Burrow, Bengals taking different approach with QB’s rehab

CINCINNATI — Joe Burrow hasn’t always listened to his body when he’s come back from injury before, but facing his own “football mortality” after a wide range of setbacks in his first four NFL seasons, the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback says he is not pushing through pain like he might have in the past.

The Bengals are being cautious with their approach in his return from November wrist surgery and have been giving him a day off every week so as not to overdo it.

Burrow has been through his share of medical issues since entering the league as the No. 1 draft pick in 2020, and after missing multiple games in 2023 for the second time in his career, he is thinking more long-term.

“That’s definitely something I’ve thought about, yeah,” Burrow said. “Whenever the injuries start to stack up, your football mortality kind of comes into the back of your mind. So, that’s definitely something I’ve thought about and something I have had to fight through. That is every injury that happens. They stack and you continue to think about how you can get better from those and how you can come back an improved player when maybe you aren’t getting the reps you had because of your injuries.

“It’s always a challenge, it always is. But I’m built for it. Our team is built for it and people that I have surrounded myself with have been through it with me as well. I’m excited about the season. I’m excited about what we are going to do, I’m excited about what we have in the locker room.”

Burrow also battled back from a 2020 ACL tear to earn the Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year award during a Super Bowl run the following season, but hasn’t made it through a normal training camp yet. Ahead of the 2022 season, he had appendicitis, and last year, he injured his calf on the first day of practice, came back a few weeks later to get ready for the season and wasn’t fully mobile until about Week 5.

The fifth-year quarterback continues to ride the rollercoaster of good and bad days in his recovery process from wrist surgery; however, he’s not concerned about being at his best right now or even for the start of training camp July 24. He believes a less aggressive approach to the offseason – as well as his plans for a milder-than-usual routine in the weeks leading up to training camp – will allow him to be ready for the beginning of the season and still have something left in his tank by the end of it.

Over the next six weeks after minicamp ends, Burrow plans to travel, enjoy downtime in the pool and continue learning to play the piano, which he is teaching himself through YouTube videos. He will work out, but since his offseason began 10 weeks earlier than most, Burrow has plenty of rest scheduled into his plans.

Meanwhile, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase seems to be taking a similar approach. He showed up for mandatory minicamp this week after not being involved in the team’s voluntary workouts that have been going on since mid-April. The only player not in attendance Tuesday was Tee Higgins, who has not yet signed his franchise tender.

Burrow practiced throughout the offseason program, but Zac Taylor revealed he had not gone two straight days any week, and the player has had to come to grips with the idea he doesn’t always have to be full-go.

“That’s something we’re being more proactive about this year,” Burrow said. “We don’t have to be ready to go in the middle of June. We have to be ready to go early September through February. That’s how we’re attacking this offseason and this rehab plan and these practices and training camp. We’re attacking it like I want to be out there playing in February.”

Burrow wouldn’t put a percentage on how close he is to being fully healthy, but said the process has been about what he should have expected. With his other injuries, there have been stretches of feeling in peak form and then a couple of days that seem like setbacks.

The return from a wrist injury is no different. He’s just managing it differently.

“You always forget how hard it is coming back from injury,” Burrow said. “Every time it happens, I think the same thing because there’s always peaks where you’re like, ‘I’m feeling great,’ and then a couple months later you have a couple days where it’s like, ‘Man, I’m not feeling that great.’ In the past I pushed through that and caused problems for myself, and this year, I’m not doing that.”

Burrow said he wishes he would have taken more time to let his calf heal last summer. He and the Bengals got off to a slow start while he was regaining mobility, and Burrow would have benefited from taking more time to let it heal.

After just five weeks of feeling healthy, and leading the Bengals to a 4-1 stretch, he tore the ligament in his wrist.

Burrow’s past injuries allow him to be able to handle the challenges that come along with the recovery process, he said, and the calf injury has been “the catalyst” to changing his approach to more long-term thinking. Adjusting his mentality is perhaps the most difficult part.

“It’s always hard to change your mindset when you’ve done it one way for so long and that’s gotten you to whether I’m at now,” Burrow said. “I feel really good about the player that I am, because of that work that I put in. Now, I feel like I’m transitioning more to listening to my body and making sure that I’m feeling 100 percent so I can go out and perform, and I’m not making these big leaps year-to-year. I feel really about where I’m at as far as how I’m going to play. Now it’s just about making sure my body is in the right place to be able to do that.”

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