CINCINNATI — If there’s anyone on the Bengals who can smooth over the bruises suffered between the team and Jonah Williams, it’s their quarterback.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise since Joe Burrow has the most at stake making sure that his potential starting right tackle is playing at a high level.
Burrow has already demonstrated by example that he is a proactive leader, bringing teammates together whenever he can. He did it when he hosted La’el Collins last offseason. He did it with Alex Cappa and Ted Karras. He did it back before the 2021 season with Riley Reiff, Mike Hilton, Chido Awuzie and Trey Hendrickson.
This time there was no dinner. Just a simple gesture of reaching out to make sure he was okay.
“It meant a lot. I consider Joe to be a good friend and phenomenal teammate, as you guys all see,” Williams said. “He’s that way in real life too. So it’s great to hear that from him. I would love to win the Super Bowl with him, so I’ll do that at left (tackle), I’ll do it at right, I’ll do it wherever.”
“We all talk about the chemistry we have in the locker room, and the team unity, and that’s just part of it,” Burrow added. “That’s I think why we’ve had a lot of success here, because guys love each other in that locker room. That’s real love, true love that you have for your teammates.”
Joe Burrow explains why he reached out to Jonah Williams to support him. Says there's "true love for teammates" in Bengals locker room. pic.twitter.com/oiyFV0GAfX
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) June 13, 2023
Williams made it clear Tuesday on the first day of mandatory minicamp that he was pretty ticked that the team didn’t reach out to him and let him know what was going down with Orlando Brown Jr. before the team signed their new starting left tackle.
“So I finished the season,” Williams said as he spoke for the first time in front of his locker Tuesday after the first mandatory minicamp practice. “Obviously, I hurt my knee and missed out. And that was tough. I was rehabbing and hoping to make it to the Super Bowl and would be able to play. Might have been a stretch but I was in here grinding, hoping I could do it. And I had good exit interviews with the coaches and everything. And they didn’t give me the impression that anything was going to change.
“So, in my mind I was like, ‘Ok, I’m going to go out to California. Rehab my knee. Have my baby girl and come back and play.’ That’s what I was working on. That’s the presumption I was working under. So, the main issue for me was the way that I found out. The way the communication happened because I’m sitting on my couch. My fiancee is 40 weeks pregnant. Her due date was in I want to say three days, and I’m rehabbing my knee and all that stuff.”
Then Williams looked down at his phone and couldn’t believe what he was reading.
“I found out that we signed Orlando on my phone, on Apple news,” he said. “Actually had a teammate, text me before. ‘Hey, have the Bengals talked to you? I was like, ‘No, have a good one.’ I didn’t know what he meant, and so I found out on Apple news. And so then, the following day, my agent was calling the front office trying to get a hold of someone. And he just never got a hold of anyone and no one responded to us and I just didn’t know what was going on and I just wanted to hear it from them.”
This left Williams to figure out on his own that he was being displaced and that if he wanted to start for the Bengals, it would be on the other side of a now refortified offensive line.
“And the frustrating thing is that I still haven’t heard anything back. We had a request to trade via text. I felt that I’ve started 47 games, 37 straight, and I felt that if it were communicated, ‘Hey, we have the opportunity to sign this guy and we like him. We want you to bump over and play right, tackle.’ You know, it sucks. It would be hard to hear, but I think in a couple of days, I would’ve been like, ‘Okay, let’s go, let’s do it.’ And I just never got that. So, it was never left tackle, right, tackle. I know a lot of people made it out to be that. It wasn’t that. There are 64 tackle spots in the league. To have any of them is a crazy, amazing opportunity that I’m super grateful for the chance. So, the plan is to play me at right tackle.
“I’m fired up to do it. Let’s go, I’m working my knee. I think I’m going to be cleared soon. I feel great moving around and so that that was never the issue. I know, that’s kind of how it was made out to be and it was never like a personal thing. I love all my teammates, love all my coaches love. Love the team, city, fans. The last couple years have just been amazing, for me personally and for the city, and we really felt that. So yeah, that’s most of the points. I just wanted to clear up about it. I’m back now (at) mandatory minicamp. I’m going to be back Day 1 of training camp, before Day 1 of training camp, 100 percent, ready to grind, ready to roll. And ready to play where the team needs me.”
Williams says he’ll be sure it’s a smooth transition, assuming he beats out Jackson Carman for the job to start the season.
“I’m going to make it one whether it is or isn’t,” Williams said Tuesday. “I’m going to be out there everyday doing sets. I think I’ll have a month before training camp being cleared. I’ll have all of training camp to get acclimated. Whether it’s smooth or not doesn’t matter, because I’m going to do it.”
Let’s be clear. There was never a chance Williams was going to sit out and not collect on his $12.6 million deal in the final year of his five-year rookie deal. He had no leverage. He knew it. The team knew it.
But the question remains, will he be motivated to kick the backside of anyone in front of him this season?
“I’ve played left tackle for six whole seasons and everything there feels so natural to me, because I’ve done it so much,” Williams added. “I just have to re-train everything. This is my job, I’m a dad and I’m going to take sets every single day. That’s my plan. I’ll be ready to go.”
He knows he’s likely entering his final season in Cincinnati, just as was the case for Jessie Bates last year and Tyler Boyd this year, though Boyd didn’t suffer the indignity that Williams just went through.
“It will have a factor in it. I think that this has kind of shown me that I can’t think of all that. It doesn’t bode well for me. I’m just going to focus on playing and being the best tackle I can be and help us win a Super Bowl.”
Zac Taylor has the enviable problem of watching the battle at right tackle play out organically in training camp in late July. Jackson Carman has been taking first team reps with Jonah Williams rehabbing his knee on his own away from the team and La’el Collins working his way back.
All three were on the field together Tuesday, with only Carman taking reps. Williams expects to be ready for camp while Collins is a candidate to start camp on the PUP list.
Jonah Williams, La’el Collins and Chido Awuzie were all in the rehab end zone working on to return from their various knee injuries of 2022. Awuzie was actually in uniform during walk-through before practice but did not take part. Awuzie and Williams both showed quickness and agility on cone drills, showing the ability to cut and change direction quickly. Both appear well on their way to being cleared for camp in late July. La’el Collins was working with a weighted exercise ball.
Allan George got first-team reps at right corner in walk-throughs, taking the place of DJ Turner II, who served that role last week. The other corner was Cam Taylor-Britt as expected. Turner and Jordan Battle were on the second team defense Tuesday.
Ja’Marr Chase showed off his athleticism Tuesday, catching a pair of passes over the middle from Joe Burrow on back-to-back snaps in 7-on-7s. Tyler Boyd and Burrow looked to be in sync Tuesday as the two looked sharp in 7-on-7s.
Burrow made it clear Tuesday that the time is now for the Bengals to seize on their potential and finally reach the top of the mountain.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say motivation, I would say maybe urgency. We’ve been there, done that, now it’s time to take that next step,” Burrow said. “I wouldn’t say that’s extra motivation, because we’re motivated every game, every day, every year. I would say the sense of urgency has risen in that locker room.
“We’re excited about where we’re at. Everyone knows how good (Tyler Boyd) is in the slot. What last year showed and these last couple of weeks showed is that guys can step up into that role as well and make plays. They’re guys that we’re excited about. I feel like we have a lot of depth at a lot of different positions that we haven’t had at years past.”
Burrow made it clear that whether it’s a free agent tight end or a rookie receiver or running back, the expectation is for everyone to be on the same page once camp begins in late July. And based on what he’s seen so far, the new group of weapons will meet that expectation. The Bengals have added rookies Charlie Jones and Andrei Iosivas to the wide receiver room, rookie Chase Brown to the running back group and tight end Irv Smith Jr. to the tight end group. Burrow believes the offense will be better because of how the veterans will welcome and assimilate the new weapons quickly.
“We’re ahead of where we were last year because all of our guys on offense have been in the system except for two or three guys,” Burrow said. “They’re learning it, but we’re not really slowing down for anybody. Those guys have done a great job getting up to our speed for guys that are brand new. There’s just little things here and there that, when you’ve been in the system for four years now, that you can talk with some guys about that are very unique, minute details that maybe you haven’t been able to talk about in year’s past.”
Joe Burrow isn’t going to negotiate his upcoming contract extension with the Bengals publicly. He spoke at length in May during OTAs about the progress being made. Asked Tuesday if he’d feel comfortable playing without a new deal this season, he said he’s done talking about it until it’s done.
“I think I’ve given you guys all the information that I’m comfortable with sharing about that process,” Burrow said. “As far as questions go about that, probably save that for another time.”
Joe Burrow knows the score for now. He’s 3-1 against Patrick Mahomes. But on the most important scoreboard, Mahomes has two Super Bowl rings and has been to the Super Bowl three times in the last four years, with Burrow’s Bengals the only break in that run. This is why Burrow called the Chiefs quarterback the best in the game on Tuesday.
“I don’t think there is any argument now, it’s Pat,” Burrow said. “Until somebody has a better year than he’s had. He’s the one to knock off.”
The biggest road show in all of music comes to Paycor on June 30-July 1 when Taylor Swift’s “Eras Tour” comes to Cincinnati. Will Burrow attend?
“I have a lot of respect for what Taylor Swift has done with her career,” Burrow said. “I can’t say that I’m listening to too much Taylor Swift on the speakers in the headphones. I know a lot of people are but that’s just not me. I have heard the tour is a lot of fun, though. Maybe I’ll stop by.”
What does Burrow listen to?
“I’m kind of all over the place,” he said. “I’ll listen to some indy, I’ll listen to some hip hop, some pop. I’ll listen to just about anything but country. I’m not a country guy.”
The promotion of Elly De La Cruz has boosted the Reds into the sports spotlight in Cincinnati for the first time since Aug. 2021 when they were fighting for a wild card spot. This has a much different feel for the team down the street. And with EDLC and Matt McLain turning the city back onto baseball, Burrow has certainly felt the vibe.
“He’s exciting to watch. You kind of see how the city rallies around guys when they are up and coming and have a chance to be great,” Burrow said. “It’s exciting that the city embraces you like that. Those guys over there are starting to feel it because they put together a little run here. That’s something we’ve felt and with FC Cincy, too, the energy in the city right now is exciting.”
Burrow, with the coaching help of Jonathan India, belted four homers during batting practice before the June 7 game with the Dodgers.
“I was. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able hit any home runs,” Burrow said. “I was excited I was able to. I always kind of wondered if I could do that. Now I know.”