Dan Campbell wary of ‘legend’ Joe Burrow and Cincinnati Bengals’ deep passing game

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Lions Dan Campbell was an assistant with the New Orleans Saints, across state in Louisiana, when Joe Burrow led LSU to a national championship.

“He’s a legend down there,” Campbell said Wednesday. “I mean, LSU and you win a national championship, he can walk on water down there.”

Burrow isn’t quite performing miracles at the NFL level yet, but a year removed from a torn ACL, he’s getting close.

The second-year quarterback has the historically inept Cincinnati Bengals 3-2 and in contention for an AFC playoff spot, and nothing he has done so far has surprised Campbell.

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“We saw all those games (at LSU) and he was the hot talk and just how much he really had blossomed from his junior, senior year,” Campbell said. “I mean, he just really erupted and balled into this, man, top-notch player.

“Joe Brady, who’s the (offensive coordinator) at Carolina, was with him (at LSU) and just raved about how smart he was, how much information that he could absorb and the amount of checks that he could get to and how he could read coverage, and then obviously make all of the throws, which you see. So he’s done a nice job.”

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Burrow spent time in the hospital after he suffered a throat injury in last week’s overtime loss to the Green Bay Packers, but is expected to play Sunday when the Lions (0-5) host the Bengals at Ford Field.

He ranks fourth in the NFL in completion percentage, in the top 10 in passer rating and touchdowns, and is a big reason why Cincinnati has one of the most dangerous deep passing games in the league.

Through five weeks, Burrow has thrown for 1,269 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. He is averaging 8.8 yards per completion.

“He’s getting them into the right play, he knows exactly what he’s looking for, what he’s been coached to do,” Campbell said. “He can throw the heck out of the ball. He’s a pretty accurate quarterback. He’s got poise in the pocket. He’s got the ability to scramble. He’s not a running quarterback, but he’s got the ability to scramble with his eyes down field, and he’s got pocket awareness, and those are tough.”

‘Ignite a fire’

When Romeo Okwara suffered his season-ending torn Achilles tendon against the Chicago Bears, his younger brother, Julian, was one of the players who helped him limp off the field.

Outside linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard said the elder Okwara’s injury has been a motivational source for his brother.

“It is unique,” Sheppard said. “And I think Julian has used it to kind of ignite a fire under him, like, ‘All right I got it. Look, bro, I got you. Now it’s me carrying our last name out here on the field it’s not both of us.’ So I think it’s actually helped him in a way.”

Julian Okwara played a career-high 20 snaps in last week’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings. He has four tackles in six quarters since his brother’s injury, which is one more than he had in the first eight games of his career.

“When I came in … a lot of people said that J.O. was just a pass rusher,” Sheppard said. “And that’s something that I honed on him with, you are not just going to be a pass rusher. You are going to be an every-down player because of the ability in your body. And from Day 1 it’s been the same with him. We had ups and downs, but he is believing, he’s bought in and you’re starting to see him set edges, he’ll play with the proper pad leverage and I hope it continues, and I hope and pray that it continues to go in the right direction.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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