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Camp Stuff ahead of Pre-season Game 3

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That's a solid debut from the new beat writer. 

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I looked at his profile because he does look 38 (he's not).   But his profile says he was a child actor and was in Kraft Velveeta commercials.  LOL.

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1 hour ago, AMPHAR said:

I looked at his profile because he does look 38 (he's not).   But his profile says he was a child actor and was in Kraft Velveeta commercials.  LOL.

Mike awakens from third nap of the afternoon.  “Velvetta, you say?”

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Resetting the Bengals’ offensive line picture entering critical stretch run - Dehner



Who will be the starting lineup tasked with protecting the most valuable left knee in the state of Ohio when Mike Zimmer and his cast of pass rushers show up at Paul Brown Stadium on Sept. 12?

With less than a month to figure it out, the Bengals haven’t yet. That’s both a problem and a solution.

What makes it most interesting, however, is it’s evolving rapidly.

We know for certain, barring injury, the line will be bookended by Jonah Williams and Riley Reiff. Trey Hopkins continues to follow his path to full return by the opener, easing into the first three weeks of practice at center.

Quinton Spain appeared to have a lock on the left guard spot, but the stunning rise of a draft pick changing positions — no, not the one everyone expected — has him on his heels and everyone wondering if a rookie will end up starting after all.

Then there’s the rise of last year’s scapegoat and the disappearance of double stuffed Oreos helping with belief in tackle insurance.

Yeah, there’s a lot going on for those who keep praising the Frank Pollack Way up front. After two weeks and one game in the books, it’s time to take stock of where the offensive line has changed, where it’s going and why Friday feels like the most critical juncture in the whole shebang.

For the moment, Michael Jordan holds down the role of starter at right guard. He’s listed as the starter on the depth chart, he started the game at Tampa Bay and expectations are he’ll start Friday against Washington.

It’s hard to forget as the Bengals return to the scene of the heinous Joe Burrow injury last year, what can go wrong with Jordan as the guy.

He’s calling the return, “just another game,” as he hopes to exorcise the demons.

Thus far, he’s done so. Jordan took improvement seriously this offseason. He looks and sounds like a different player. Pro Football Focus logged him with eight pass-blocking snaps against the Bucs without a pressure allowed, for whatever that small exhibition sample size does for you.

The changes offensive line coach Pollack used with Jordan have done plenty for him. He praised the focus on specific hand placement, making him feel more confident as a pass blocker compared to last year.

“It wasn’t organized,” Jordan said of last year. “It wasn’t planned. ‘Get your hands up.’ Now it’s a little bit more direct with Pollack.”

Jordan spent time with Bengals great Willie Anderson over the offseason, traveling to Atlanta to work about once a month. He says he’s seen that pay off partially in the implementation of footwork and techniques Pollack is teaching, but also just in attitude.

“He said a lot of young players like myself, we put too much pressure on ourselves,” Jordan said. “He said, ‘You don’t need to do that. You got here, continue to be who you are and walk with confidence.'”

Jordan’s confidence hasn’t left, he insists.

“Like a mean stain and it can’t wipe off,” he said.

Does the right attitude mean he’s the starting right guard?

“I’m proud of the way he came in and, certainly, hasn’t gotten to the point we are going to cement him as a starter or anything like that, but his approach has been great,” offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. “He’s done a lot of good things, his game has definitely improved and he’s played much better. Played good yesterday. I’m excited about that and excited about what that competition can breed for the interior of our line.”

Ah yes, the competition. The only name that doesn’t appear part of it at this point is the man most thought to be the heir apparent. Second-round pick Jackson Carman went through practice on Monday barely seeing a rep in 11-on-11 as he continues to roll with the third string.

He didn’t play particularly well against Tampa, committed a holding penalty, was on the ground too much and often appeared winded. There’s plenty of time to learn as he goes and he’ll need to impress against Washington and Miami, but for now, he’s essentially a non-factor in the race to start.

“I thought he played OK,” Callahan said. “There were some ups and downs getting his feet underneath him in the run game. I thought he did some good things in protection. He is physical and he’s strong, it’s just a matter of reining that in, getting the technique down and all young players go through it where you go through the first game and it kind of goes all over the place and then you settle down a little bit as you get used to the pro level and pro speeds.”

The Bengals have been looking for Carman to put the rookie inconsistency behind him since he showed up. While rookie roller coasters happen, this one obviously has had too many dips to continue being handed valuable reps with the first two groups in practice.

“I’d like to see more positive steps from him than he’s shown so far,” Callahan said. “There have been enough things that he’s got to get better at and get better at quickly. That’s just the reality. He’s doing things that you’d expect rookies to do and then he flashes his potential. The name of the game at this level for any young player is be consistent. The most consistent guys are the easiest guys to trust and to play. Inconsistency is what hurts him the most so far.”

Here’s the thing: While Carman struggles with his transition from left tackle to guard, D’Ante Smith continues to ascend. PFF graded Smith as the best pass-blocking offensive lineman in Saturday’s game. He pitched a clean sheet on 16 pass-blocking snaps. That backs up what coaches have seen all camp. He was thought of as a fourth-round tackle project, but he has proven much more as he’s now officially a guard who has position flex outside if needed in a pinch.

The move fits him. If Carman had been playing like Smith, people would be praising the Bengals draft. Oftentimes, it’s the player picked later at the same position who saves the day. That could be the case here.

The question is how far will he rise? He’s mostly played left guard. That spot looked solid for motivated veteran Quinton Spain and his 74 career starts. It probably still is, but the Bengals staff is going to give Smith every opportunity to prove he can play right away. That started Monday when he ran with the first team at left guard in 11-on-11 with Spain as the backup. Spain returned to the starting role on the next series of 11s.

But this staff is evaluating Smith closely.

“I think everything’s out on the table at this point,” Callahan said. “We’re trying to find the best five guys we can to start come Week 1. D’Ante had a nice showing to start out. He’s a young player and made a lot of young player mistakes, technique-wise and targeting, things like that, but as far as raw ability and getting off the ball and climbing to the second level and getting on guys and covering them up, really positive first step for D’Ante playing a position he hasn’t played a lot. He’s going to keep getting those reps and keep competing.”

Callahan anticipates a significant amount of shuffling as the next two weeks’ worth of games and practices unfold. As for if Smith, who spent most of his time on the left side in college and camp, could transition into a starting job on the right, that’s in play.

“Ideally you’d leave him in one spot,” Callahan said, “but the reality is he’s going to have to be able to play both to have value for our offensive line as a starter or a backup.”

Xavier Su’a-Filo continues to hang in the background as the known veteran commodity. He didn’t play until the second half but makes sense as a player with 58 starts who has seen it all. The Bengals know what they have in Su’a-Filo and they look to be kicking over every rock to see if anybody can top his level.

The Bengals could let go of Su’a-Filo and save $2.8 million against the cap with negligible dead money. Considering the lack of experience at guard beyond Spain, however, that would be a very risky move for a team not in a position to take risks with their offensive line.

The news wasn’t all on the interior. Swing tackle Fred Johnson, more valuable than ever after the season-ending pectoral injury of Hakeem Adeniji, is expected to play Friday at Washington after suffering a hamstring during the third day of camp.

Johnson, picked up off waivers from Pittsburgh in 2019, has been mercurial in stripes. At times serviceable, at times lackadaisical, always packed with potential thanks to his massive 6-foot-6, 340-pound frame.

The 24-year-old slimmed down the frame from where he says he played last year at 354, thanks to boycotting his favorite snack, double-stuffed Oreos.

“Those are my kryptonites, like Double Stuf Oreos, the golden or the regular kind,” Johnson said, then speaking directly to all Oreo lovers worldwide. “No crazy flavors. No red velvet cake. Just the regular and it’s got to be double stuff, like the party pack or the family size.”

Johnson might be staying away, but a big man can still dream.

“If I get down, by the end of camp, if I get down to 330 or 335, I will enjoy a very quick row of double-stuffed Oreos,” he said. “It will be very fast that they get devoured.”

Beyond his body, Johnson praises Pollack for finding ways to get the most out of his power and 34-inch reach.

“He really taught me to play with length,” Johnson said. “Using my arm length to my advantage as far as pass pro and run blocking. I was in for a couple of plays in team (drills) and there was a move on Joseph Ossai and (Darius) Hodge and just applying his techniques made me feel way more comfortable and way more confident in my pass pro just with the team reps I had last week. I feel like I’m at least a 40, 50 percent better football player now than I was last year.”

The Bengals also saw encouraging play from Isaiah Prince, who played 92 percent of the snaps against Tampa with a shortage of tackles available. The 2020 opt-out showed well, allowing just one pressure while splitting his 65 snaps between left and right tackle. Two more games in the same vein and he probably played his way into the fourth tackle spot on the 53.

If Johnson — or to a lesser extent Prince — can serve as a solid backup swing tackle to Williams and Reiff, the depth outside doesn’t feel as pressing. If Smith or Jordan can put together two more weeks of quality play, the faith in an interior that can hold its own early in the season would grow significantly and have veterans in the reserve should things go haywire early.

The Bengals have options galore and Friday night against a Washington team with one of the most destructive defensive lines in football awaits as their most important test.

The shape of the depth chart coming out of this game probably will be the season-opening depth chart. All we’ve learned for certain is that the outlook can change quickly.



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“Then there’s the rise of last year’s scapegoat”

Great line.  

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Right Guard is really where the drama is.   

Left Guard is only unsettled because they may have landed a draft day steal in Smith and he's pushing for more time.  

The rest is playing out like expected except maybe at swing tackle where Fred might be in some trouble via Prince.   Although IF Spain holds on to LG then you still have Smith that could be swing tackle.

The competition is producing better than expected depth at this point, IMO.

Also Jackson Carman.  Let the dude be.  He's caught in the wake of the Chase vs. Sewell debate and Chase hasn't given anybody any reason to complain at this point.   Do you really want to "Jordan" him IF you can avoid it?

Jordan was a promising draft pick that got forced into the lineup too quickly because Boling retired, Williams injury and Glenn decided he didn't want to play or pay back his bonus. 

Really wouldn't be a shocking thing if Jordan turned it around his 3rd year with a competent OL coach. 

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