Tight end C.J. Uzomah, who caught Andy Dalton's last Bengals touchdown pass and Joe Burrow's first, had a not so trivial question for Burrow the other day.
"You didn't forget about me, did you?" Uzomah asked the man he calls "Joey B."
That's going to be hard.
First of all, Uzomah and Joey B., along with center Trey Hopkins, have been staples in Paul Brown Stadium's pandemic-rigged weight room as soldiers in rehab general Nick Cosgray's army.
Plus, before Uzomah suffered a season-ending torn Achilles in the second game of last season, Burrow had already thrown to him 11 times in seven-and-a-half quarters. That would have worked out to 88 targets for the season, the most to a Bengals tight end since Dalton went to Jermaine Gresham 94 times in 2012.
And not only that, Uzomah, an only child who has had to find friends to pick on, is teaching Burrow the fine art of locker room needling.
"He's coming into his own. He's getting pretty quick," Uzomah said. "We go at it pretty good."
All kidding aside, Uzomah, heading into his seventh season, has emerged as a leader in this roster flurry. As much as Burrow missed him over the middle, they missed him even more in the room. After Wednesday's rehab the well-traveled Uzomah spent 30 minutes talking to Hopkins about his exotic sojourns to Thailand and Brazil in past offseasons.
"The thing I love about Trey is that he's into so many different things. A really smart guy," Uzomah said.
Now that Uzomah is back on the road, he says his foot is responding well enough that he'll be back when the bell rings.
Whenever that is.
"I think it's going as well as it can go," Uzomah said. "There have been no setbacks and that's a positive."
If there's a spring session, he'll probably be able to do some work on the field, but Cosgray and the doctors have warned him they'll keep him on a pitch count coming out of the gate.
At the moment, Uzomah is running on a treadmill and that's been galling to him because he thinks Cosgray can set the machine faster. Cosgray says he can, but he doesn't want Uzomah to overdo it with so much time to spare.
He has been cutting the rug in the weight room and may be able to run on it next week. He's jumping a little bit and catching a little bit.
"When I'm cutting, it feels like I'm getting back to not thinking as much about pushing off and doing certain things," Uzomah said. "The main thing is the mental aspect. Am I going to think about this while I'm making this cut? I'm not really thinking about it as much as I was in the past.
"It feels solid, which is the main thing they want. It's pretty thick right now."
Uzomah is at the point where he could be thinking about finishing his rehab elsewhere, but he says there's no reason to leave PBS. He has enormous confidence in Cosgray, a therapist with several gold-plated offseason rehabs that include cornerback Leon Hall's comebacks from two different torn Achilles'.
Hall rebounded from his 2011 mid-season surgery to have a Pro Bowl caliber year in 2012 and when he tore the other one defending Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson in the end zone of a 2013 mid-season victory in Detroit, he was back in the 2014 Opening Day lineup at age 29. Uzomah was a rookie when he saw Hall play his final season in Cincinnati the next year.
"Nick is one of the reasons I'm not going anywhere. Some of the rehab stuff has changed since (Hall), but Nick said, 'We got Leon back and you'll be fine,'" Uzomah said. "He's great. And if Joey B. is here, that's great. It's good to be around him and Trey. I hope there's some kind of OTAs because I missed being around the boys for four months."
If Uzomah looked like he was in a groove before he got hurt, he was. According to Pro Football Focus, Burrow's accuracy on throws within 20 yards ranked him sixth in the league, a tight end's wheelhouse. The next tight end up, Drew Sample, had a career-high nine targets that Thursday night in Cleveland when Uzomah got hurt.
"I think he felt comfortable throwing it to me," Uzomah said. "Given the way there was no OTAs or preseason, it was kind of tough to build chemistry with every single tight end. I think he was more comfortable with Drew and I … Throwing to a big body and we're trying to have the sure hands so he'll keep throwing it to us."
Uzomah believes that first touchdown shows how lethal the Bengals offense can be with Burrow throwing to multiple and healthy tight ends. Uzomah lined up outside of Sample on the left side of the line for the 23-yard touchdown pass that Burrow ripped down the left side to the front pylon. There were actually three tight ends on the field with Cethan Carter lined up next to right tackle Bobby Hart as Burrow dropped into an empty backfield.
"It was drawn up that way. When we ran it in practice, I didn't get the ball. It usually opened up for Drew. The safety lingered a little longer (in the middle) than he should have," Uzomah said. "Joe just zipped it in there. He can put it on you."
The ball seemed to take an eternity to get there, Uzomah thought, because it always feels that way when you're wide open.
"We can run that play so many different ways opening up the tight ends," Uzomah said. "It's tough for a defense to know what to do with two tight ends."
Uzomah says the injury is the most devastating thing that has happened to him playing the game. But now that he's back cutting the rug and cutting up with Joey B., he feels a lot better.
"Punctuality," Uzomah says of how Burrow gives him back the needle. "I got stranded last week in Nashville with the whole ice storm thing. When I came back in this week, he's like, 'Good to see you back here, finally,' and 'where have you been?' and all that stuff. I try to jab back as much as I can.
"It's been great rehabbing with him."
On second thought, maybe he'll ease up on the needling. He knows Burrow is that guy that decides where to throw it.
"Exactly," Uzomah said.