Burrow has achieved everything this season while being the most sacked quarterback in the league, dislocating the pinky finger on his throwing hand and tweaking his right knee at one point. On Saturday in the AFC Divisional Playoff at Tennessee, he was sacked nine times. No other quarterback had taken that many sacks and still won a playoff game since the league started tracking sacks in 1982.
Now the 2020 No. 1 draft pick is preparing for a showdown with Patrick Mahomes and one of the most explosive offenses in the league.
Burrow credits his personal trainer, Dak Notestine, and the Bengals’ athletic training and physical therapy staff, for preparing his body for a long season. Those who have worked with him say it goes back to the kind of player Burrow is.
“For everyone on the outside, it is remarkable,” said Notestine, Director of Performance at Black Sheep Performance in Blue Ash. “But also, I think when you look a little deeper, you see the confidence and the passion that he has, and I mean, he is a true professional in every sense of the word. He takes everything extremely serious. He put me to work. He’s so detail-oriented and invested in the process and wants to know how this is gonna play out, what the plan is for every part along the way, so there’s no doubt that he was going to come back better than ever. He’s just dedicated to his craft and is a true professional in every sense of the word.
“So if you know him on that level and understand that, and I think you see it on game days when he’s talking to himself and everything, that’s not hype. That’s really how he is and that’s him being the leader and confident athlete that he is. He fully expects to go out there and do everything that people expect him to do and more.”
Notestine has known Burrow since his dad, former Ohio University defensive coordinator Jim Burrow, recruited Notestine to play football for the Bobcats in 2006.
After Notestine finished his playing career in 2009-10, he began working as a strength and conditioning coach at Ohio and often worked with the coaches’ kids. That’s when he started training Burrow as a middle schooler, on up through high school and when he would return to Athens on college breaks – and then again last January when Notestine moved to Cincinnati.
Burrow had undergone surgery in December 2020 in Los Angeles, and when he returned to Cincinnati, he connected with Notestine. The Bengals’ athletic training and physical therapy staff worked with Notestine to create a coordinated plan for Burrow, and the two started with general physical preparation, building up Burrow’s upper body and working on the non-injured leg until he was ready to strengthen the other leg to that same level. They continued working together until OTAs and for a few sessions afterward.
Though his recovery was on the early end of the projected timeline for return, Burrow felt good enough to play. As the season went on, he started feeling more comfortable, and now he’s playing the best football of his career, he said.
“I wouldn’t say that I had less confidence on it earlier but I would say that I wasn’t able to do certain things that I had been able to do in the past,” Burrow said. “Like make people miss in the pocket and extend plays, I really couldn’t do that until after the bye week is when I started to finally feel like myself, and I think that’s when I started to play my best football.”
Notestine wasn’t surprised to see their work pay off this season, for Burrow and the Bengals.
“He fully believes that he is going to reach all the goals that he has set forth,” Notestine said. “It’s just a matter of time, and the fact that it’s come so quickly you can’t help but just kind of sit back and be a little bit in shock, but if I were a betting man I’m always going with Joe. I mean just, like I said, the passion and professionalism he brings every day to everything he does, I think it’s bleeding into the Bengals organization and I think he just makes everybody better around him.”