Bengals’ Uzomah on his way back from Achilles injury

Cincinnati Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah catches a touchdown pass next to Cleveland Browns' Ronnie Harrison Jr. during the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Cincinnati Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah catches a touchdown pass next to Cleveland Browns' Ronnie Harrison Jr. during the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

C.J. Uzomah had heard an Achilles injury can be one of the toughest to recover from, but so far, he isn’t finding that to be the case.

The Cincinnati Bengals tight end suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in the second game of 2020, and now says he is 100 percent recovered. He’s a full participant in Organized Team Activities, which wrap up next week before mandatory minicamp June 15-17.

“I don’t want to jinx or anything, but I don’t really feel it,” Uzomah said. “The only thing that kind of is a hindrance is after the (first) week, my calf and my leg were super sore just because this will take time to get back into football shape, standing in a stance so long and doing certain things. I told Nick (Cosgray) -- they ask me how I’m doing, all the trainers, ‘I don’t feel anything. I feel perfectly fine. You guys don’t have to worry about me, worry about getting Joe (Burrow) right.’ People are worried about it, and I’m really not. I don’t think about it at all during practice or during the day. I really, truly feel 100 percent. It’s kind of crazy for me to think about it right now.”

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Uzomah, the team’s top receiver in the tight end group, caught Burrow’s first NFL touchdown pass in Game 2 last year before his injury. The two seemed to be developing a good chemistry and never got a chance to ramp it up, after Uzomah caught eight passes for 87 yards in less than eight quarters.

With him out, 2019 second-round pick Drew Sample had a chance to step up and made big strides in his second season, but Uzomah couldn’t wait to get back to work after being away from the team most of 2020 during the pandemic-impacted season.

“It’s probably the happiest I’ve been in a long time,” he said. “I’m ecstatic. It’s great just being able to be around the guys. The meetings are still sometime Zoom and stuff so it is a little weird, but at least I’m in the locker room and you hear the music blare and getting to talk crap to the guys, and I feel good so I can’t really put into words how great it feels to be fully cleared and being full go and not have any limitations.”

Uzomah had the benefit of getting time with Burrow while the two were both going through their rehab. Having Burrow there with him made his own recovery easier as the lengthy process was starting to get tedious, and eventually Uzomah was able to catch some passes from Burrow as he began throwing again.

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“They (the trainers) do a good job trying to make it fun, but at the same time you are like, ‘I’m still trying to overcome this injury, that sucks. This hurts sometimes. I wake up and it feels worse than the day before even though I had a great rehab session,’” Uzomah said. “Having someone else in there and you are going through, not the same injury, but you are going through the rehab process together, that definitely helped me. Nice, I have to make sure I get right and I can run routes for him when he’s ready and stay here and things like that. He’s got a dry sense of humor that I got to finally see. I don’t know how much of it you guys get to see, but he actually is pretty funny. He throws some subtle jabs out there that make you be like, all right, here he is.”

That communication and connection among the players has been slowly building under coach Zac Taylor, and that’s what has Uzomah most excited for 2021. He is one of the few players left from the last Bengals playoff team, which started 8-0, won the AFC North and finished 12-4 in 2015, and Uzomah said it’s been a long time since he’s seen a group so connected. Going into his seventh season, Uzomah is one of the most veteran players on the offense and hopes to bring more leadership to the field in 2021. Only offensive linemen Riley Reiff and Xavier Su’a-Filo have more years under their belt, but Uzomah is the longest-tenured Bengal of the group.

And after watching his favorite English Premier League soccer team, Chelsea, win the Champions League last weekend, Uzomah already is picturing his own championship celebration.

Asked if experiencing something like that as a fan does anything for him as an athlete, Uzomah said it’s just exciting to see a team win. Even watching the Bucs win the Super Bowl last year, Uzomah was thinking about what that would be like for the Bengals.

He joked that he would be the one throwing the Lombardi Trophy to Burrow, instead of Burrow tossing it around like Tom Brady.

“Seeing Chelsea win, seeing the scenes in the locker room, seeing Thomas come in and start spraying champagne, that’s what I want,” Uzomah said. “Right after the Super Bowl, I want a bottle of champagne and just bust it open and just start spraying everyone with it. … That’s something you dream of as a little kid, and it’s something I still aspire to and that’s what we’re working for.”