What Bengals' offseason says about Joe Burrow-Ja'Marr Chase connection

CINCINNATI -- Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase looked like old friends and former teammates with each completed pass on Tuesday.

Sure, it was inside an empty Paul Brown Stadium during a 7-on-7 drill at the Cincinnati Bengals' one-day minicamp. But with each completion between Burrow, the quarterback, and Chase, the wide receiver, the connection they enjoyed for two years at LSU was evident. At one point during the drill, they linked up for four straight completions.

It was a dream offseason scenario for the Bengals who are looking for the ex-college teammates to add another dynamic to their passing attack. Burrow said the relationship with Chase is back where it left off.

“I’m excited about where he’s at,” Burrow said Tuesday of Chase. “He’s a really smart player that understands what we’re trying to do in the offense.”

When the Bengals drafted Chase fifth overall in April, there was an understanding that regaining their connection was going to take some time. But after Tuesday’s minicamp, highlighted by a perfect 7-on-7 drill, Chase agreed that he and Burrow are getting back on the same page.

In 2018, Chase and Burrow were average players on a lackluster LSU team. The next season, Burrow won the Heisman Trophy, Chase was honored as the nation’s best receiver and they linked up for 20 touchdowns on their way to winning a national championship.

The turning point for both players came in the summer before their historic 2019 run. Chase pointed to a specific meeting that helped change his trajectory.

Chase and Burrow sat down for a film session that summer. Burrow gave Chase the scouting report on an opposing defensive back -- what to expect, the weaknesses to exploit and what Burrow expected of Chase. The meeting was so insightful, Chase said, that he started to ask Burrow about what to look for when watching film.

“That actually helped me a lot and showed me things I need to look for and I should expect in a game,” Chase said.

Cincinnati is counting on Chase becoming a big playmaker for Burrow once again. In 2020, the Bengals were last in the NFL in completions of 20 or more yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Of course, the Bengals didn’t have Burrow for the final five games of the season because of the season-ending knee injury he sustained in Week 11. But even with Burrow, the top overall pick in the 2020 draft, Cincinnati’s passing attack lacked explosiveness.

Cincinnati offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said he could see and feel the rapport between the quarterback and wide receiver entering their third year of playing together.

“They know how to communicate with each other,” Callahan said. “They don’t really need to get to know each other. They do know each other.”

Even with the familiarity, there were still some new wrinkles Burrow hadn’t seen before. He praised Chase’s improved smoothness when running routes. Burrow said it all looks the same for the first 10 yards before he finishes the route.

“That was the main thing I was really trying to work on so no one could tell what route I was trying to run when I was running it,” Chase said. “When Joe told me that, that just showed me I worked at it good. But I've still got more work to do.”

If the connection looks anything like it did during their final offseason workout before training camp, the Bengals could have a very potent passing attack featuring Chase and fellow receivers Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins.

Despite the OTA workouts and Tuesday’s practice, Cincinnati hasn’t had a full look at its revamped offense. Burrow still hasn’t faced a pass rush, given his current stage of the rehab process, and watched as backup quarterback Brandon Allen led the team through an 11-on-11 drill.

But based on their offseason together, there’s optimism that the former LSU teammates can carry that success into the Bengals’ pivotal season.

“He knows exactly what’s expected of him,” Burrow said. “We got a lot of great guys on offense. We just gotta execute on the field.”