(Reuters) - Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow told Reuters he came out of a lengthy lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic working extra hard to become the leader of the Cincinnati Bengals offense while also feeling more urgency to fight poverty and hunger in the region where he grew up.
“It’s going to be a challenge going into camp,” said Burrow, a southern Ohio native that his hometown Bengals snapped up with the first pick in the NFL draft. “Going to have to spend a lot of extra time in the facility, I’m going to have to keep studying the playbook throughout July when everyone else has off... but I think I’m going to be ready for it.”
Burrow on Thursday announced creation of The Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund at the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio (FAO). The Louisiana State University All American’s Heisman acceptance speech was memorable for its focus on issues of hunger and poverty, problems he said have only worsened during the coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s a lot of people who are struggling right now without jobs, the economy is starting to open back up but people are still struggling now from the time it was closed,” said Burrow. “The faster we get this off the ground, the more people it can help.
“I’m in a position to give back. And so I just want to help as many people as I can with my platform.”
“SPEEDING EVERYTHING UP”
The star of this year’s quarterback-rich draft, Burrow and other rookies in 2020 share a unique dilemma: making the jump from living in quarantine to playing in big games.
The Bengals, who finished 2019 with a 2-14 record, the worst in the league, expect a lot from Burrow, who in his final year at LSU, led the country in passing yards (5,671) and completion percentage (76.3). He also set an NCAA record with 60 touchdown passes in 15 starts, en route to the National Championship.
But the lockdown has diminished opportunities for practice snaps, known in football as “live reps.” This makes it harder for a rookie quarterback like Burrow, who must quickly gel with a new set of receivers and lead an offense against sophisticated NFL defensive schemes.
“I just have to be quicker in my decision-making, my release, my footwork. So it’s just all about speeding everything up,” said Burrow. “That’s part of the live reps that you’re missing because you know what you’re working on that you struggled with in your last season but you don’t have the live reps in an NFL camp.”
Even though the pandemic has scuttled schedules for other professional sports, the NFL training camp is expected to open July 28 with plans to kick off the season as scheduled Sept. 10.
ON TO CINCINNATI
Burrow, who drove to Cincinnati this week, will be part of a growing wave of younger quarterbacks: Last season saw a record 80% of games with one starting quarterback under the age of 27.
“Pat [Mahomes] has obviously set the bar and we’re all chasing him right now,” said Burrow, who shrugs off comparisons to any of the league’s stars.
“Right now I’m just focused on becoming the best player I can be.”
Reporting By Amy Tennery; Editing by David Gregorio
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.