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The Entirety of Joe Burrow Sets Tone For Bengals' Expansive Goals

Joe Burrow on the eve of 2022.
Joe Burrow on the eve of 2022.

Joe Burrow, Sports Illustrated cover subject, Instagram innovator and NFL MVP candidate, is riding a wave of uncommon popularity into the six-week summer break before training camp.

An all-expense paid trip to watch him play Tom Brady in Tampa in December is fetching $20,000 at charity auctions. He's going to be on the cover of S.I.'s NFL issue on the eve of the season. He's ranked No. 4 in the Chris Simms quarterback poll behind only Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert.

And he's putting smiles on the faces of everyone from Bengals head coach Zac Taylor to any little kid that crosses his path these days.

"I love seeing the looks on kids' faces when I throw them a towel or I sign something or get a picture," said Burrow after Tuesday's practice of all the things he's done lately that have gone viral.

"I love doing stuff for the kids, just thinking about myself in that situation when I was little I would have been ecstatic if somebody did that for me. If I see a kid I always try to put a smile on their face."

He's also putting a smile on Taylor's face because of all of Burrow's titles, from Joe Cool to Joey Franchise to Seamless Joe (they will build it if he comes), his most important moniker is locker room leader of the AFC champions. 

Burrow didn't throw Taylor a towel, but he did toss him an example when he told the world he didn't consider the upcoming break a vacation, but a continuation of preparation for training camp.

So when Burrow goes to Las Vegas with teammate Jessie Bates III or maybe a holiday getaway with family, he's bringing his trainer because he says 40-plus days until the start of training camp is too close to miss a workout.

"That's a great message for our team. The time for vacation was in March and April," Taylor said. "So when your leadership is making those statements it trickles down to the entirety of the roster. If they want to keep up they got to get on that level. That's what we want as a team. That's where we want to get to and we just got to be prepared when the first day of training camp rolls around that we don't skip a beat."

It's not exactly like he's got a pressing itinerary. "Just gaming, relaxing on the couch, watching some TV. That's usually all I do," he said. He sounds like he's feeling pretty good these days. It's the first NFL spring he's had in three seasons on the job and the knee surgery of 2020 continues to be an afterthought and not a storyline. Yes, he says. He plans on continuing without a brace in practice. In games, maybe. Maybe not.

"I've just been able to focus on the entirety of myself, weight room and conditioning, on field, throwing, mechanics, all of it's not really focusing on the knee," Burrow said. "It's just getting back to where I was prior. And I've been able to focus on the entirety of myself as a player."

The entirety of Burrow?

That's endless acres for one of the princes of the NFL as he heads into his third season off the best year a Bengals quarterback ever had with the league's longest yards per attempt and best completion percentage.

But with Burrow, doesn't his entirety always start with his toughness?

Ask him who his favorite super hero is and, well, maybe one of his nicknames should be "Batman." The Bengals used to have a "Batman and Robin," with Terrell Owens and Chad Ocho Cinco. Maybe it is now Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase.

"I mean, Batman's not really a super hero but the movies are the best," Burrow said. "I really liked Spiderman growing up, I would say. Not a Superman fan. Batman beats Superman.

"Batman beat him. Batman's not a super hero? How can you beat a super hero if you're not a superhero? Not tough enough I guess."

Certainly, we all know Burrow is tough enough. And it is definitely important to him.

"As a quarterback, you're not playing the same game as everybody else on the field. You're back there and it's more of a mental chess match than it is a physical toll on your body," Burrow said. "So when you get a chance to show your toughness, I think as a quarterback, you have to. And that's popping up and not having bad body language if you get hit and popping back up, getting back in the huddle and doing it again."

Tough can also mean standing up in the pocket and at the podium answering all kinds of questions. Like the second contract.

He joked that he'll bring the trainer now on trips, but won't consider also taking a chef until "the second contract." Asked if he ever thinks about the numbers generated by guys like Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson, he kept it light.

"I mean the market is just exploding. It's crazy the number that these guys are putting up and I think it's well deserved," Burrow said. "All those guys are playing at the top of their game. They're being paid accordingly. But I'm not worried about (it). I like to make jokes about it, but really, I haven't thought about it much right now."

What he is thinking about, and Taylor is convinced of it, is simply trying to get better.

"Continue to be critical of yourself and the things that can improve on and continue to raise the level of play of your teammates. I don't think he has any hesitancy to do that," Taylor said of the next step for a guy that has already taken a giant one.

"That's what's encouraging. You want a guy who's really got the mental makeup of exactly what you want from your quarterback. We have extremely high expectations for Joe, but I don't think anyone has higher expectations than he has for himself. And that's a great starting point for a guy that's leading your team like that."

It turns out, he knew where to look. Once upon a time he was one of those little kids gaping in awe.

"I was at my cousin's wedding one time in California and Peyton Manning was just sitting at the bar drinking a beer and I went up to him," Burrow said. "I think I was in the fifth or sixth grade and he signed something for me and that was pretty cool."

A toast to a working vacation.