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Burrow ready but Bengals stay cautious

CINCINNATI (AP) — Joe Burrow says his surgically repaired knee is “just about 100 percent,” but the Cincinnati Bengals really don’t want anyone knocking their star quarterback around until absolutely necessary.
Burrow likely will not see much action in the three preseason games, staying away from most contact until Cincinnati’s regular-season opener against Minnesota on Sept. 12.
That doesn’t mean he won’t be working hard in practice after finally getting cleared for all football activities 10 days ago.
“Just another day at the office,” Burrow said Wednesday on the opening day of training camp. “Feeling great, still getting stronger in my legs.
“There’s lot of things I have to continue to do because it’s truly a nine-month recovery process, minimum,” he said. “We’’re at about seven and a half months (post surgery) right now, so there’s a lot of maintenance I still need to do. But I’ll just compound that on practices, find places I can get rehab in.”
Burrow and teammates say he’s coming back as an improved version of the 2020 top overall draft pick who flashed his skills before the significant ligament injury happened in Week 11. While working to rehab the knee, he’s also gotten leaner and stronger. He says he’s refined his footwork and passing technique. Receivers say his passes are being delivered with even more zip.
“I’ve improved my entire game right now,” Burrow said. “I’m excited to show all my improvements, deep ball, intermediates, protections, everything. I’m just a much better all-around player.”
Getting Burrow game-ready will be a process for the Bengals coaches, who need to get the linchpin of their offense back to full speed while being conscious that his knee is still healing.
“First thing would be confidence, that he is ready to go play, that there is no thought about the injury, no thought about being in the pocket, being live,” Cincinnati offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said.
“That’s a process that takes time. Got to get back in 11-on-11 drills, get consecutive days of practice put together. I think that’s the No. 1 most important thing is having confidence in his knee and be able to go perform and not have to worry about anything.”
Coach Zac Taylor won’t rule out using Burrow in preseason games if the right situation presents itself.
“At some point, you can’t be overprotective,” Taylor said, “It’s football. And you’ve got to let him get out there and experience it. So that’s what we’ll do.”
Burrow was putting up passing numbers that had him in the early conversation for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year last season. He threw for more than 300 yards five times — including a 35-for-47, 406-yard performance in a three-point loss to the Browns on Oct. 25.
His season came to a jarring halt Nov. 22 when he was hurt against Washington. The Bengals finished 4-11-1 behind two backup quarterbacks.
The excitement has been ramped up again in Cincinnati with Burrow’s return and the addition of first-round pick Ja’Marr Chase, the receiver who was Burrow’s good friend and favorite playmaker when LSU won the national championship in 2019.
The Bengals also have taken steps to shore up an offensive line that allowed too many quarterback hits last year.
“That’s a hard injury to rebound from, an ACL, and he’ll still be going through some of that,” said Bengals owner and president Mike Brown.
“His effort rehabbing was A-plus and our people are all cognizant of it. They appreciate him doing that, working as hard as he did, because we’re dependent on him, and we’re counting on him being ready to roll. I think he will be when it counts.”
NOTES: The Bengals placed DT Larry Ogunjobi on the active/physically unable to perform list. Taylor said it was hamstring issues.