The Cincinnati Bengals paid a high price in their search for a franchise quarterback, using the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft on LSU alumnus Joe Burrow. He showed promise during his rookie season before suffering a serious knee injury in the second half of the year, but was able to be on the field in time for training camp.
Yet the offense has struggled in spite of his return, and he would not blame it on his knee. Instead, he told reporters recently, it’s not the physical aspect but rather the mental, as he works his mind back into the frantic pace of a football scrum.
“I would say right now it’s a mental thing”, he said. “I’m just getting back used to playing football again against top-level competition. Hopefully a couple more reps, a couple more days, we’ll get it back to my old self”.
Plenty of quarterbacks have suffered serious knee injuries, and could be a little gun-shy in the pocket once they get back out there for the first time and they have bodies spilling on the ground in front of their feet, thinking about protecting their knee instead of scanning the field. It takes time to recalibrate your mind to ignore the injury risk around you.
“It’s just getting more comfortable in the pocket. Today we’re going to have a bunch of people around me in 7-on-7 and individual drills just to get that feeling back”, he said. “That’s the last step for me, just get my pocket presence back and understanding when I’m pressured and when I’m not. Just getting that whole feeling back that I’ve been really good at for a long time”.
The Bengals’ first preseason game will be on Saturday against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Next Friday, they will play the Washington Football Team, before hosting the Miami Dolphins on August 29 in the final exhibition game.
But Burrow won’t be out there against the Buccaneers, as head coach Zac Taylor made the decision not to put him out there yet. On that call, Burrow said, “at the end of the day, it’s not my decision, and I don’t get paid to make that decision. I get paid to play quarterback”.
Given the situation, though, I think it makes sense to hold him out for the first preseason game. If your quarterback is struggling mentally in practice after coming back from a major knee injury, you don’t want to put him in a game behind a preseason offensive line.