"Pat who?" Chase asked with a smile.
After viewing the NFL Network clip of Chase naming Burrow No. 1, Bengals play-by-play announcer Dan Hoard observed he did it "with no hesitation."
"Joe Burrow," Chase said. Everybody knows that."
No Pat answer there.
It's not a title Burrow takes lightly. He counts it as a reason he's a fan of MMA.
"Whenever you're at the top of what you do, you always have respect for those guys," Burrow said. "Because you know the work that it takes to get to that point where we're in that in the locker room, or where people all over the world are at their specific job, and all sports."
The drive to the summit is centered around a quest for a Super Bowl ring. Chase says all he cares about is a championship and Burrow can sense the temperature in the locker room rising.
"We've been there, done that, now it's time to take that next step," Burrow said. "I wouldn't say that it's extra motivation, because we're motivated every game, every day, every year. I would say the sense of urgency has risen in that locker room."
JONAH RETURN: The appearance of Jonah Williams at Tuesday's first of three mandatory minicamp practices gave the first full view of the deepest offensive line in head coach Zac Taylor's five seasons. Williams is still rehabbing after his medial patellofemoral ligament reconstruction, a procedure attaching the inside part of the kneecap to the femur, and isn't on the field. But he says he's close to 100 percent and plans to be ready late next month for the first practice of training camp.
With Taylor saying Williams is moving to a right tackle competition to make room for four-time Pro Bowler Orlando Brown Jr. at left, that gives the Bengals eight offensive linemen who have started at least one NFL season and ten who have started at least one playoff game. And that's with just one rookie, Washington guard Jaxson Kirkland.
"That's the thing about this group that's very unique," Brown said after Tuesday's practice. "And they didn't draft anyone and even Jaxson Kirkland, an undrafted rookie, is a very good player. A lot of guys in that room have played on Sundays. Starters in this league with big chips on their shoulders. Go down the list. Everyone is somewhat experienced.
"I definitely feel the communication among the other guys. They've played so much football together, you kind of know how to communicate in the heat of the battle. With me being a new face, it's my responsibility to pick up where they left off and the fact they've been together allows me to learn fast."
Williams and Brown talked once briefly before the minicamp and again before Tuesday's practice. Brown said it was pretty much a mutual reach-out.
"It's about being in the same O-line room fighting for one goal. Just trying to get to know him, his approach, and his thought process to the system," Brown said. "Jonah's a competitor. I'm familiar with his game and his approach. I've got a ton of respect for him. He works his tail off."
There's a competition at right tackle because La'el Collins is still rehabbing January's reconstructive ACL surgery. Jackson Carman, also making the switch from left, is running first team this week and Collins says the more the merrier as the first of three starting offensive linemen who went out in successive weeks last year in the last two regular-season games and first playoff game.
"Each and every day, everybody is going to bring out the best in everybody. Ultimately, he's going to make this team better," Collins said. "Everybody is going to contribute at some point. Jonah's a pro. Since I came here last year and have gotten to know him, every day he goes about it the right way."
Collins doesn't know when he'll return. It would appear Opening Day is a long shot given the surgery was a little more than five months ago, but he did have a good day Tuesday when he said for the first time he ran pushing the sled.
"We have a lot more experience. Even the young guys. We have a lot of guys here that have played a lot of ball," Collins said. "It's a great feeling to have. Experience is the best teacher."
Center Ted Karras feels it in the middle, where the interior is about to begin its second straight preseason together as left guard Cordell Volson heads into his second season.
"Miles (ahead of last year). At this point Cordell wasn't even in the lineup," Karras said. "The biggest commodity in the NFL is continuity. We all have to stay healthy, knock on wood, and play our best when it counts the most down the stretch.
"Everyone knows, loves, and trusts Jonah," Karras said. "I'm glad it's all working out. It's going to be a big camp for a lot of people and we're really excited to have him back in the building."
MORE JOE: Burrow is usually a man of mystery, but he left nobody guessing on a couple of topics:
- He reiterated what he said a year ago and has no plans to back off his regimen during the five-week break before training camp:
"I wouldn't say this is the time to get away from it. I would say this next five to six weeks for me are getting my mind right to go through the grind of the season. I would say this is the time where I kind of ramp up my mentality, ramp up my training to get ready for the season.
- He's pretty much done answering questions about his contract and what his M.O. would be if he didn't get an extension before the season.
"I think I've given you guys all the information that I'm comfortable with sharing about that process. As far as questions go about that, probably save that for another time."
- He may go to the Taylor Swift concert at Paycor Stadium at the end of the month, but he won't be working out to the soundtrack.
"I have a lot of respect for what Taylor Swift has done with her career. I can't say that I'm listening to too much Taylor Swift on the speakers in the headphones. I know a lot of people are but that's just not me. I have heard the tour is a lot of fun, though. Maybe I'll stop by."
- Burrow, who used one of Tyler Stephenson's bats to hit his four batting practice homers at Great American Ballpark last week, has noted Elly De La Cruz, the next burgeoning Cincinnati icon.
"He's exciting to watch. You kind of see how the city rallies around guys when they are up and coming and have a chance to be great. It's exciting that the city embraces you like that. Those guys over there are starting to feel it because they put together a little run here. That's something we've felt and with FC Cincy, too, the energy in the city right now is exciting."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Tight end Drew Sample has had a rapid rehab from the knee injury that wiped all but one game last season. It was thought he wouldn't be ready for training camp, but he was cleared for this week's camp …
Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie looks terrific in his ACL rehab and the timeline (Halloween night injury, mid-November surgery) would beckon an Opening Day start. But after practice Tuesday he said he has no timeline and doesn't know if he'll be cleared by the first practice of training camp ...
Nose tackle DJ Reader is being held out as his toe gets over a bout of gout. He says he'll be ready for training camp …
"DJ's been one of those key guys that we brought in early on to help build this culture," Burrow said. "Everybody sees what he does on the field. That's not really what I'm talking about. The first time you meet DJ, it's like someone you've known for a long time. He's someone who's very personable. Those are the kinds of guys that we love here because they help build that locker room culture and build that unity that you need to win." …
Reserve tackle Devin Cochran suffered a knee injury during the spring and wasn't on the field Tuesday …
Evan McPherson drilled all six field goals to end practice (the longest 44 yards) as punters Drue Chrisman and Brad Robbins each handled three flawless holds …