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Lessons from my visit with Joe Burrow of Cincinnati Bengals: Why he hasn't lost any confidence, and what to expect in 2021

Dan Graziano

ESPN Staff Writer

CINCINNATI -- The first time I asked to interview Joe Burrow, in early August, the answer was no. This was a point in training camp when Burrow was, by his own admission, struggling with some stuff.

Working to return to the field following last season's significant knee injury, the Cincinnati Bengals' second-year quarterback was wrestling with some psychological aspects of his recovery.

By the second time I asked, a couple of weeks later, all of that stuff was an eye-roll-inducing memory.

"That was about four days of camp," Burrow told me Wednesday during an interview after the team's morning walkthrough at Paul Brown Stadium. "And everyone wanted to write a bunch of articles about it. And then, you know, the other 25 days of camp, I was back to my old self -- slinging the ball around, reading the coverages, feeling great. Nobody wanted to write about that."

Consider it written about. Here are some of the impressions I got from the time I spent with him for a SportsCenter interview:

Burrow, the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner and 2020 No. 1 pick, is a young man who's extremely confident in his ability to handle just about anything. Whether it's four days of training camp doubt, 10 months of grueling injury rehab or anything in between, Burrow seems to have the same attitude about everything: Work is work, the job is whatever the job is, and once he figures out what he needs to do, it's going to get done.

"I didn't treat rehab any differently than I had the offseason before or the offseason before that," he said. "You know, it was just, come to work every day, get your work in and then go home and rest. I had to put in a little more work than I usually would have, because I would rehab and then I would lift, then throw, so it was more work than usual, but you know... that's what I do."

Each of his answers started with what felt like a verbal shrug. Not in an arrogant or dismissive way -- just the matter-of-fact perspective of an unusually mature 24-year-old who doesn't mind not knowing what comes next because he's sure he can handle it. That's what I do.

But his confidence is alloyed with enough humility that it's not off-putting. Asked whether he has any pregame superstitions, he says no and then casually mentions he has been wearing his left sock inside-out during games since he was at Ohio State. That's a yes, Joe, and he smiles and admits as much when pressed. But he still doesn't know why he does it. It's just another thing he does and doesn't worry about too much.

Concerned at all about rookie receiver Ja'Marr Chase's preseason drops? Shrug. Smile.

"You know, he's had great practices the last, you know, week and a half, and he's dropped a few in preseason games, but he's got one-series, two-series games, hasn't had a chance to get in a rhythm yet," Burrow said. "So nobody's really worried about it."

Wish you'd had more than three plays in the preseason? Shrug. Nah.

"It wasn't so much about those three plays as much as it was about the feeling in the locker room, knowing I was about to go out there and put my body on the line and play a game and have the potential to get hit, get those butterflies out of the way in pregame so I'm ready to roll Week 1," he said.

Remember what was going through your mind when you got hurt? Sure.

"Um, my knee hurt, first off," he laughed. "And then after that, it was more of, you know, let's get this surgery out of the way so I can get back to work and get back on the field. It was obviously disappointing. We were just starting to get rolling as an offense. I was really starting to understand the system and the defenses that we were going to play.

So it happened at an unfortunate time, but it allowed me to go through the process of the rehab and get back to where I'm at now."

The two long vertical scars down the sides of his left knee make it clear something significant happened. He'll have to wear a knee brace when he plays for a year, which he's not thrilled about. But again, it just kind of all is what it is.

Burrow is hope personified for the Bengals' fan base, and his ability to resume what they desperately need to be a franchise-savior career is the story of Cincinnati's season. A lot of pressure comes with that, but it won't surprise you to know he shrugs at that, too.

"You know, I don't really feel the pressure too much," he said. "Pressure's a word that outside people use to describe situations, and as long as I prepare the way I need to, I'm going to play the way I need to and we're going to win football games. So, you know, that's really all it comes down to."

Sounds pretty simple, right? Keeping it that way might be the key to the success Joe Burrow has had so far and whatever further success still awaits him.

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