Just take a minute to really think about the last year of Joe Burrow’s life. A year ago at this time, Burrow was coming off a 2,894 yard, 16 touchdown season and was viewed as a mid round project pick.
He was a relatively unknown commodity as a late season surge against Texas A&M and UCF in the Fiesta Bowl showed signs of progress but still left many wondering if that level of production was sustainable.
Not only did Burrow prove it was sustainable, he was historic while doing it. He turned into a record breaking, Heisman winning national champ that was just selected No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft. It’s a single season transformation that ESPN analyst Mel Kiper has never seen in over 35 years of player analysis.
"I think his improvement was not only dramatic, it was historic and I don't think we'll ever see it again,” Kiper said days before the draft.
That historic transformation started with a vision coach Ed Orgeron had, one he’d tried for years to implement but couldn’t find the right personnel. Once he found his man, Joe Brady, to get the LSU offense out of the gutters and into the future, it was Burrow’s turn to become the player Orgeron thought he could be.
It took months of hard work and dedication to perfecting not only the playbook but the timing with his receivers. But it was training in the pocket that he said was the biggest difference maker from his junior to senior season.
“I worked really, really hard on off-platform situations, Burrow told Joel Klatt before the draft. “The position of quarterback is about finding completions and if you find completions you get first downs which lead to points. So we worked really hard on creating outside the structure of the offense.
“Everyone sees this last eight months when I started ballin’ but nobody sees the hard work and the disappointments and the failures behind it. That’s really what’s inside of me because I still remember all the slights and the doubts. That’s part of what drives me to be the best.”
By the time the season rolled around, Burrow was a seamless fit into the Brady-Steve Ensminger spread offense and walks into a very similar scheme in Cincinnati. Only this time he doesn’t have months to prepare.
We caught up with All Bengals reporter James Ripien, who offered his thoughts on how Burrow will fit into the Cincinnati offensive scheme:
Burrow is a great fit in Zac Taylor's system. He was in a pro offense last season at LSU and has all of the traits necessary to play at a high level as a rookie. Taylor and Burrow have already spent hours together (virtually) watching tape. They should already have a good feel for what the other one likes and doesn’t like schematically.
There will be some growing pains, especially without OTA’s or rookie minicamp, but Taylor isn’t stubborn. He’ll be open to tailoring things to Burrow’s liking. I’d expect the Bengals to run more plays with Burrow in the shotgun this season since he had so much success with them last season.
Ripien brings up a great point about OTA's and minicamp, something Burrow addressed in his opening press conference with the Cincinnati media. During the 2019 offseason, Burrow got to work with his receivers every day and even on Saturdays to get the timing down on their routes.
Without that opportunity this summer, Burrow, at the very least, should be able to grasp the playbook.
"I’ll have to get mental reps in from missing these mini camps and OTAs. I’ll have to get into the playbook really hard and go through the process of calling plays in the huddle," Burrow said. "The thing about being in the huddle is you have to be stern in your voice. If you’re wavering and fumbling over your words, players will look and think, ‘What is this guy doing? Get him out.’ So that’s something I want to be focused on.”
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Burrow will compete for the starting job regardless as he's already received a head start on the playbook.
It's also been reported by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport that Taylor is installing some of the LSU concepts into the Bengals scheme to help Burrow in his transition.
The Bengals have plenty of weapons to run an offense similar to the one LSU crushed its opponents with last season. A five-man protection with A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Tee Higgins and Joe Mixon should scare opposing defenses.
"The thing about the NFL is there’s good players everywhere. A couple injuries here or there can really change a season and change you from a playoff-caliber team to a 2-14 team," Burrow said. "So we have what it takes. Whatever they need me to do, I’m going to do it. Hopefully I can bring something to the team that is positive and brings about wins.”
The only question mark is the Bengals’ offensive line. They are adding 2019 first round pick Jonah Williams into the fold at left tackle. He missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. Assuming they can hold up in the trenches, Burrow fits right in with Taylor and the Bengals’ offense should be dynamic this season.
You don't take a player of Burrow's caliber No. 1 overall to be the backup, even in his rookie season. Outside of the offensive line, getting the timing down with all of his skills position teammates will be the biggest hurdle Burrow has to jump.
While taking a team out of a 2-14 gutter will be no easy task, particularly in the beginning, Burrow said the task that's in front of him won't affect the way he prepares or performs on Sundays.
"I’m not going to sacrifice my standards of play, and I expect to go out and win every single football game, but you also have to be realistic," Burrow said. "I’ve gone through ups and downs. And through the entire process, I’ve just kept working hard, and kept faith in that preparation and that hard work to get me to this point. And that’s exactly what I’m going to keep doing through the ups and downs this next year and the years to follow.”