Offensive coordinator on Joe Burrow: ‘We’re just as excited’ as Bengals fans

Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan is just as bullish about rookie quarterback Joe Burrow as anyone else, but he’s also realistic about the challenges that lie ahead for the No. 1 overall draft pick.

Unlike most other years when rookies have a chance to get acclimated during an offseason workout program and to get their feet wet in preseason games, Burrow will be asked to lead the Bengals straight into real competition Week 1 without any practice against opponents.

The former LSU quarterback is set to make his NFL debut Sept. 13 against the L.A. Chargers at Paul Brown Stadium but won’t even get his first real practice in until Aug. 17 as the NFL is easing players slowly into padded practices amid new protocols related to COVID-19.

“Getting hit for the first time, that’s usually a big part of it,” Callahan said Friday during a video conference, when asked what Burrow misses from not getting preseason games. “All quarterbacks kind of have those jitters. They don’t get touched in practice. They don’t feel a live rush. Especially for a kid who hasn’t played NFL football and for a rookie quarterback generally that first time that rush comes live at you full speed it’s a little bit different than college. … You’d like that to happen before obviously before the opener, but we don’t get that this year.”

Callahan, a former quarterback, said getting in the huddle for the first time in a live game and dealing with some of the operational things that come into play, like managing the clock, will be a different feeling for Burrow, too. The Bengals will do their best to simulate those things, but even a high-level college player will miss those opportunities that would have come with a normal preseason.

Despite the setbacks that come with a virtual offseason and delayed start to an actual training camp routine, Burrow doesn’t show any signs of being behind schedule so far.

“He just has a great feel for what we are trying to do,” Callahan said. “His offseason work was outstanding. He worked really hard. I think that part gets skipped over a little bit. He’s such an intense worker he’s put himself in position to know what to do and how to do it. That has rubbed off on his teammates and obviously his presentation and how he goes about his business has been everything we had thought it would be.”

Burrow has received a lot of attention in Cincinnati since it became evident the team was going to draft him No. 1 overall. One fan even walked the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge on Wednesday to get some film of Burrow throwing earlier this week, and his post on Twitter had 27,400 views by Friday afternoon.

Callahan said the spotlight isn’t anything out of the ordinary for Burrow after what he did leading LSU to a national championship last season, and he handles the attention well.

“He became a celebrity down there and then he became a celebrity around the country,” Callahan said. “I don’t think it’s new to him. I think he handles it just like he handles everything else. He handles things with poise and confidence. He knows how to be gracious. He knows how to respond to people that are in his corner and cheering for him and excited for him. I think it’s great for the city of Cincinnati and the fans of the Bengals. I know we’re just as excited as they are.”

Burrow spent his offseason working with trainers in his hometown of Athens, mostly undetected despite his growing fame, and was a vocal enough participant in the virtual team meetings this spring that even veterans commented on his leadership skills.

Given how well-prepared Burrow was upon entering the building the first time last week, the Bengals have been able to put a little more on his plate than they might have with other rookies in the past. Callahan said Burrow has proven he doesn’t need any extra time in the playbook to understand what’s expected of him, so the offensive coaches haven’t held anything back.

“We kind of throw it all at him,” Callahan said. “…We’ve had so much time to meet virtually and non-virtually so far, that really the installation hasn’t been an issue at all. It’s really getting up to speed physically and working those things. The timing, being around those guys and seeing how they run routes, how things work live versus a defense as opposed to sitting in a classroom talking about it. We haven’t pulled back one bit and he’s handled everything we’ve thrown at him. It’s been really encouraging and exciting in that regard.”

Burrow is working to build chemistry with his new receivers, but the Bengals especially are excited to see how rookie Tee Higgins fits in and how good A.J. Green looks coming back from injury that sidelined him all of last season.

So far, Green “looks fantastic” and Higgins looks physically strong and is learning quickly, Callahan said.

“You know, we’re all kind of chomping at the bit a little bit because we’re here and we’re working but we’re not really practicing yet,” Callahan said. “You know, it’s walk-through and lifting and meetings, so I think we’re all kind of waiting to see that first day when we can actually go at each other a little bit.”