Maybe Joe Burrow's strained right calf has prevented him from moving around the pocket with his usual deftness, but it hasn't stopped him from stepping up in the Bengals locker room.
From Athens to Arizona, where the Bengals play Sunday (4:05 p.m.-Cincinnati's FOX 19), Burrow has always been the leader of his team and so he was in the palpable moments after Sunday's 27-3 loss in Nashville when he spoke to his mates.
"Since I've been here, the few times he has spoken up the timing has been right. The message has been clear," said Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. after Wednesday's practice.
"It was a great message for moving forward and what we need to do. Our execution and standard. He's a vocal leader in the moment, but he's not a rah-rah guy. He's genuine, he's authentic. When someone needed to speak, he was the one who spoke up and it was awesome."
During his Wednesday press conference, Burrow said he did have something to say Sunday and he kept it in-house.
"You've always got something to say. Especially after a situation like that," Burrow said. "Obviously, I'll keep that between us in that locker room, but we put it to bed."
Nobody was looking to wake up his trust, either. But he was heard.
"There's a lot of respect for him," said safety Michael Thomas, a captain last year now on the practice squad. "If you ever feel like something needs to be said, more than likely you're not the only one that feels that way. It's great our quarterback did it. I think a bunch of our leaders have stood up and said some stuff. It was right on time and the message was heard by the whole team."
Long snapper Cal Adomitis, a captain at Pitt where was president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, knows something about leadership and he has seen it in Burrow.
"He had some things to say. Whenever he talks, everybody listens. I think great leaders don't have to talk all the time," Adomitis said. "When words need to be said, he definitely says them. It sunk in with everybody and we're ready to take it and run with it. The type of person he is and player he is, everyone respects what he does. He's earned everyone's respect."
His public message on Wednesday was one of resilience delivered by the underrecruited Ohio small school quarterback and college transfer who overcame it all.
"It's been a tough couple of weeks, that's for sure," said Burrow, asked if this is the toughest stretch of a tough football life. "We're going to get through it. We've got tough, resilient guys in there. We've got mentally tough guys who have been through a lot, so we know how to handle these situations. It's tough right now. But we're going to get through it.
"We've all been through adversity whether it's wins and losses, whether it's injuries, whether it's mental health, all that so I'm very confident in our ability to fight through this and get through this and become a winning football team."
BAY BALL: Who remembers newly signed practice squad quarterback AJ McCarron's first NFL start? Try San Francisco in 2015 (24-14 win) and the Bengals are back in the Bay for the first time since late this month.
That would be Oct. 29, the week after their bye, and there's hope around some of these parts that those two weeks of rest after the Oct. 15 Paycor Stadium game against Seattle are going to put Burrow's calf much closer to being healed.
But Burrow says he's not holding on for the bye.
"We're just focused on winning this week. We've got to be 1-0 this week," Burrow said. "We'll worry about next week when it comes and worry about the bye week when it comes. I'm laser-focused on the day-to-day process right now and getting better."
BIG PLAYS: The estimable Paul Dehner Jr., of The Athletic, long-time Bengals beat man, did a deep dive Tuesday as he went back to chronicle every Burrow completion of at least 25 yards last season and concluded a huge percentage came as he broke out of pocket and extended plays.
Same in the red zone, where he had the second most touchdown passes (tied with Josh Allen behind Patrick Mahomes) with just one pick in 2022. He didn't throw the interception until Christmas Eve. He's got one this year on a throw from the pocket in the sixth quarter and it led to a three-point loss against Baltimore.
But Burrow said Wednesday he's encouraged by how the calf felt in practice and he thinks he could be more mobile in Arizona than he was last week.
"My ability to throw hasn't been affected. Mainly, my ability to move in the pocket, run for first downs, extend plays, find that extra second," Burrow said. "Maybe certain plays I would have slightly extended and found a completion.
"We've done a good job of not turning the ball over. Other than that, we have a lot of room to improve. The calf will continue to get better and we'll get back to making plays outside of the structure and continue to get better at finding lanes in the pocket to find that extra second to push the ball down the field."
Indeed, the Bengals' plus-two turnover margin is 12th best in the league and betrays their record.
Although he's hitting just 57.6% of his passes, ten points below his career average, he doesn't think the calf injury has impacted his accuracy.
"There's not too much quick twitch involved in the calf and the throwing movement, just certain pocket movements mainly," Burrow said, "I haven't gotten out and run or anything. I ran for a first down last week, but it was only (a yard). It's more so just the subtle pocket movement that's still coming back."
And he says it's coming back, music to slot receiver Tyler Boyd's ears.
"The way we win games, he extends plays," Boyd said. "We talk about it on the sidelines during games. When we've got a scramble drill, get open for him. That's the only difference I've seen in him. At the end of the day, I believe in him making plays without being mobile. That's just the extra level of that It factor for him."
Count Boyd in for Burrow continuing to play.
"He never shows his cards. That's the thing I love about him," Boyd said. "No matter how he's feeling, what he can and can't do, he's our best chance at winning football games, regardless of his ability to do one thing or the other. Our chances of winning are greater with him in there if he can be mobile or not. We just have to be more dialed in if he can't move as much. We have to block better, we have to run our routes cleaner, separate better."
TYLER FOR TEE?: With wide receiver Tee Higgins (rib) out of practice Wednesday and maybe out Sunday, Boyd is planning on getting more snaps on the outside, where he's no neophyte in his 107 NFL games and 463 career catches, which, by the way, is 23rd on the active list, four behind Chris Godwin and three ahead of Christian McCaffrey.
"I look at myself as an outside player. Whatever I can do for the team. I've very comfortable outside," said Boyd, pointing to what he calls their "three-headed monster," at receiver and how the positions are interchangeable. "I look at myself as an outside player. The more you can do for the team. I'm very comfortable outside."