Michael Jordan, the Bengals offensive lineman, is a fun-loving guy who speaks softly and smiles often.
There is an innocence and exuberance about the 22-year-old guard who grew up in nearby Fairfield, Ohio. Jordan may look and act like a typical second-year player, but the Bengals see a force in the making.
Jordan fully understands his opportunity. After all, he has a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream.
"Getting drafted here meant a lot to me," Jordan said. "Being from Cincinnati, it's every kid's dream to play for the Bengals. Seeing my dream come true meant a lot to me. Then from actually getting here to the preseason, it's been a long journey and I'm grateful. I've had a lot of the veteran guys help me along the way. They've helped me become an offensive lineman that I have wanted to become."
Jordan was the youngest Bengal on the 2019 roster as a rookie at the age of 21. Despite entering training camp as a longshot for playing time, a strong preseason earned him the No. 1 left guard spot to open the season.
"The athleticism that we saw on college tape is there," Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said. "The football intelligence — he played (several different line positions) at Ohio State. They had a lot of confidence in him. He played center; he made all the calls. He's been very flexible for us. It hasn't been too big for him. There hasn't been a moment where he looked like a rookie. You see all the athleticism and all the power that he can bring to the table."
However, playing on the offensive line in the NFL has a steep learning curve. Rookies typically are forced to overhaul everything physically and mentally to work with his other four linemen on every play.
It showed early on for Jordan that he had to quickly adjust to the speed of the league. He suffered a knee injury in the Week 2 game against San Francisco and missed a week before returning to play Weeks 4 and 5 against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals.
In his first three games, Jordan faced some of the league's best. Seattle's Quinton Jefferson, San Francisco's DeForest Buckner and Pittsburgh's Cameron Heyward were about the toughest first three interior linemen with their speed and power that any rookie could face.
Those are tough matchups for any player, let alone a rookie who was still learning what it means to be an NFL starting offensive lineman. Those marquee matchups, and the positives and negatives that came with Jordan's performances, though helped him learn and get the necessary reps to finish 2019 as strong as he did.
"The best part is going against some of the greatest players in the world," said Jordan. "Also watching guys when you were a kid and going against them is breathtaking. Even being on the field with them is great. Guys like Larry Fitzgerald, Tom Brady, Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson. It is a really unique experience."
The Bengals are trying to bring along numerous young players on both sides of the ball and the emergence of Jordan could turn out to be one of the most important moving forward. It's not easy to develop offensive linemen in the NFL these days, and the Bengals need a player like Jordan to continue to solidify a unit that has seen a lot of transition over the past three seasons.
Jordan, a soft spoken guy who would rather let his play do the talking, knows he made a significant step forward in the final three games of the season. It's the room he still has to grow that keeps him motivated.
"For the fans, thank you for supporting us through my first rookie season," said Jordan. "I feel like I owe the city and the state of Ohio so much more."