When Vonn Bell was a junior at Ohio State in 2015, a local freshman named Joe Burrow joined the team.
Bell would be a third-year starter on defense, a defending National Champion, and a top defensive back prospect in the NFL. Burrow would redshirt his first year, so he didn’t get any playing time that year. But he still left an impression on Bell.
“I always thought something of Joe,” Bell said. “He was always a guy that could make elusive plays with his legs. He had a big arm. He was smart. He just had that swagger to him. I always said ‘give em a cup of Joe.’ Oh man, he’s going out there and going to work and I’m proud of what he’s become.”
Bell became a second-round pick for the Saints in the 2016 draft, while Burrow fought for a roster spot at Ohio State. For two years he backed up J.T. Barrett, but when he lost the starting job to Dwayne Haskins in 2018, he transferred to LSU.
At LSU, just 80 miles up the road from Bell’s Saints, Burrow turned his career around. He won just about every award possible, broke most passing records, and became the first overall pick in the NFL draft.
Bell and Burrow have been reunited in Cincinnati, and Bell told us why Burrow is playing on a different level now.
“More mature now. The game slowed down for him,” Bell said. “He’s progressing the field way better. He knows what the defense is giving him and he knows what he can take. He knows when to take the shot. He knows when not to.
“He was with a guy I knew, Coach (Joe) Brady, his OC at LSU. He was in New Orleans with us, so he was picking the brain of Drew (Brees) and Sean Payton. So he just brought that offense into LSU. He was picking on some good brains. It’s helped him, his progression and the speed of the game slowed down. His time table in his head — he can progress the field way better. He’s got even more swagger to him and I love it.”
Surrounded by unusual circumstances, Burrow has to have all the swagger he can muster to win in the NFL. It’s already hard enough for rookie quarterbacks; it will be even harder for Burrow with no preseason and a shortened training camp.
“He’s still Joe Swagger,” Bell said. “He’s just gotta be himself everyday and that’s all you need. That’s good enough. And just challenge himself everyday to get better.”