He’s As Tough As He Looks: Why Joe Burrow Plays Like He’s A Linebacker

The quarterback endures and does not shy away from blows, beyond the fact that it is not ideal for his position, or that he has already had a serious injury

CINCINNATI – Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was preparing for his second season in the NFL when he saw someone he knew from a passing play.

Well, it was for a tackle. In a 2014 Ohio state championship game, Burrow was playing for Athens High School at safety, trying to keep Toledo Central Catholic and running back Michael Warren II from scoring and winning the game.

On the final drive, Warren caught a quick pass and ran for the TD. Burrow was ready. He lunged at Warren’s legs, stopping the runner. Although Warren stayed on his feet and gained a few more yards, the play rocked him.

Inside the Black Sheep Performance gym in the Cincinnati area this summer, Burrow saw Warren again. And with a big smile, Burrow said Warren reminded him that that was the hardest hit anyone had ever dealt him and that he’s ever made a name for himself on offense.

“That’s what he said,” Burrow stressed.

Whether in high school, college at Ohio State and LSU or in the NFL, Burrow has earned a reputation unique among offensive stars.

“I think sometimes he plays football as a defensive player,” Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan described, adding that Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor joked that Burrow plays linebacker. “Contact has never been something that scares him. It doesn’t bother him. I think that’s what makes him unique.”

When the Bengals beat the Kansas City Chiefs to win the AFC championship, Burrow made history. He became the first quarterback to be sacked more than 50 times in the regular season to reach the Super Bowl, according to ESPN Data.

Cincinnati will face the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI on February 13, largely due to their quarterback enjoying the physical side of the game perhaps more than most at his position.

Joey is a very fearless person

Burrow comes from a defensive football lineage. His father, Jimmy, was a safety at Nebraska and led the team’s defensive backs in tackles in 1974. Burrow’s brother, Jamie, played linebacker for the Cornhuskers and had a team-high 84 tackles in 2001. .

And while Burrow was destined to become a quarterback, that didn’t preclude him from playing a bit of defense as well.

In his first year in Athens, Burrow was an emergency safety in the team’s first-round playoff loss because the starter fell ill. As a sophomore, there was a chance he could have been a two-way player at cornerback and wide receiver before the starting quarterback moved out of town.

Even when Burrow became the team’s quarterback, there was still some talk between Burrow and Ryan Adams, Athens’ head coach at the time, about whether he would hit in practice.

Eventually, common sense ruled and Burrow worked instead in the prolific offense that took southeast Ohio by storm. But when the opposition improved in the playoffs, Burrow occasionally played defense.

“When we allowed him to be there on that side of the ball, he appreciated it and loved every minute of it,” Adams said.

Burrow, who was 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds as a senior at Athens (he’s currently 6-foot-4 and 221), had a size advantage that proved crucial.

“He was an imposing figure, even if he wasn’t as developed as he is now,” said Jay Kline, the athletic director at nearby Nelsonville-York School. “He still had that baby face of course.”

During Athens’ 2014 road to the Division III state title game, Burrow intercepted a pass in a second-round victory over Tri-Valley. They also reached the final against Toledo Central Catholic, and he was on the field as Toledo converted three fourth downs before scoring the game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds remaining in a thrilling 56-52.

Adams, who is no longer the coach but is still a teacher at Athens High School, has never seen the video of the championship game. But he still remembers when Burrow hit Warren, who eventually rushed for 2,918 yards in three seasons at the University of Cincinnati.

“He hit it good,” recalls Adams. “I’m not surprised by that. Joe is a very fearless person.”

He wants to help the team get first downs

You’d think someone coming off a devastating knee injury would want to avoid contact.

But Burrow, who tore his ACL and ACL and suffered other problems in his left knee on Nov. 22, 2020, doesn’t think so. When he reported to training camp in 2021, the former No. 1 overall pick said he wanted to take hits once or twice in preseason.

“It doesn’t really feel like football until you get hit a little bit,” Burrow explained. “That’s how it’s been for me since the eighth grade.”

Of course, that didn’t happen. By going out with the team’s OTAs in the summer, the Bengals tried to eliminate any chance he might make contact with anyone else, excluding him from all but one of the three preseason games.

Cincinnati knew that it could only protect Burrow for so long. In Week 2 against the Chicago Bears, Burrow was sacked five times and threw interceptions on three consecutive passes. But he was able to throw for two touchdowns and help get the Bengals back in the game.

Although Cincinnati lost, it was an example of his characteristic toughness. Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd said he checked on Burrow in that game to see if he was okay. Each time, Burrow brushed him off as if he was okay.

“His toughness is something I don’t care about,” Boyd said in the days after that loss. “It’s as tough as it looks.”

Sometimes Burrow can be too tough for his own good. Against the Green Bay Packers in Week 5, Burrow dove headfirst into a third-down brawl despite clearly falling short of first down. He was hit hard, fell, and was taken to hospital for a throat injury that bothered him for the next two weeks.

“He has an aggressive mindset,” Taylor emphasized. “He wants to help the team get first downs, but at the same time we have to protect our football team because we need him to play and not expose himself to some unnecessary hits.”

Burrow has gotten better at sliding and parrying big hits. He has also struggled to find a balance between extending plays, and risking potential contact and throwing the ball far.

When Adams, his high school coach, gets a chance to talk to his old quarterback, he often tells him to move on without incident.

“I told him, ‘You don’t play Alexanders and Meigs county schools dude,'” Adams said.

But when the blows come, Burrow tends to persevere. After the Tennessee Titans sacked Burrow nine times in the AFC divisional playoff game, he still threw a 19-yard pass late in regulation to lead to the game-winning field goal. The nine sacks tied the NFL mark for most in a win.

“He just goes to the next play and it doesn’t affect him,” Taylor said.

And sometimes you get knocked out

Early in his college career, Burrow showed his teammates and coaches that he could take a hit from someone who would become one of the best in the NFL.

During a spring practice early in his career at Ohio State, Burrow was leading the second-team offense against the Buckeyes’ first-team defense that included All-America defensive end Joey Bosa, who would later win Defensive Rookie of the Year. of the 2016 NFL as a member of the Los Angeles Chargers.

Even with his teammates playing against him, Burrow shrugged off the contact. He adjusted his chin strap, slipped into the bag, and moved on.

That toughness continues in the NFL and earned the admiration of Tom Brady, who had Burrow on his “Let’s Go!” podcast after the Bengals beat the Chiefs in the AFC championship game. Brady praised Burrow’s ability to take hits, get up and keep going.

“The way we can show our toughness is to get up on the bag and shoot,” Brady said. “And sometimes they get on your nerves and you have to get up and go to the next play.”

Burrow’s willingness to make contact will be tested against a Rams frontcourt that features defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The All Pro ranked second in the NFL in win rate against pass rushes among all players, according to ESPN Stats and Information and NFL Next Gen Stats.

As a team, the Rams, who also feature Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller, led the league in that category. Meanwhile, the Bengals’ offensive line finished the season ranked 30th and are trying to figure out if rookie Jackson Carman, second-year player Hakeem Adeniji or maybe someone else will be their starting right guard in the Super Bowl.

“Certainly our guys don’t back down from anybody and we’re excited about the opportunity, but they’ve got a tremendous team in front of them right now,” Taylor said.

If there’s anyone who won’t back down from the challenge, it’s Burrow, the quarterback who doesn’t shy away from contact.

“It’s just part of football and I’ve always liked that part,” Burrow agreed. “I wouldn’t feel like a football player if I didn’t.”

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He’s As Tough As He Looks: Why Joe Burrow Plays Like He’s A Linebacker