After one of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow’s highlight throws down the field on Sunday, he looked back at head coach Zac Taylor and smiled.
It was Burrow’s first practice of training camp, and he had missed the first three weeks after having his appendix removed. In his first session of 7 on 7 drills, Burrow was in midseason form.
Following one of the throws, Burrow looked back at Taylor to make the point that he was “back.” Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson noticed it from the middle of the field.
Wilson didn’t remember which throw it was. There were too many that stood out.
'I thought he looked good':Joe Burrow participates in practice for first time since appendectomy
“He was smooth as usual, cooler than the flip side of a pillow,” Wilson said. “He threw one and looked back at Coach Taylor. I was like, ‘I’m glad to have you on my team.’ He’s the leader of this franchise.”
In his first practice, Burrow was only supposed to take two reps in 7 on 7 drills. He ended up taking all 10, and Taylor indicated that it was Burrow’s idea to run with both the first team and the second team.
Burrow started out on the conservative side. The receivers hadn’t seen him throw a deep ball at practice since June, and Burrow opened the 7 on 7 drills with short, layup completions to Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon and Stanley Morgan Jr.
Then the second team went onto the field, and Burrow immediately made the most of his extra opportunities.
“That’s what he wants to do,” Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase said. “He wanted more reps, and he’s going to take them himself. He’s a competitive person, and he wants to work. That’s the type of guy you want around you.”
On Burrow’s first rep with the second team, he had a few different reads depending on the coverage from the defense. If he saw man defense, the first read was a deep route down the left sideline to Trenton Irwin.
Irwin hadn’t seen Burrow throw a deep ball in months. Irwin knew he was the featured target on the play, but he wasn’t sure if Burrow was going to make the throw.
Burrow dropped a 30-yard pass that hit Irwin perfectly in stride.
“Man, he was throwing some dots,” Irwin said. “I didn’t know (what to expect). I knew it was a play we could win on, and I thought it might come up. What the limitation was, I didn’t know. I hadn’t even seen him throw a ball over 10 yards.”
“That’s Burrow, we expect him to do that,” Chase said. “When he comes back, he’s anxious to play. He took what the coverage gave him.”
Two plays later, Burrow delivered an even better throw.
Wide receiver Kwamie Lassiter II ran an over route that crossed from the right sideline to the left side of the field. Running 20 yards down the field, Lassiter saw a wide receiver and a defensive back a few yards in front of him. About 10 yards behind Lassiter, there was a safety covering the back half of the field.
Burrow dropped a perfect pass that fit perfectly between the cornerback and the safety.
“That was really impressive, but that’s something I’ve seen him do a lot,” Lassiter said. “It’s good knowing that he makes it easy for you. If you can see a perfect ball, you can catch a perfect ball.”
“That was a dime,” Chase said. “I already know what he can do. I’ve been playing with him for years. When I see him go out and do that, it just makes me feel better, the team feel better, the coaching staff feel better and all of us around him feel better.”
Chase’s favorite throw of the day was on the following play. Taylor called a play for Morgan Jr. that usually gets run for Chase, and Burrow hit Morgan Jr. in stride on the deep ball for a 20-yard pickup.
Against zone defense, Burrow waited for Morgan Jr. to pass between the second and third layers of a Cover-2 zone. Then, he hit Morgan Jr. on a “hole shot” down the left sideline. It was the same throw Burrow made to Chase for a game-changing touchdown in Week 17 last season against the Kansas City Chiefs.
“He told me he was checking on go balls,” Chase said. “I wanted to see if he was going to do it… Every pass he threw today, I was calling it out before he threw it. I think I still know him pretty perfectly fine.”
At one point in 7 on 7 drills, as Burrow relayed the play call to the offense, wide receiver Tee Higgins looked around the huddle. He saw Joe Mixon, Chase, Tyler Boyd, Hayden Hurst and Burrow. It was the first time that all six of those starters had been on the field for an official practice.
“As soon as we got in the huddle, I said, ‘Uh oh,’” Higgins said. “We’re back.”
According to several players, there was an added level of energy at practice on Sunday because Burrow was back. Everyone had waited for three weeks to see what the full-strength offense could look like.
And when he looked back at Taylor, Burrow indicated that he’s even more confident entering 2022.
“He picked up where he left off,” Wilson said. “You shouldn’t expect anything different.”
More observations from Sunday’s practice
*Two weeks ago, when Higgins was still limited due to a shoulder injury, he was frustrated as he ran to the rehab field for conditioning work. He shouted, “I’m getting tired of this,” and Taylor has joked that Higgins has been reminding him that he was ready to be a full participant in practice.
On Sunday, Higgins finally reached that point. Following a minor shoulder procedure in the offseason, Higgins was cleared to participate in 11 on 11 drills. During 11 on 11 drills, he made an outstanding catch on a two-point conversion. He beat cornerback Chidobe Awuzie on a cut toward the middle of the field and used his long arms to reel in a pass at the back line of the endzone.
“It felt good to get contact from the defense, and it felt good to actually be tired out there,” Higgins said. “I’d rather be out here running around with my teammates, running routes and catching balls from Joe.”
*Wilson was also cleared for 11 on 11 drills for the first time during training camp. He didn’t take every single rep at middle linebacker as the training staff manages his return from a shoulder injury, but it was still a milestone practice for Wilson.
“This is right where I’m supposed to be,” Wilson said. “I’ll be really fully cleared in about a week. I didn’t do every team session today. But I was able to really go through the parameters of what it means to be a linebacker. It was really good to be out there.”
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: With three throws on Sunday, Joe Burrow showed that he's back