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Bengals QB Joe Burrow, HC Zac Taylor talk first OTA practice

Burrow and Taylor reflect on the first day back, and the road ahead.

NFL: Cincinnati Benglas OTA Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Bengals QB Joe Burrow is almost ready. But being almost ready doesn’t mean abandoning the steady course that got him here.

After his first official practice since undergoing reconstructive knee surgery nearly six full months ago, Burrow estimated his left knee was at about 80-85% compared to his right knee. The progress he’s made since December has put a Week 1 return in the crosshairs, but it’s not quite “all systems go” just yet for the 24-year old.

“Still gotta be patient,” Burrow told reporters. “You can’t push it too hard. At this point it’s just how it feels. There’s still good days and bad days. It’s still sore some days so you’ll take it a little easy, and then it feels really good and you’ll push it really hard. We have a good plan, I have a good team around who’s helping me with that.”

The rehab has been an obstacle for Burrow, but it also presented an opportunity for self-improvement. He wanted to up his velocity this offseason, and the hip workouts he’s been doing as part of his recovery have aided his progress in getting the ball down the field quicker.

We saw some of those throws Tuesday morning. They were all out of the shotgun. He didn’t take any drop backs; just some slight pocket resets and throws within 30 yards. The important part is that his receivers were the ones catching them, not team staff members.

“Just back throwing to the guys,” Burrow said when asked about the importance of these practices. “I’ve been throwing to equipment managers standing on the field for the last couple months, so to throw to some NFL-caliber players, not the equipment guys.”

While Burrow was making those first throws to equipment managers, his team made efforts to improve the offensive line in front of him. The starting five for Week 1 is far from being known, but Burrow is confident the right people are on the field with him.

“We’ve got the right guys,” Burrow said. “We’ve got the guys that are gonna put in the work to get better. Everyone knows we have to get better, up front, outside, me, defense. We won four games. Everyone knows they have to put in the work to enhance their play, myself included, so I’m happy with the work that everyone’s put in so far, and we got the right kind of guys that are gonna continue to do that.”

Eventually, Burrow will begin moving with the ball and making throws on the run. In the mean time, he’ll have to continue getting used to wearing a brace on his left knee. The process of selecting one to use is still ongoing.

“We’re testing them out,” Burrow said. “They’re not my favorite thing in the world, but it comes with the territory, so we’ll find one that is the lesser of all evils.”

Keeping Burrow standing while wearing that knee brace will be on the mind of head coach Zac Taylor. The third year head coach found himself making an emphasis to stay away from his franchise quarterback.

“Anytime you see a ball roll back there or anybody standing within 10 feet I was usually yelling at them to get away,” Taylor said. “It’s probably overly cautious, but that’s just the way we’re going to start this thing. He’s only taking snaps from an empty backfield right now.”

There’s hope that Burrow will be fully ready to practice during training camp, but even then, quarterbacks aren’t supposed to get hit. The preseason may provide opportunities for contact, which is why Taylor is not making any decisions on that right now.

“That seems like a long ways away for me,” Taylor said. “Just the amount of conversations we had about practice today we’ll take it one week at a time here with Joe. We all want Joe to play in September when the games really matter and in the meantime we’ll have discussions on what his prep work will look like before that. It was just exciting to get him back on the field today and do the limited work that we did.”

Keeping Burrow on the sidelines until September screams the right thing to do. Just seeing him out there today was a surprise, so maybe him getting a few August throws in won’t end up being that shocking to witness either.