Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack is known for his demanding, exacting practices that feature enough equipment to outfit a school district.
There are volley balls, tennis balls, medicine balls, sleds, chutes and ladders, wobble boards and a 300-pound bag known as "Big Bertha."
And La'el Collins missed them all.
His regard for Pollack's grueling practices is one of the reasons he signed with the Bengals in the offseason. Collins may be the Bengals new right tackle, but his 71 career starts, 28 years and entrée into the NFL elite make him the de facto leader of the Bengals offensive line.
And his three seasons with Pollack in Dallas give his line mates some insight into the unique drills.
"I love them all, but I guess the volley balls are my favorite," Collins said this week after one of the Bengals' voluntary workouts. "You grow to appreciate that type of stuff. It makes you focus on your technique, footwork, timing. It's a progression. By the time you get into a practice, you've been drilling it and drilling it."
The volley balls? Pollack has a variety of uses for them, but the one Collins likes is for footwork. Pollack gathers about ten balls at his feet with a lineman directly across from him. On the whistle, Pollack is tapping a ball to the right or left and the player has to shuffle, grab it, and push it back to Pollack and then get back to the middle for another one.
"It's not that bad, but it really gives you a burn in the legs," Collins says. ""He can make you go as long as he wants. He's just knocking them over and over. He might juke you out. He knows once you hit the ball you have to get back to the middle and he might wait until you get back in the middle and look one way and go the other. If you're wrong, if you go left and step with your right foot first, you do it over. Not a good rep.
"A nice little burn to it."
No surprise to Pollack the drill is Collins' fav.
"Great feet," he says. "Showing off."
Then there is "Big Bertha," the bag/sled the Bengals equipment guys haul out to practice on a forklift. Pollack stands behind the bag and releases the force into the player.
"She's big and strong," Collins says. "It's used to help against a bull rush where the guy is coming at you. You have to hit the bag, sink your hips and re-fit. You have to stymie her, re-fit and get control of it. It builds that muscle memory and is really good for the legs."
And this is all in shorts and hats. The helmets don't come on until June. All the better. When they go against Big Bertha without helmets, Pollack knows that emphasizes the need to keep the head back, a key fundamental against the bull rush.
"It might not simulate actually pushing on somebody, but whatever it is, the sled or bag or medicine ball, you're going to feel some kind of resistance," Collins says. "Which is good because then you're already in a groove when it comes time to hitting somebody."
During his first week on the field as a Bengal, Collins' reunion with Pollack five years in the making had "a little burn to it."
"No one I've been around," Collins says, "has ever had this much equipment and no one has been as detailed."
STARTING FAST: The Bengals are easing into things during their first week on the field. Quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher observed this week that there haven't been any drastic changes in drills or mechanics: "We're just trying to get our feet under us and get the timing back with the receivers."
It's just more philosophy right now. In Tuesday's State of the Offense Address, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow talked about getting off to a faster start. It's hard to imagine after their great stretch run, but in the first nine games of the season, the Bengals were just 14th offensively in overall yards. In the eight games after the bye, they were ninth. And in the last three games they were fifth.
"We kind of just skidded at that beginning part when we weren't quite doing all the things we needed to do to win those games that we expected to win," Burrow said. "Just going into this year, I just expect to be a more refined, more technical offense that really maintains the explosiveness and efficiency throughout the entire year."
Pitcher thinks it's mentality as much as mechanics. Clearly they were more aggressive as the season went on and rode that mindset all the way into that last series of the Super Bowl.
They surged into the postseason in the last two games the starters played with a combined 913 yards against Baltimore and Kansas City, 748 through the air.
"Those were two defenses that really came at you aggressively. They're not going to sit back and wait and our guys answered," Pitcher said. "That's the mentality we have to have. No matter who plays us or how they choose to play us. We have to be the aggressors. Guys have seen where we can go playing at that level and that's the expectation. To play at that level."
Burrow likes what he sees up front on the line and that may feed into the aggression.
"I'm going into (training camp) expecting that we can kind of open it up a little bit and maybe throw some things in there we weren't able to do last year and the year before," Burrow said. "We have a really good core group of plays that we know really well and we're good at so we're not going to abandon that."
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