By KEITH JENKINS
CINCINNATI — Joe Burrow walked through the Cincinnati Bengals locker room on Monday with the same confident stroll he often displays on game day.
Burrow, sporting a headband, smiled and joked with his teammates. The two-time defending AFC North champion Bengals were officially back to work.
Cincinnati held its first day of offseason workouts on Monday, and Burrow led the way.
Less than three months after a 2022 season that included setting single-season franchise records for completed passes (414), pass attempts (606) and passing touchdowns (35), the 2021 AP Comeback Player of the Year looked primed to pick up where he left off a season ago.
“I feel good about Joe,” fifth-year Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “I see him around the building often times. I think he’s got a great process that he goes through in spring time.”
To help with that process and to better equip Burrow and the Bengals to get over the hump and capture the franchise’s first Super Bowl win, Taylor and the Cincinnati front office added six free agents during the offseason, including four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
The Bengals signed the unrestricted free agent to a four-year, $64.1 million deal in March.
“His size, No. 1, stands out to you,” Taylor said of the 6-foot-8, 345-pound Brown. “He’s got good athleticism and uses his length really well. He’s a really smart player as well. So he’s got a lot of things going for him that I think allow him to be successful. He’s played on winning teams.”
Brown comes to the Bengals after spending the past two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati’s opponent in the past two AFC title games.
“It’s definitely interesting,” Brown said of now playing for the Bengals after defeating them in last season’s AFC championship game on their way to winning the Super Bowl.
“Obviously being on the other side the last few years in Baltimore and Kansas City, it’s definitely different. But I’m so happy, excited and blessed to be a part of this. From afar, you can tell just how special it is. Now, to be in it 10 toes, it’s awesome.”
Cincinnati also added another playmaker for Burrow in former Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. In a coincidence, Smith’s and Brown’s fathers played alongside one another during their respective NFL careers in 1999 with Cleveland.
Taylor said he expects Smith to be the No. 1 tight end at the start of the season, filling the void left by Hayden Hurst, who signed with the Carolina Panthers in free agency.
“It’s good energy in here. I’m excited,” Smith said of playing for the Bengals. “Being here during OTAs, I just want to come in and learn the offense and get close with the guys, the tight ends coach, Coach (James) Casey and just get to work. New beginning, new journey. I’m excited just to be out here and play some ball.”
Defensively, Cincinnati will add a familiar player in starting cornerback Chidobe Awuzie. The seventh-year veteran continues to work his way back after undergoing surgery on a torn ACL in November.
Awuzie started 14 games for the Bengals in 2021 and the first eight games for the club last season before suffering the season-ending injury.
“My ultimate goal is to become a better player than last year,” he said. “I feel like I got a lot better each year. I don’t want my ACL or any injury I’ve had to hinder that. I want to keep growing as a player.”
In addition to building the team’s chemistry over the next several weeks, Taylor said he’s also locked in on preparations for the draft that starts April 27. Cincinnati has the 28th overall pick in the first round.
Taylor said he trusts Bengals Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin will continue to do what needs to be done to build a winner.
“I sit in the back of the room,” Taylor said. “If he wants my opinion on something, I’ll give it.”
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL