Joe Burrow has been a full participant at Bengals training camp, though based on his performance so far, perhaps he shouldn’t be. The former Heisman winner was limited throughout OTAs this spring while still recovering from his November ACL surgery. It’s been a little over eight months since the 24-year-old went under the knife and though he’s gained full clearance from doctors, the 6’4” signal-caller has not looked at all comfortable under center, laboring through turnover-filled practices while struggling to get on the same page with his receivers.
Tyler Boyd acknowledged Burrow hasn’t been himself this summer, appearing unusually tentative in the pocket. While the tepid play of Cincinnati’s offensive line likely hasn’t helped matters (a problem the Bengals could have solved by drafting Oregon tackle Penei Sewell at No. 5), it seems as though Burrow isn’t quite ready to trust his surgically-repaired knee, which begs the question, did the Bengals’ franchise quarterback return too quickly?
That’s difficult to gauge, though as noted by team reporters Paul Dehner Jr. and Jay Morrison of The Athletic, Burrow has displayed a startling lack of consistency throughout camp, routinely missing throws that would have been “layups” for him a year ago. During 11-on-11 drills Tuesday, Burrow completed just 5-of-12 passes with only one gaining more than 10 yards. And even that play probably would have resulted in a sack if Cincinnati’s pass-rushers had been allowed anywhere near Burrow.
“This has been ugly,” The Athletic stated bluntly. “At one point, pressure pushed into his face and Burrow lifted his leg into the air almost to avoid any accident with the close pocket. It makes you wonder if the knee is still in his head.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for a player Cincinnati mortgaged its future for, though obviously practice reports like these should always be taken with a grain of salt, especially considering Tuesday was the Bengals’ first time in pads all summer.
For comparison’s sake, Saquon Barkley, who tore his ACL nine weeks before Burrow last year, has yet to resume practicing and may not be ready for the Giants’ opener September 12th against Denver. Could Burrow’s accelerated recovery time, particularly in relation to Barkley’s, be directly tied to Zac Taylor’s job security with the third-year coach likely needing a big step forward to keep his job beyond this season? Perhaps that’s a stretch though it certainly seems that Burrow, still only two years removed from arguably the greatest statistical season in college football history, is a long way from being “game-ready.”