CINCINNATI — If not for the horde of reporters documenting Joe Burrow’s every move in his return to practice Wednesday, it might have seemed just like any other day for the team’s fourth-year quarterback.
Burrow has been out since suffering a right calf strain July 27 on the second day of training camp, but he’s returning just in time for the Bengals, who are a week-and-a-half out from their season opener Sept. 10 at Cleveland.
Media were able to watch the first 30 minutes of practice Wednesday, during which Burrow showed no limitations in position drills. However, players afterward indicated he was not full-go. Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase said all of his throws were “on-air” without pressure, but he doesn’t recall any incomplete passes.
Despite missing five weeks of practice, Burrow did not show any signs of the injury lingering or impacting his throwing. Wednesday marked the first day of regular-season practice, following the roster cutdown to 53 players.
“Joe’s been working really hard,” center Ted Karras said. “Obviously, we know who he is, but it was really great to have him back out there. He looks like Joe.”
Burrow was not made available to media Wednesday, and coaches also were not available. Bengals coach Zac Taylor is scheduled to speak in a press conference Thursday.
Karras said he didn’t know Burrow was practicing until they were all walking out to the practice fields. Chase thought maybe today would be the day when Burrow participated in his first walkthrough earlier in the day, but he was still pleasantly surprised when Burrow started getting his gear on to go out with the rest of the team for practice. His biggest concern is making sure Burrow is healthy, and so far that seems to be the case.
Burrow was not wearing the protective sleeve he was seen using at times in the locker room and in the handful of practices he attended as a spectator in camp. He had done some tossing before the preseason opener inside Paycor Stadium on Aug. 11 but wasn’t seen doing any other activity when media was present and did not travel to the last two preseason games.
The offense struggled through much of training camp without the top quarterback throwing the passes, but getting Burrow back was a big lift, wide receiver Tee Higgins said.
“I definitely feel like it gave the guys some extra juice, just to go out there and show him we’ve been working hard, even though he’s been getting treated up,” Higgins said. “We just wanted to show him that we ain’t leave off nothing, we’re still at the same spot as when he first got hurt.”
Higgins knew Burrow was back to his normal self as soon as he threw a deep go-ball down the left side that dropped right into rookie Charlie Jones’ hands.
“He looked pretty good,” Higgins said. “He looked fluent, threw a dime today and I was like ‘Oh yeah, he’s back.’”
Barring any setbacks or issues with his continuing contract negotiations, Burrow appears on track to be ready for the opener. Higgins said he looks like “he’s 100 percent ready to go.”
While Burrow’s return seemed to lift the mood at practice, the team also received a boost in the form of a fairly favorable waivers process that allowed Cincinnati to bring back a number of players to the practice squad that unfortunately had to be cut Tuesday to get the roster down to 53.
No opposing teams claimed any of the Bengals’ waived players, and that meant the organization could keep up to 16 of them in the building. A few vested veterans signed elsewhere as free agents, including Trent Taylor signing to the Bears’ active roster and Hakeem Adeniji reportedly signing with the Vikings practice squad. But 13 players who were in camp signed to the practice squad, along with newcomer Will Grier, who will be the third-string quarterback after getting cut by the Cowboys. Two spots remain open.
Among the most notable practice squad signees were wide receiver Stanley Morgan and safety Mike Thomas, who have been key contributors on special teams, and cornerback Allan George and tight end Tanner Hudson, who were viewed as bubble guys for the 53-man roster.
The rest of the practice squad includes wide receivers Shedrick Jackson and Kwamie Lassiter, linebackers Tyler Murray and Shaka Heyward, offensive linemen Nate Gilliam and Jaxson Kirkland, defensive end Jeff Gunter, defensive tackle Domenique Davis and cornerback Sidney Jones.
Those 14 players were all at practice Wednesday, and the only player from the 53-man roster that was not practicing was defensive end Joseph Ossai, who suffered an ankle injury in the preseason finale at Washington. Running back Trayveon Williams, who is coming back from an ankle injury, was working in special teams drills. B.J. Hill, DJ Turner, D’Ante Smith and La’el Collins were on the rehab field.