Joe Burrow puts injury out of his mind as Bengals try to be cautious

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow feels "almost 100%" in his return from a knee injury that cut short his rookie season. Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire

CINCINNATI -- Of all the things that happened during the Cincinnati Bengals' first practice of training camp on Wednesday, one development mattered more than anything.

Joe Burrow felt great.

A black brace supporting Burrow’s surgically-repaired left knee was the only indicator that the quarterback was a little more than eight months removed from a season-ending injury. Aside from that, Burrow went through all the usual motions that indicate the regular season is a few weeks away.

He lined up under center. He participated in 11-on-11 drills. He rolled out of the pocket with no issues. Burrow gave every indicator that he was close to full strength, which he indicated before Wednesday’s practice.

“It feels almost 100%,” Burrow said. “At this point, I'm not even really thinking about it.”

Throughout the offseason, the 2020 top overall draft pick said he was on track to start on Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings. He participated in every organized team activity and in a one-day minicamp while he waited to get full clearance from his medical team. That came earlier in July, when he was authorized to resume all football activities.

Earlier this week, team owner and president Mike Brown indicated that Burrow would not participate in the three-game preseason. Third-year coach Zac Taylor echoed those sentiments on Wednesday.

“We'll look at everything, every scenario about what would we gain out of it,” Taylor said. “If we're going to put him out there, what exactly is that going to look like? Can we control it or not control it? We don't have to make that decision today.”

Burrow, however, has a different idea. He said he wants to get a few snaps to feel the rush and even get hit a couple of times. And as beneficial as it might be for his rehab progress, feeling the contact has always been an indicator that football season was on the horizon.

“It doesn’t really feel like football until you get hit a little bit,” Burrow said. “That’s how it’s been for me since eighth grade. In scrimmages, I was always lobbying to be live. That’s how it’s always been. It’s just what I need to feel ready for Week 1.”

Fortunately for all the members of Bengals ownership who were watching practice, Burrow never came close to getting hit. He was perfect in 7-on-7 drills, the highlight a completion to rookie Ja'Marr Chase down the sideline with Chase dragging his feet before he went out of bounds.

The low point was on a type of movement Burrow said he lacked confidence in during OTAs. Toward the end of Wednesday’s practice, Burrow started right before he rolled back to his left to look for an open receiver. Linebacker Jordan Evans batted Burrow’s pass into the air in what could have been an interception.

Aside from that throw, Burrow showed all the progress of someone gearing up for a big second season in the NFL. Burrow completed 65.3% of his passes for 2,688 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions before he was injured.

He said he’s a better all-around player than he was a year ago, and he’s excited to show everyone the improvements.

On Wednesday, Burrow exuded confidence -- in his knee, his rehab process and his abilities. He still needs to prove to himself he can make some of the plays he made as a rookie. But at the start of training camp, there was no apprehension.

“I'm just ready to go out and play some football,” Burrow said.