The Bengals are being so cautious with quarterback Joe Burrow that the running backs are going in motion before they head into their routes as head coach Zac Taylor keeps his surgically-repaired left knee from other bodies.
But Burrow looked so good and so confident after Tuesday's first practice since his ACL injury on Nov. 22 that they are cautiously optimistic he's on track for taking the first snap of the season on Sept. 12 after throwing crisply to his single receivers running routes on air. He did drop backs, but no rollouts.
The rehab put some muscle on him this offseason and it could be seen on the velocity of his throws. Mechanically, he says it's the best ever felt stepping and throwing. Now he's looking to advance to rolling out and throwing, as well as throwing with people in his face. But Taylor indicated what was seen Tuesday is what will be seen the rest of the spring. Caution. Only drop backs.
"Optimistic," said what looked to be a relieved Burrow in a post-practice media Zoom. "It felt really good … We're out of the hardest part. Now the fun part begins."
After doctors checked out Burrow's knee Monday before the first of this week's three voluntary practices, Burrow pronounced himself "80-85 percent," and is hoping to get cleared to play around the nine-month mark of his early December surgery.
That would come early in training camp, a week before the first preseason game, and it's doubtful he'll play in that one and he may not go in any of the practice games. But he said his goal is to be full go for training camp, which begins the last week of July, and he hopes he's not limited.
Tuesday marked the first day he's thrown to his receivers and not assistant equipment managers Sam Staley or Tyler Runk or Bengals director of rehab Nick Cosgray. The first reunion throw to No. 1 pick Ja'Marr Chase while the receivers were stationery went high and wide, but late in the practice they hooked up in stride on consecutive deep balls.
"Rusty at the start," Burrow said. "We stayed after practice."
- Free safety Jessie Bates III had to take bows as the Bengals' new NFL Players Association representative. On his first assignment replacing Geno Atkins, he found himself in the middle of the political football between the union and the NFL over voluntary workouts. As the conduit from his teammate to Taylor and getting advice from team leaders like Burrow, Vonn Bell, Tyler Boyd and D.J. Reader, among others, enough things were worked through that the Bengals had perfect attendance.
"It's exciting. They know we've got a lot of work to do," Taylor said.
Or, as Reader said when asked why the Bengals didn't join other teams that have players sitting out: "We were 4-12 last year (actually 4-11-1). Sorry, I don't remember the record exactly, but we don't want that to happen again. We have a new team with a bunch of young guys coming around. We didn't say we were going to come out here and go crazy. We wanted to respect the rest of the league and share solidarity with those guys, but we knew we had to work as a team, just getting around the guys together."
- Reader, who missed the last 11 games of last season with a torn quad, was in a rehab group on the side with fellow nose tackle Renell Wren (who suffered the same injury last training camp) and center Trey Hopkins (ACL). Taylor indicated it is typical rehab and not alarming.
- Also not working was running back Trayveon Williams and although Taylor didn't give a reason, he said it was day-to-day.
- The starters who were coming back from injury and looked full go were running back Joe Mixon (foot), tight end C.J. Uzomah (Achilles), cornerback Trae Waynes (shoulder) and left tackle Jonah Williams (knee).
View photos of the Bengals first organized team activity on May 25 at Paul Brown Stadium.