While it’s great to have the number one overall player, especially when that player is your presumed franchise quarterback, I don’t think any of the teams in the league who are not expected to start a rookie under center are envying the process that the Cincinnati Bengals (and perhaps a couple of other teams) are about to go through in trying to get Joe Burrow ready to play for the season opener.
The first in-game professional snap of any kind that Burrow takes will be the first snap of the regular season opener, because there is no preseason this year, a precaution taken jointly by the NFL and the NFLPA as a way of reducing the amount of unnecessary contact and exposure amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Second-year head coach Zac Taylor is choosing to look at the positives when it comes to the hand they have been dealt. They had to get creative throughout the offseason with no OTAs and minicamp, trying to simulate even cadences over Zoom. Now it’s about training camp, with no exhibition.
“There’s a lot of advantages that we’re finding right now. Just the way we’re going to be able to structure practices and create more scrimmage situations”, he told reporters recently. “You consider in a pre-season game Joe Burrow maybe wouldn’t have gotten to play with a couple of guys that you’re holding out or don’t give many reps to. Whereas you can protect those guys in a scrimmage that you control a little bit better”.
It is true that all teams will hold out certain veteran players from participating much in the preseason, because they don’t want to risk those players to injury in a game that doesn’t count. But does that really mean Burrow will be working with these players more because there isn’t a preseason?
So far, the Bengals are also among the teams who are choosing to carry more than 80 players, which means that they will be required to run a split-squad format. The two separate squads are divided between rookies and first-year players and then veterans separately, with quarterbacks permitted to be designated to either group, but once assigned, they must remain there until the full roster merges in mid-August.
As the starter, Burrow will inevitably be assigned with the veterans. But this means, for example, that he won’t be working with fellow rookie second-round wide receiver Tee Higgins. Of course, every team that takes the split-squad approach will be in the same boat. If the Pittsburgh Steelers do, for example, then Ben Roethlisberger won’t be working with Chase Claypool and Anthony McFarland.
But at least he’s not the one who has to learn everything. Roethlisberger’s been doing this for virtually as long as Burrow has been able to throw a football. How good can he look as a rookie starter throwing his first in-game professional pass in the regular season opener? I guess we’ll find out.