As is almost always the case when teams are drafting a player with the first-overall pick, the Cincinnati Bengals saw quarterback Joe Burrow as a fortune-changer when they selected him last year. Not much has changed yet—they only won four games, including two out of the six games they played without him—but that can hardly be expected, given how far they’ve had to go.
Which is about as far, if not further, than Burrow has had to go in his rehab, after he suffered a significant knee injury in the 10th game of his rookie season, including a torn ACL. In spite of the injury, however, he has been a constant presence so far at Bengals OTAs, and not without purpose.
“We have a lot of new faces on this team that need to see me there and see me working”, he told reporters about his decision to show up and be on the field in spite of the fact that he is rehabbing his knee, via Ben Baby of ESPN. “It was really important for me to be here”.
So much about this Bengals team is new. There are few left who were in the building three years ago before Zac Taylor took over as head coach, following the departure of longtime leader Marvin Lewis. Both the roster and the coaching staff were gutted at the time, and turnover a year later has been substantial as well. This is now a team being constructed around Burrow’s identity.
“He’s a leader of the team, and that’s what leaders do”, Taylor, the head coach, said regarding Burrow being an active presence. “They want to be there regardless if they’re doing a lot or doing a little. We got a lot of guys like him right now in the building and that’s exciting to see, but certainly he’s the leader of the team”.
All of this comes amid a minor controversy between the NFL and the NFLPA over participation in voluntary activities, though the vast majority of teams reached individual solutions with their players to compromise and get most of their guys to show up and be involved. But it sounds like Burrow would have been there no matter what.
“I didn’t want to just not show up and do my own thing”, he said. “I’m at the point where I can, even if I wasn’t able to do everything if my knee was less than what it is now, I would still want to be here and be around everybody and communicate and call plays in the huddle”.
Burrow went 264-for-404 during his rookie season for 2688 yards, tossing 13 touchdown passes to five interceptions. He also rushed for 142 yards and scored three touchdowns with his legs. But it still amounted to a 2-7-1 record, though they were winning in the second half at the time of his injury in a game they would go on to lose without him.