CINCINNATI — Not that there was ever a serious doubt but it is sounding like Joe Burrow will definitely be ready to go once the season begins in Cleveland on Sept. 10.
How effective will he be and will his timing be impacted by sitting out all of preseason? Well, the answer to that won’t be known until he starts facing the likes of Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward at game speed.
But from the impression given by Bengals head coach Zac Taylor on Monday, it sure sounds like No. 9 is on track for making the start of the season. And that’s something everyone inside Paycor is incredibly grateful for after witnessing their franchise go down with a right calf strain in the heat on July 27.
The question about readiness is a legitimate one after last season’s slow start, including five turnovers in the season opening loss to the Steelers at home and the last-second loss to the Cowboys in Dallas. The Bengals have the Browns and Ravens to open the season and don’t want to dig out of another 0-2 hole.
Last season Burrow lost an estimated 20 pounds from his appendectomy in late July and spent a good two months regaining full, optimal strength. This is a calf strain and by all indications, he’s been able to do everything expect practice reps.
How much work does Burrow need before Cleveland this time?
“One rep. He needs one rep,” Taylor joked, before adding, “But it’s different. It’s a different injury. I would imagine – I hate speaking for other people – but it’s an unknown, how will contact feel? How is it going to feel when I torque? There’s a lot of things with an internal injury that I can’t speak to. That’s a whole different mindset you have to have. Whereas this one, it’s in a calf. And he looks great. Physically just walking around he looks probably as good as he’s ever looked at this point. That’s a positive and we will just go from there.
“We have had a plan throughout. That is something that daily since the day it happened that we go through and decide what’s going to be best for the next day.”
Zac Taylor says Bengals QB Joe Burrow "looks great" 3 weeks after calf injury. Signs are promising for Burrow to be ready Sept. 10 in Cleveland pic.twitter.com/N1GTwSkCXb
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) August 22, 2023
Every Bengal fan is hoping that Burrow is ready because the backup play has done little to instill confidence. Fans are concerned that the offense will be a shell of itself without Burrow calling the shots and throwing the dots.
Jake Browning appeared to take a significant step forward last Friday in the 13-13 tie with Atlanta. He had a nice 50-yard TD pass to Ja’Marr Chase in practice Monday. He showed the ability to scramble for a first down. But he’s also had his moments like Monday where he makes an ill-timed decision to throw a pass into the end zone for Joe Mixon, only to have it picked off with a one-handed grab by Logan Wilson.
Trevor Siemian has also had his moments but has yet to lead the Bengals on a TD drive through 60 minutes of preseason football (second half vs. Green Bay, first half vs. Atlanta).
“Jake has now been here for several years,” Taylor said. “He understands the system and how you want to operate it. That’s an advantage he’s had from the jump. I think his urgency has continued to increase lately. I really like that. He does a great job just as a leader. Guys believe in him and as he moves around and operates there is a confidence there that guys have.
“You see that from Trevor as well. Jake, you can see why he’s had a really successful high school career, a really successful college career and he’s getting these opportunities in the league to fight his way up a depth chart really has been the story of his career. He’s approached it the right way. Very likeable guy. That’s critical for backup quarterbacks, that they get along with everyone in the building and they fit in well with the quarterback room and the coaching staff. That’s what you have seen from Jake and Trevor both. They have both fit that criteria and that’s a necessary criteria, in my eyes.”
On Monday, Taylor made it sound like bringing in a third quarterback to compete this late in camp is possible but not likely.
“I think anything’s feasible. But at the same time, there are a lot of nuances to our offense when you’re asking that guy to learn that quickly and be able to operate it in a game, it’s a challenge,” Taylor said. “It’s a challenge in any system. I think it’s a challenge in our system. These guys, I like where they’re headed mentally with our system. I like where they’re headed physically in terms of operating with the urgency and the communication that we want, and the accuracy. I think both of them have gotten better over training camp. I’ve been really pleased with that. So again, (they’re) two guys that are really headed in the right direction now and a couple more practices to see how it shakes out.”
The truth of the matter is that the Bengals believe they have an upper echelon defense capable of winning games if the quarterback doesn’t turn the ball over, whoever is calling signals. That was borne out by the Pittsburgh game in the season opener last year.
Joe Mixon spoke to reports Monday for the first time since his salary restructure and his acquittal on aggravated menacing charges. There were three major takeaways:
He is very grateful to Mike Brown and Bengals ownership for sticking by him:
“Yeah, I have a great relationship with Mike Brown since day one. Can’t ask for a better relationship from player to owner standpoint. But it’s just a blessing to be able to get complimented by somebody in that caliber man. So it means everything to me and greatly appreciate it.”
He took a $10 million pay cut over 2023-24 to stay on a team that he knows has Super Bowl expectations and aspirations:
“For sure, I’m comfortable where I’m at. I mean, it’s a blessing to be able to receive and try to get more obviously, and to help for generations, what I have started for generations. But I mean for me, I feel good, I’m comfortable, I’m just glad we were able to get something done and like I said for (teammates Tee Higgins and Joe Burrow) I just hope they’re able to make things happen and get their deals done. … So, we’re getting ready for a big year and all the expectations we have… If they are too deep, we got to make them pay. And I feel like with the (run) scheme and the guys that we have in this here at huddle, I think that we will.”
Joe Mixon off to the races off right side pic.twitter.com/trrwBVByc4
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) August 21, 2023
He has taken rookie Chase Brown under his wing because he believes Brown is willing to listen and learn.
“Anything that he usually asks or what I’m thinking in terms of, like what I feel like. (I tell him) don’t be afraid to ask those questions and to feel like when he’s lost, I pretty much try to help him fill the void of pretty much having everything come back to him. So it’s a great thing, having him in a running back room, and the best thing about him is he actually wants to learn the critical areas and things like that. So I got nothing but praise for a rook like Chase Brown.
Joe Mixon loves running behind Cordell Volson, thinks Bengals LG could be HOFer some day. pic.twitter.com/W2UJGNNuUT
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) August 22, 2023
He loves running behind second-year left guard (and “potential hall of famer”) Cordell Volson:
“I’m a very big fan of Cordell Volson, just to make it clear because I just love everything about him,” Mixon said. “He’s in his second year, going in the second year, he filled in a big void last year and he’s been a pro since day one. He walked in and he always looks to get better. He always picking (the brains of) Ted (Karras) and Alex Cappa. Just the relationship that me and him have together. It’s a great thing. That’s what you would want as a running back. And another thing is his relationship with Orlando Brown. All praise to Cordell. I think he’s going to be around a long time, and I believe that long as he’s on the right track of doing what he’s doing, he’s a potential Hall of Famer.”
He wants to retire a Bengal:
“It’s a great thing just to be able to come in like I say this is year seven for me, and that’s a big deal. At the end of the day seven (years) with the same organization and it’s a blessing. I plan on being here for the rest of my career and hopefully just going to extend it as long as possible, as long as I’m doing what I should be doing. And like I said, it’s a blessing to be here and very thankful.”
He loves being considered the “OG” or “Old School” back of the Bengals RB room by the younger running backs and teaching them the “Mixon Jump Cut” drill:
“What (Chase Brown) and Chris (Evans) actually told me that which I’m still trying to figure it out my damn self but it’s cool. It’s a cool thing to see. They called me either young OG or Unc (Uncle) so it’s cool, taking on that role.”
Monday was the 11th straight day of padded practice for the Bengals, as the coaching staff continues to build up the team’s collective contact conditioning for games. Overall, the Bengals have had 16 practices heading into Wednesday’s workout. The biggest sign Monday came on defense where Chido Awuzie finally took reps in 11-on-11 work, alternating reps and playing his customary right corner position. He was on Ja’Marr Chase at first and then Tee Higgins, both outside the numbers. He ran without any noticeable issues and has come through all phases of his rehab from right ACL reconstruction without any issues. His buildup to Sept. 10 appears to be fully on track. It will be the same field where he injured the knee last Halloween.
Jalen Davis had a pair of interceptions playing with the second team defense. He has totally looked the part as a very competent backup to Mike Hilton as slot corner and his spot on the team is a lock. He filled in twice for Hilton last year as he was dealing with various injuries. Logan Wilson had a one-handed pick. Tee Higgins made a high-rising grab of a Jake Browning pass. Ja’Marr Chase caught a 50-yard TD pass from Jake Browning over Cam Taylor-Britt. The ones went against the ones before the coaches switched things up and had the ones on offense go against twos on defense and vice versa.
Those missing Monday were Cody Ford (concussion from Sunday), DJ Turner II and BJ Hill soreness. Myles Murphy returned Monday from illness that kept him out last Wednesday and the game on Friday. The rookie edge worked with the ones and twos on defense. Tight end Mitchell Wilcox returned to practice off PUP and immediately saw work with the first and second team offensive units.