CINCINNATI – Back in pads for the first time since he won a national championship at LSU, Joe Burrow got a baptism in NFL red-zone defense.
The new Bengals quarterback fumbled a snap — a steady rain contributed — and had trouble completing passes in tight quarters. Not that it bothered him much, if at all.
Asked if he's nervous in adapting to the NFL, Burrow responded:
“Absolutely not," he said.
The first overall pick in the draft is trying to get a grip on Cincinnati's offense with limited preparation time because of the pandemic. The Bengals practiced in pads this week for the first time.
Burrow got to run the offense in short-field situations for the first time with the scheduled season opener less than a month away. It was a learning experience, with the defense getting the better of it.
“It wasn't what you'd like to see on a red-zone day, but it was the first one,” Burrow said. “It started raining a little bit. Obviously I'd like to play better than I did, and I know as an offense we'd like to play better than we did.”
The Bengals were in position to take Burrow with the first overall pick after going 2-14, matching the worst record in franchise history. They kept receiver A.J. Green for another year on a franchise tag and upgraded the offensive line in free agency, giving Burrow something to work with.
Like every other rookie, he's having to pick things up with limited practice.
“I think he's on the trajectory that we hoped he would be on through three days of training camp,” coach Zac Taylor said. “There's a great urgency right now, on both sides of the ball. You really do feel that. It's not perfect. There's mistakes being made.”
The Bengals are counting on Burrow's intangibles — leadership, confidence, ability to learn from mistakes — to help him become a quick study. Taylor says those intangibles are invaluable under the circumstances.
“He's done the things that we pictured him doing when we took him,” Taylor said. “Again, we still have room for improvement, that's for certain. But he's doing a good job of leading the group right now.”
That's been the most notable thing for veterans accustomed to having an experienced quarterback leading the huddle. The moment isn't too big for Burrow.
“To be honest, sometimes I forget he's a rookie," offensive guard Xavier Su’a-Filo said. “He carries himself real well.”
Offensive guard Michael Jordan remembers a different Burrow when they were at Ohio State together and the quarterback was trying unsuccessfully to win the starting job under coach Urban Meyer.
“Man, it's totally different from way back then,” Jordan said. “I just remember guys like (center) Pat Elflein, coach Meyer constantly yelling at Joe to be more demonstrative when calling the cadence, and now everything is crystal clear."
And when the ball is snapped, his most important learning begins.
“I think it's important for me in my first real live situations to see what I can get away with, make some throws I maybe wouldn't make in the game and see, ‘Hey, this is what you can do (in the NFL), this is what you can't do,'" Burrow said. “This is what I did last year, maybe I can't do it now.”
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