Ever since Mike Brown was a kid growing up in Cleveland and called for Browns great Otto Graham to throw him a pass, he's been a connoisseur of elite NFL quarterbacking.
Mike Brown advised Paul Brown to draft Ken Anderson. He told head coach Sam Wyche before his first draft he would feel like it would be a success if they came out of it with Boomer Esiason. And he's been at the fulcrum of the Bengals drafting the most homegrown quarterbacks since the merger, four with at least 97 starts for the team that drafted them.
So when Brown, the Bengals president, compared the intensity of his current triggerman, Joe Burrow, a fellow Ohio-bred quarterback, to that of the great Drew Brees, that made for an interesting Monday.
In 2001, long before Nick Saban and Sean Payton and back when the NFL was trying to figure out if Purdue's Brees was too short to spend a high draft pick, Brown coveted Brees with the fourth pick.
But just two years after Akili Smith, the coaches were done with quarterback draft gambles and they had just signed one in free agency in Jon Kitna. Plus, defense beckoned. As Brees plummeted to the second round, Brown's heart must have butterflied. Brees wasn't getting past him again. But four picks away at No. 32, the Chargers denied him.
"(Burrow's) got a unique intensity," Brown said at Monday's training camp media luncheon as he made the focus comparison to Brees. "Honestly, I would say Drew Brees had that for example. They just zero in on what they're doing and you can say the same for that old quarterback at Tampa. What's his name? Brady. And I'm not equating Joe to those guys because those guys have gone through long, successful careers. But he does have one thing they had, and that is unusual focus and intensity."
Mike Brown is a quarterback guy. He played at Dartmouth and was good enough to draw interest late in his draft from one NFL team that was not his father's Cleveland Browns. He's put the Bengals in the hands of two quarterbacks, Burrow and the old Nebraska passer Zac Taylor, and is confident it can click.
"Zac has his system. He knows how to work it," Brown said later. "It's deeply ingrained in his mind and he can teach it. I think we've had some injuries, some shifting personnel. This year I like to believe that we have a group that can put this all together and that it will translate into the offense we want."
Like Brown said at the luncheon, Burrow has won everybody over on the team. Including him.
"A lot of things," said Brown, when asked exactly what it is he likes about Burrow. "Right at the top of the list is intensity. He works at it in every way possible. He rehabbed hard. He prepares hard. He practices diligently. He does everything the right way. He fits with Zac. They're on the same page offensively. He's accurate. We've got a good core of wide receivers now. I think that will all come together."
Brown knows he has a lot riding on his two quarterbacks as he looks to fill Paul Brown Stadium.
"We have to bounce back. We're a team that didn't do well and we disappointed our public," Brown said. "We're well aware of that. That's part of it. We have to show success. Give them hope. We have to convince them this is the place to be and that's our job."
He's got confidence that the chemistry of his two quarterbacks can turn it around. He sees Burrow and Taylor working together every day and becoming joined at the hip. Both bright and committed. Brown has no qualms calling these Bengals Taylor's team. After all, only 15 players from the 87 on the roster were here when Taylor arrived in 2019.
"Zac is a very smart, good young coach. He's had a couple years to get his feet on the ground, get established," Brown said. "We've got a team that is three-quarters his players, new players that have come since he came. It's his team now. And my hope is the same as his hope, which is to have a winning team. And we all have the same goal, which is to have a Super Bowl winning team. We know how hard that is.
"He's aware of all this that we're talking about now, obviously, and he's got this opportunity. It's critical to him and us both. I really feel good about our chances. But I'm fully aware that you have to go out on the field and prove it. You can't just talk about it."
Everyone wants to know what Brown sees as progress. No mystery there. He knows the public judges them on just one thing.
"Are there things beyond that? There are," Brown said, "and you can see progress with the quarterback and the pass offense. You want to see progress with protection. We want to get more pressure on the passer -- all those things. And do we note those? Yes. But when you get down to the end, it comes down to wins and losses, and that's where we know we have to show better."
And there's no question where the quarterback guy thinks those wins start. Brown has spent a lifetime watching coaches develop quarterbacks that became extensions of themselves on the field.
Ahead of the start of the Bengals 2021 Training Camp, quarterbacks, rookies and other select players worked out at the practice fields on Monday.
"The key piece is Joe Burrow," Brown said. "If he can stay healthy and fit, that should begin to show progress. He's been through it a year, and he's a quick study. Our coaches fit him, their offensive-oriented minds. I think if we can get him up to standard, we've got the receivers and the running back to do some good things on offense."
Brown always ends the Graham story with a punch line. After little Mike Brown dropped two passes from the great Otto, Graham stopped throwing it to him. So he gets it. He thinks he's got the QBs to get another connection going.
"In this league, you have to go out and perform and prove it, and the people we play against, they're just like we are on this day, they're seeing hope too," Brown said. "And we've got to go out and hold our own against them. I think we can."