Tight end Smith ‘locked in’ despite Burrow’s absence

CINCINNATI — Bengals coach Zac Taylor isn’t concerned about new tight end Irv Smith Jr. potentially falling behind in acclimating to the offense while quarterback Joe Burrow is out because of a calf strain.

The two got a lot of work in together during the offseason workout program, and Burrow has stayed involved in meetings to keep communicating what he sees and how he wants things done around him when he returns.

But more important to Taylor’s confidence level is seeing how focused Smith is — not unlike Burrow.

“I would say one sentence to describe Irv is super locked in,” Taylor said. “This dude is focused and that’s a credit to him, that’s a credit to (tight ends coach) James (Casey), to the tight end room as a whole as really just close-knit. They are all helping each other get better and bringing guys up to speed, maybe some of the stuff we’ve done in the past. Irv’s attention to detail has been outstanding, exactly what we’re looking for so he gets the chance to get the reps in our system, and then when Burrow comes back, they will have plenty of opportunity to gain that connection together. But I don’t think it’s a negative thing right now. He’s getting plenty of reps just on our overall system and I think he’s done a really good job locking in and being detailed on it.”

Asked if Taylor’s description accurately portrays how he is feeling so far in his first training camp with the Bengals, Smith said “absolutely.” He signed as a free agent in March after spending the first four years of his career in Minnesota, and he’s set to replace Hayden Hurst, who moved on to a bigger contract after a “prove-it” deal with Cincinnati last year panned out well for him.

Smith also has something to prove after dealing with injuries throughout his time with the Vikings, including right at the beginning of camp last year. The Bengals are giving him that platform with Burrow, when he’s healthy, and a team expected to compete for a third straight AFC Championship berth.

“I’m just trying to take one day at a time,” Smith said. “The offense is starting to pile up a little more (with talent), but that’s the beauty of it, it’s more weapons and more ways to get us the ball and also affecting the run game. So, you know, Coach Taylor has done a great job of detailing everything and getting everybody in the right position to be able to make plays and help the team win.”

While Burrow is out, Smith and the others on offense are preparing in the system with both quarterbacks Jake Browning and Trevor Siemian, who are battling for the backup job. Browning worked with the first-team offense the first two days of practice this week, while Siemian was back in that spot Thursday as part of what is expected to be a two-day rotation.

Reid Sinnett, signed out of a tryout Sunday, is still settling in as the third-string quarterback. The only other players missing Thursday besides Burrow were running back Trayveon Williams, defensive tackle Devonnsha Maxwell and defensive end Tarell Basham, in addition to the players on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Smith has gotten in plenty of reps early in camp with the backup quarterbacks leaning on him when other receivers aren’t open, maybe more than Burrow would. Smith said that’s been good for him, but Burrow also has been helpful providing feedback in meetings.

“With Joe being in the building and stuff, I still try to talk to him as much as I can and get little pointers and things like that, but you know, he’ll be back and doing his thing out there,” Smith said. “So, I’m not worried about that. It’s more just getting the timing down with other quarterbacks, just showing that we can make plays out there. You know, it’s 11 guys on the football field. We all have to be in unison every play, so that’s the beauty of having a complete team and you know, when Joe’s back, we’ll be ready.”

Although the coaches run the meetings, Smith said Burrow hasn’t been afraid to speak up, and he’s been impressed with the chance to see his football knowledge put to practice just off watching film.

Burrow has his preferences for how he wants receivers running routes and blockers providing protection, so it’s important that gets communicated in the meetings if he can’t be there running the show in practice.

“He’s such a smart guy, and you know, he’s watching the film, so anything that we are doing at practice, he’s coaching us up on,” Smith said. “In the meeting rooms, you know, he’s very active. So I mean, he’s really just him not on the field right now. And I mean, we all know Joe’s locked in. He’s gonna be ready to go when we need him..”

Once Burrow is back, it all should come easier, but in the meantime, Smith is finding coach Casey’s attention to detail helpful in preparing him for the offense and helping him build off what he learned his first four years in the league.

He and the receivers have the mentality no defender should be able to cover them, especially with the up-tempo offense making it difficult for opponents.

“We did a lot of that as well (in Minnesota) so a lot of no huddle, going fast and things like that, so it helped prepare me definitely for this offense, and with Coach Taylor, how he implements a lot of different personnel and focusing on just getting guys that can make plays with the ball,” Smith said. “So, the tempo is good because it’s going to put a lot of pressure on the defense, and the offense, that’s what we trying to do is get us on our toes and let us not let them have any plan.”

“Being on the same page is the key,” Smith added. “But being out here just in the system helps and we’ll get there fast when Joe is back.”

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