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Adeniji's Sudden Rise At Bengals Right Guard Wasn't So Sudden

Hakeem Adeniji (77) against Cleveland in his first NFL start at guard.
Hakeem Adeniji (77) against Cleveland in his first NFL start at guard.

Hakeem Adeniji just didn't come out of the woodwork to make his first start of the season in the Bengals' last game against Cleveland. He's been in their plans almost as long as Joe Burrow and the top of their 2020 draft class.

After all, it was Adeniji's sixth overall start of what looks to be many more on the Cincinnati offensive line at either guard or tackle. At the moment offensive line coach Frank Pollack is more than content to give him his second NFL start at guard when he again lines him up on the right side Sunday (4:05 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in Las Vegas.

When Adeniji practiced for just two weeks after missing virtually all of Pollack's first offseason coaching the line, that didn't prevent Pollack from giving him the Cleveland assignment. Adeniji may have missed every football activity in the five months between Flag Day and almost Halloween with a torn pectoral muscle, but Pollack had seen quite enough long before.

First, during the 2020 draft process as the O-line coach for the Jets. Then, this February and March as the new Bengals O-line coach watching Adeniji's rookie tape of four starts at both tackles and one as an extra tight end. He thought there could have been more of that tape.

"I just watched last year's tape. When he played, he played well," Pollack said. "He can move. He's quick. He plays with his hips carried underneath him. He's been dialed in mentally this year."

Adeniji became center Trey Hopkins' fourth right guard this season. Three of them project to potential future Opening Day starters in Adeniji and rookies Jackson Carman and Trey Hill. Hopkins believes Adeniji has some physical and other gifts.

"He does a great job listening to the older guys, does a great job taking the stuff seriously and owning his craft," Hopkins said. "He has some great lateral quickness and very good feet. If you're on the receiving end of a punch, he has a pretty strong punch too."

Pollack says he had plans to rotate Adeniji against the Browns because he had been back to practice for such a brief time. And when the Bengals offense ran off 20 consecutive scrimmage snaps to start the game, Pollack was ready to spell him with Carman. But Adeniji let him know he had caught his breath and he went on to take all 79 snaps.

"He was doing just fine, so we left him in," Pollack said. "He got himself in great shape."

This is what they've come to expect from Adeniji since they were all over him at the 2020 Senior Bowl even though the Bengals were coaching the other team. After playing all 48 of his games at Kansas at tackle, Adeniji impressed the Bengals moving up and down the line at the Mobile, Ala., practices and they thought he'd be long gone before he dropped out of the sky to them in the sixth round.

"On our draft board we had him rated pretty high. We liked him," Pollack said of the Jets' War Room. "Because of COVID, there were basically no scouting trips. I didn't go out and work him out, but we went pretty deep with him in the process and did a lot of (Zoom) interviews."

Pollack saw what the Bengals saw. An extremely bright (he got his degree in three years) and versatile athlete with jackhammer feet that just don't quit. Adeniji blew out his shoulder doing an extra lifting session away from Paul Brown Stadium in the middle of the voluntary workouts during the first week of June and no good deed goes unpunished. It may have cost him an Opening Day start.

"We'll never know. He definitely would have been in the mix," Pollack said. "He's got great feet, good balance, plays underneath himself, explosive."

What they also like about the sophomore Adeniji is he carries himself like a 10-year vet. He flashed a bit of that during Wednesday's media session when he referred to the rookies that started before him at right guard as "the young guys."

In fact his mother, a former TV anchor in her native Nigeria, calls him "an oldsie."

"He's like an old man with so much wisdom in what he says," Joke Adeniji told last year. "He gets right to the point."

And the point is, that Kansas degree sure sounds like it came in management and leadership as he talked about fitting in next to Hopkins and right tackle Riley Reiff and lining up opposite left guard Quinton Spain.

"Between Trey, Riley and Q, that's 20-30 years of experience," Adeniji said. "They were giving me little tips and nuances and helping me get right and the communication is always on point. So it was very easy to slide in there. "

It turns out Reiff has a new friend in the young sage.

"I'll never screw my tackle over because I know how it is out there," Adeniji said. "I kind of know how to work with the tackle and certain things at tackle that you need and you don't like. So it's definitely helpful."

Adeniji may have been gone. But he was never forgotten by the powers-that-be.

"You never know when the last snap is going to be so you want to make the most out of it," Adeniji said. "And this is my favorite thing to do so obviously I wanted to get back out here as soon as I could."