Burrow prepared for first NFL start

Unusual offseason nearly over for Bengals' rookie quarterback

The only NFL game Joe Burrow has ever been to was one between the Cleveland Browns and Seattle Seahawks after Gus Bradley gave his dad tickets to attend.

Ironically, Burrow now will make his NFL debut as the Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback facing a Bradley-led defense.

The Bengals host the L.A. Chargers on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium to officially open the Joe Burrow era in Week 1. Bradley, who once coached with Jim Burrow at North Dakota State, serves as the Chargers' defensive coordinator. He held that same role with the Seahawks when Burrow witnessed his first live NFL game in Cleveland on Oct. 23, 2011 – a 6-3 win for the Browns in which defenses dominated.

Almost a decade later, Burrow hopes he can lead the Bengals offense to a strong start and set the tone for a successful rookie campaign.

“I mean any time you play the first game, you want to come out and play really well, win the game and kind of jump-start your season,” Burrow said. “But at the same time, it’s a long season and I’m obviously focused on Game 1 but we’ve got 16-17 other games.”

Burrow heads into Sunday under unusual circumstances. His introduction to the Bengals came through a virtual offseason, and his transition to the league comes after limited padded practices and no preseason games.

The Bengals didn’t allow defenders to tackle Burrow during training camp, so he’s never felt an NFL hit before even though he lobbied for that to happen before his first game. He also will be making his debut in an empty stadium, and his family in Athens is still figuring out how to watch the game.

“Obviously it is (unique), but I just try to come in and work like I always do, watch the film like I need to, prepare like I need to, so I try not to focus on all the pressure stuff,” Burrow said. “I feel like I’m going to be ready to play, I feel like I’m going to play well. I’m not ready to play yet -- I still have a few days of preparation that need to come in, but I’m feeling pretty good right now.”

Bradley’s defense features two of the best pass rushers in the league, though, so Burrow is preparing to do whatever he can to avoid Chargers defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. He didn’t need any intel from his dad’s relationship with Bradley to know what to expect.

Burrow said he will have to get the ball out quickly and know what he is looking at every snap.

“They’re going to do what they do, but I also anticipate some wrinkles that are going to try to make a rookie quarterback confused, so I’m anticipating some things he may not have shown last year and I’m just going to do my best to adapt to them,” Burrow said.

Cornerback Mackensie Alexander said he’s confident Burrow will be successful because he has the support of the players. That’s clear in how Burrow was voted as an offensive team captain, despite this being his first year in the league.

While Burrow was a little surprised to already earn that honor, Bengals coach Zac Taylor wasn’t. He couldn’t recall another time he’s worked with a rookie captain but said Burrow has earned that right by the way he’s approached meetings and practices and taken ownership of the offense.

Taylor said Burrow has been everything the Bengals expected, but he just isn’t ready to describe him as a generational talent, as some have.

“I don’t go that far yet,” Taylor said when asked about that reference. “He still has a lot to learn and hasn’t played in a game yet. It’s certainly exciting when you see a guy whose approach is as good as you’ve ever been around. That’s what you want in a coach. You want guys who love ball, love talking about ball, but also have that right balance to where they’re fun to be around. Their teammates enjoy being around them, the coaches enjoy being around them, but they certainly have that edge to them in the right moments to kick everybody in the butt to get them going.”

Taylor doesn’t want Burrow trying to see his future in just one game, and it seems as though Burrow is listening based on his response when asked what he would say if someone told him he’s the most important player in the Bengals franchise in the last 30 years.

“I don’t really think about that stuff,” Burrow said. “I let you guys talk about that in the media. Write what you need to write, but I’m going to prepare like I always prepare and practice like I always practice to win games because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if we don’t win.”