Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa saw the positives of playing in an empty Paul Brown Stadium for Sunday’s season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Bosa doesn’t like being disturbed when he enters his game-day zone. He won’t have to deal with stadium traffic, screaming fans and friends asking for help at the ticket window.
The star pass rusher will get to walk onto the field in a relaxed state before starting his detailed stretches.
Bosa being undisturbed before kickoff might be bad news for Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who has to make his NFL debut against his former Ohio State teammate and his Chargers pass-rushing partner Melvin Ingram.
“Fortunately back in those days, I was running with the twos (second team) and the threes (third team),” Burrow said about facing Bosa in college practices. “I would never go up against him, so it would be my first live rep against Joey Bosa.
“They’re two of the top 10 pass rushers in the league. It’s going to be a good challenge for us and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
That type of answer is why the Bengals are all in on their No. 1 overall pick from April and made him a team captain as a rookie. The confident quarterback seems to always embrace the toughest obstacles, even something as daunting as facing Bosa and Ingram without any preseason games and behind an inexperienced offensive line.
Bengals left tackle Jonah Williams will also have to make his NFL debut against Bosa. Williams was drafted No. 11 overall out of Alabama in 2019, but missed his rookie season because of a shoulder injury.
“I’m gonna have to get the ball out of my hands quickly and know what I’m looking at,” Burrow said. “If I don’t know what I’m looking at every snap, it’s going to be a long day.”
Bosa has high hopes for Burrow’s NFL career, but he practically guaranteed Burrow will have a long day for his debut.
“If he’s gonna be able to do (what he did at LSU) in the NFL, he’s gonna be a serious weapon,” Bosa said. “It won’t happen this first week, but I think he’s gonna have a good career. … Rookie comes with inexperience. He definitely hasn’t had a (defensive) line like ours come at him yet.”
Bosa has different memories than Burrow as Buckeyes teammates in 2015, before Burrow transferred to LSU and embarked on arguably the greatest college season for a quarterback by winning the Heisman Trophy and a national title.
Bosa said he did face his former temmate in practices because Burrow was Ohio State’s scout team quarterback. Then again, Burrow likely would remember a 6-foot-5, 280-pound defensive lineman chasing him.
The Chargers are expecting Burrow to make mistakes in his first NFL game, but they won’t take him lightly, especially after he threw for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns last season while facing SEC defenses on a weekly basis.
There will be an element of surprise with the Chargers not knowing what a Burrow-lead Bengals offense looks like. Burrow will have many weapons with running back Joe Mixon, tight end C.J. Uzomah and wide receivers A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd.
Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward made the bold claim this week that the Bengals’ skill players compare to the Kansas City Chiefs’ many playmakers.
Perhaps this could be a good test for the Chargers’ revamped secondary before facing the Chiefs next week at SoFi Stadium. The Chargers lost safety Derwin James because of season-ending knee surgery, but they added cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and have depth with a healthy Nasir Adderley, the free safety who missed most of his rookie season in 2019 with a hamstring injury.
The Chargers are favored because of their experience, even with new starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who started 43 games for the Buffalo Bills between 2015 and 2017. He’s the reason why Sunday’s game won’t feature two first-round quarterbacks dueling in their debuts.
No. 6 overall pick and former Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert will be on the Chargers’ sideline watching Burrow attempt to figure out a stout defense he sees regularly in practice.
Herbert might have more physical tools than Burrow, but he’s behind Burrow on the mental side of football. That’s why the Bengals made Burrow the starter from Day 1 and the Chargers decided to be patient with Herbert.
“He prepares as well as anybody I’ve ever been around and really understands what we’re trying to achieve on offense and as a team,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said about Burrow. “He’s earned (the job). We gave him the first-team reps the first day he was here, but he certainly lived up to him being a starter. … Everyone has seen how he’s performed at training camp. Right away you could tell the guy belongs.”
The Chargers will find out Sunday if Burrow belongs on an NFL field this soon.