And the fact that Burrow felt he could tell “The Story,” an ugly, compelling story from high school days, speaks volumes about the young veteran crew that one of those locker room leadership vacuums has filled in the last burps and first rumble of massive transitions.
Uzomah, the close end of sixth year, calls this Bengals team the team he’s closest to since Little League. Up to the mothers who bring the juice boxes. And how it might have helped Burrow to help them.
There are the new defenders, like Vonn Bell’s morning wake-up calls and DJ Reader’s calm voice at social justice meetings. There are the standbys like Dunlap, Bernard and the suddenly chatty Geno Atkins with the grizzled, accomplished reader and Mike Daniels joining him in the front. There are Bengali veterans like Uzomah, Hopkins and AJ Green who are comfortable in their new positions as senior advisors.
“Trey doesn’t say much,” says Uzomah. “But when he has something to say, it’s powerful.”
It’s a far cry from 2015, Uzomah’s rookie year in a locker room with entrenched veterans of the thirties who started 8-0 after four consecutive playoff seasons. Newbies were seen, not heard, and maybe even tarnished a little.
“It’s the most networked team I’ve been on for a while. We’re even closely connected to the coaches,” says Uzomah. “And I feel like it’s still a young team with a lot of leadership. To have people like Vonn Bell and this new culture of defense. This is the best I have ever heard from AJ when it comes to speaking of Balls. Gio doesn’t. ” I love speaking in front of crowds, but he does and that has helped us with how things went and brought us closer together.
“Crazy what happened to this Covid quarantine stuff, we’re getting back on the ground. There’s no time to waste cold shoulders or rookie hazings. No time for that. It was, ‘We’ll be playing in a couple of weeks a game.’ As crazy as the Covid was, I think it helped build the unity of the team. “
And maybe that comes back to Burrow.
“The way we treated ourselves, maybe he could be so much more himself,” says Uzomah. “‘I can say that and do that because I know my boys have my back and I have theirs.'”