INDIANAPOLIS — Two years ago this week, Joe Burrow was preparing for the start of spring football at Ohio State and hoping he could beat out Dwayne Haskins Jr. for the starting quarterback job.

That, of course, didn't happen, and the rest, of course, is history. Haskins became a record-setting quarterback and 15th overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft.

Burrow has done even better. He moved on to LSU in 2018 as a graduate transfer and won the Heisman Trophy last season while leading the Tigers to the College Football Playoff national championship.

>> Photo gallery: The career of NFL prospect Joe Burrow

He's now expected to be taken by the Cincinnati Bengals with the first pick of the NFL draft in April. It has been a wild ride, but it doesn't come as a surprise to Burrow. He expected this.

“You know, yeah, I did,” he said Tuesday at the NFL combine in front a large throng of reporters. “I knew the work that I put in. This whole (media hoopla) is great, but the thing I really envisioned was the on-field success.

“The Heisman Trophy and all those awards are great, but I wanted to be a starting quarterback and be the best player that I can be. And I've worked really, really hard for it and had a lot of people that have helped … me as well.”

As the draft process begins in earnest, murmurs have surfaced that Burrow might have reservations about playing for the downtrodden Bengals. Asked about it on Tuesday, he didn't jump for joy at the prospect, but neither did he say that he'd prefer to play elsewhere.

“I'm not going to not play,” Burrow said. “I'm a ballplayer. Whoever takes me, I'm going to go show up.”

Later, he added, “The only thing I've said is that I didn't want to be presumptuous about the pick. That's why I've been noncommittal, because I don't know what's going to happen. They might not pick me. They might fall in love with someone else.

“You guys kind of took that narrative and ran with it. There has never been anything like that from my end.”

Asked if it would be special to play in his home state, the Athens native replied, “Yeah, absolutely. It's 2 hours, 15 minutes from my house. I could go home for dinner if I wanted to. Not a lot of pro athletes could get to do that.”

Already, though, the draft process nitpicking has begun. Burrow's hand was measured at a smaller-than-ideal 9 inches. Burrow, who has no shortage of personality, responded characteristically.

“Considering retirement after I was informed the football will be slipping out of my tiny hands,” he posted Monday on Twitter. “Please keep me in your thoughts.”

Considering retirement after I was informed the football will be slipping out of my tiny hands. Please keep me in your thoughts.

— Joey Burrow (@Joe_Burrow10) February 24, 2020

Burrow said Tuesday that hand size would be an issue if he had a history of turnovers because of it.

“But I didn't have a lot of fumbles or anything like that, so I just tried to make a little joke about it,” he said.

Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin said he was unconcerned about Burrow's hand size. He sounded impressed by Burrow, though the team hasn't interviewed the quarterback yet.

“He can play within the system and execute the system, but he can play outside the system when he has to,” Tobin said.

Burrow won't work out at the combine. He said LSU's long season meant that he didn't have enough preparation time to prepare for drills the way he'd want.

“The physical stuff, they can see on film,” Burrow said. “But everyone wants to get to know you as a person and as a player as far as the mental side. And I feel like I'm really good at that. I enjoy talking ball with coaches.”

Burrow acknowledged that he's not the most gifted athlete in the draft. But he believes his work ethic sets him apart.

“I feel I prepare better than anybody else,” Burrow said. “That's why I'm so confident because I feel I know what's going to be happening on Saturdays before it happens. Hopefully, I can carry it over to Sundays with the help of the coaches and the veterans.”

Though Burrow's success came after he left Ohio State, he cherished the support he got from his home state during his time at LSU.

“That meant the world,” he said. “I gave a lot to that program with my hard work. It didn't show on the field, unfortunately, but I did a lot of work behind the scenes. For the fans to recognize that meant a lot to me, and I really did take notice.”

The only thing missing from Burrow's spectacular senior season was a matchup against his former team. Ohio State's semifinal loss to Clemson kept that from happening.

“It would have been fun to play my old teammates,” he said. “I'm sure there would've been some trash talk out there as well.”

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

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