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MAQB: Bengals Let Burrow Control His Return to Training Camp

Sports Illustrated logo Sports Illustrated 8/16/2022 Albert Breer

Cincinnati trusted its quarterback enough to let him take his time in recovering from his appendectomy. Plus, why Tuesday could be a big day for the QB trade market.

I’m back from the road now, and with a lot to get to …

Wilson: Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports; Garoppolo: Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports; Burrow: Kareem Elgazzar/USA TODAY Network © Provided by Sports Illustrated Wilson: Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports; Garoppolo: Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports; Burrow: Kareem Elgazzar/USA TODAY Network

• The Bengals really let Joe Burrow guide his return to the practice field—and gave him all the time he needed (and obviously he needed doctor’s clearance, too) to get to where he felt completely comfortable on the field. But as for the rest of the work? Burrow hasn’t missed much. He rejoined meetings a few days after his appendectomy and was in the building as much as he otherwise would’ve been.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s probably best to look at this as if it were, say, a sprained ankle. Just avoiding doing anything too aggressive until it feels better, where a player would keep getting all the mental work in to prepare for the season and hit the ground running when he returned to health.

Then, there’s this: The Bengals were planning to give Burrow only a series or two of snaps in preseason games anyway, and may not have even done that if Burrow felt like he didn’t need it. So yeah, I’d expect to see the same old Burrow when the season starts.

• Tuesday’s a very big day for the Jets. Dr. Neal ElAttrache will perform arthroscopic knee surgery on Zach Wilson, and it won’t be until he’s actually in the knee that he’ll know whether the second-year QB will need his meniscus trimmed (which would mean he’d be out for a few weeks) or repaired (likely out for the season). And while New York’s docs are optimistic, there’s really no way to know for certain until his knee’s opened up.

There’s also reason for concern with the knee’s stability, based on how it buckled. It’s my understanding that trimming the meniscus won’t really help in that department. So it’s at least something to watch going forward, especially since Wilson is a quarterback who moves around quite a bit.

Anyway, here’s hoping Tuesday goes according to plan for Wilson.

• While we’re there, I’d categorize the Jets’ interest in quarterbacks similar to where the Browns are—based on how long their starter will be absent. If Wilson is out for a month, then my guess is they’d be more than comfortable going forward with Joe Flacco and Mike White. If it was months, plural, then I’d think they’d explore their options.

That, by the way, is where Jimmy Garoppolo would come into play for either Cleveland or the Jets. So the 49ers will be following all this closely as well.

• In the wake of Wilson’s injury, I’ll say this (and knock on wood)—there seem to be far fewer injuries this year than there have been in the past. And I have to wonder if that’s because teams are being more intentional in ramping players up to full speed, something they, to a degree, have to do because of the changing rules. That’s not to say there haven’t been bad injuries. Broncos WR Tim Patrick, for one, tore his ACL. They just seem to be happening with much less frequency than they did in previous summers.

And one thing I know for sure is there’s a lot of tinkering going on when it comes to that stuff, just going camp to camp. With even more rules in place this year than before (you can’t be in full pads more than two days in a row) some of that had to happen. But it goes beyond just adhering to the guidelines—the two teams I started my camp tour with (the Browns and Bills), for example, couldn’t have handled the acclimation period more differently from each other.

It’ll probably take time to figure out who’s doing things the right way and who’s just a little bit off. But if it gets everyone to a place where we have healthier players playing through the season, then, obviously, it’d make going through all the trial and error worth it. (And yes, that’s still subject to more examination, with the early stages of the regular season likely to tell us plenty on how well all of this is working.)

• I’ll give Russell Wilson credit for not hiding his big-picture vision in an era when athletes are trained to say they’re paying attention only to what’s directly in front of them, and nothing else. I asked the Broncos quarterback two Thursdays ago if he thinks much about the legacy he’ll leave in pro football.

“Always,” he responded. “Every day.”

And as for what he wants that legacy to be, he said he’d like to be remembered as, “One of the greatest winners of all time. That’s what it’s about. That’s what I strap on the cleats for.”

• It’s hard not to love Aidan Hutchinson’s NFL star turn (last November notwithstanding). The Lions’ rookie burst into the training camp news cycle when Hard Knocks aired his stirring rendition of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean for his teammates last week. And then he punctuated it by celebrating a tackle for loss à la MJ in Friday’s preseason opener against the Falcons.

Even better? I’m told that before the game, he promised his mom he’d deliver a Jackson homage if he made a big play. And maybe that’s not Babe Ruth calling his shot, but it’s pretty cool.

• Xavier McKinney came out of college in 2021 with a pretty powerful sponsor—his college coach, Nick Saban. That spring, I’d heard from scouts about how Saban had raved about McKinney and his future in the NFL, and that got the attention of a lot of teams. And now the reason why is playing out in New York, where new Giants DC Wink Martindale has decided to give McKinney the green dot, which makes him the guy to communicate with the coaches through the headset. It positions him, more or less, as the quarterback of the defense.

A big key to Martindale’s defense is having smart safeties who can run the show and make adjustments all the way up to the snap. It’s why Martindale loved Eric Weddle the way he did, and why Chuck Clark became such an important piece for Baltimore.

So that McKinney is being put in that sort of role in his second year says a lot about him. And tells you plenty about what Saban was trying to tell teams two springs ago.

• The trade of J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is a good example of how swinging and missing on a draft pick can wind up costing a team. The failure of Arcega-Whiteside was part of the Eagles’ then having to draft receivers in the first round the next two years running (Jalen ReagorDeVonta Smith), and later having to deal a first-round pick to get a guy (A.J. Brown) to be the bigger target the Stanford product was supposed to be.

The interesting thing, too, on Arcega-Whiteside is that he was taken just six picks after Brown in 2019. That year, 12 receivers went inside the top 80 picks. Five have gotten big second contracts (Brown, Deebo SamuelDK MetcalfDiontae Johnson and Terry McLaurin), with four of those deals topping $20 million per year. Meanwhile, four of the 12 (Hollywood BrownN’Keal HarryJalen Hurd, Arcega-Whiteside) aren’t with the teams that drafted them anymore, with a fifth (Andy Isabella) having spent part of this offseason on the trade block.

• The Roquan Smith situation is getting weirder, with the NFL Management Council warning teams on Monday about an agent posing as Smith’s rep trying to drum up trade talks. As we said in the MMQB column Monday morning, trying to get fair value for Smith won’t be easy for the Bears.

• The Cowboys’ penalty numbers from the weekend—they were flagged 17 (!) times in Denver on Saturday night—certainly got my attention, especially when you consider how last year ended for Dallas. And it does seem to be one of those things that, even if your backups are in, would be systemic in nature. So for all the irrelevant things that happen in preseason games, that’s probably one worth keeping an eye on the next couple weeks.

More NFL Coverage:

Aaron Rodgers Explains Why He’s Now at Peace

Ranking the Best QB Moves of the 2022 Offseason

Pete Carroll Still Going Strong, Setting Seahawks’ Culture

Mailbag: Three Teams That May Be Interested in Roquan Smith

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