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Kenny Anderson Makes His Call On Burrow: 'He's The Whole Package'

Ken Anderson is all in on Joe Burrow.
Ken Anderson is all in on Joe Burrow.

Ken Anderson, inaugural Ring of Honoree, played more seasons for the Bengals than anyone in history when he spiraled through 16 years in the 1970s and 1980s.

But, remember, he actually coached in the NFL of the 1990s and 2000s for one year longer. During those 17 years mentoring quarterbacks, he called plays for a former NFL MVP in Boomer Esiason, shepherded a future Pro Football Hall of Famer to a Super Bowl ring in Ben Roethlisberger and coached a future Super Bowl championship offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay's Byron Leftwich.

So you have to listen when Anderson starts talking about Joseph Lee Burrow.

"The real deal," Anderson says of the Bengals present and future. "Obviously his physical skills are apparent. I've never met him, but I think his demeanor, his leadership, his poise are just outstanding in the way these guys follow him. He's conscious of the community and he's conscious of his position. He's mature beyond his years."

Anderson has texted with Burrow and Burrow has autographed items for the Ken Anderson Alliance, Anderson's foundation for autistic adults. But the two have never shaken hands, a streak Anderson hopes to break next month at training camp.

But only if the NFL lifts the COVID restrictions. Then, it may not happen until, possibly, the Ring of Honor ceremony at Paul Brown Stadium on Sept. 30 when the Bengals play the Jaguars, the team where Anderson coached Leftwich.

"I hope it happens before then," says the Bengals all-time passer of a No. 14-No. 9 summit.

But Anderson has seen enough to declare the birth of the Ring of Honor coincides with a Burrow-led Who Dey renaissance. Although Anderson can't or won't compare Burrow's style to any of the quarterbacks he's seen down through the years, he's adamant he's what you seek at the position.

"I don't know. I just know he's got what it takes. There's not much you don't like about him," Anderson says. "From his poise, his accuracy, his arm strength, his delivery, his leadership. I think he's the whole package."

When Esiason outplayed his 1988 NFL MVP numbers in the final five games of his career nine years later, it was Anderson calling the plays out of the same playbook they shared during Esiason's first three years in the NFL and Anderson's last three.

"Bruce (Coslet) gave me the (play-calling) duties in Indy," Anderson said of the game Esiason came off the bench to save a win for Jeff Blake. "We got on a roll. It was fun. I don't know about that. Boomer was pretty good in 1988."

Both Anderson and Esiason had Bengals huddles teeming with weapons. That's a reason he's got such high hopes for this season.

"I wasn't real good in '79 and '80 and once we got some people around me and an offensive line, I had an MVP year," Anderson says. "I think Boomer would say the same thing. It's the people around you that gives the quarterback, no matter what the talent is, a chance to play."

Anderson, a third-round pick in 1971, just has to look only as far as some of his classmates.

"Jim Plunkett went from New England to San Francisco to Oakland before he got some players around him and he became successful," Anderson says. "Poor old Archie Manning. It never happened for him. You can have all the talent in the world, but you have to have the people around you to let the talent come through.

"No question (there are weapons). That's why this season is exciting," Anderson says. "It looks like our offensive line is going to be improved, which I think is a critical element of what we're doing. Give him a little time, he's got the weapons surrounding him."

Anderson, who wrote "The Art of Quarterbacking," two years before he retired, agrees Burrow's mechanics look solid and he doesn't believe reconstructive left knee surgery is going to hamper them.

"It's a confidence factor when you have had a surgery like that. Trust in it. It takes a little time to get used to it," Anderson says. "From everything I've heard and read about the OTAs, he was anxious to get out there and things were going very well. Everybody is pretty confident about the process. He'll get over it now."

In this summer of the Ring of Honor, Anderson has had some nostalgic thoughts. Watching Burrow has helped.

"One common thread with the '81 team and the '88 team is we had pretty good quarterbacks," Anderson says. "I look for those times to come back again because we've got the real deal at quarterback now in Cincinnati."