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Bengals O-Line To Get Early Test In Washington

Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack has ushered in a culture change up front.
Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack has ushered in a culture change up front.

Willie Anderson, who once roamed Paul Brown Stadium as the greatest right tackle of his time, now spends his days counseling young offensive linemen on every level and Bengals guard Michael Jordan is part of the flock.

Jordan, who has re-made his body and re-tooled his game as he heads into his third season, has so impressed Anderson with his commitment that he even serves as a mentor at the ripe old age of 23.

Now Anderson is just waiting for the sequel.

"It's real early for him to be where he wants to get," says the creator of the Willie Anderson Offensive Line Academy. "There's a lot more work he has to do and stay consistent to do it. I'm not going to say he's arrived. But I know the work he's done to get to this point. Now he has to keep doing it."

After Saturday's steady opening night in Tampa, Jordan and the rest of his offensive line try to keep it going in Friday night's (8 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) massive test at FedEx Field against the Washington Football Team's monstrous defensive line of four first-round picks in a matchup of mind as much matter.

Dan Hoard, the Bengals radio play-by-play man, has referred to it as returning to the scene of the crime. It was where quarterback Joe Burrow suffered a season-ending left ACL injury on one of Washington's four sacks and 12 hits on Bengals quarterbacks during a 20-9 victory on Nov. 22. It was Jordan, the left guard at that time, that got taken back into Burrow by Washington tackle Jonathan Allen in a moment both Burrow and Jordan have buried with encouraging texts and the brisk two-step of time.

Burrow, who won't play, calls it another road trip.

Jordan: "It's just another game. Another game, another opportunity to get better and fix last season's mistakes."

Jordan, who has started his first two Opening Days in the league at left guard, had been named the starting right guard heading into training camp. But in an effort to find a consistent pair of guards to match tackles Jonah Williams and Riley Reiff, new offensive line coach Frank Pollack has been shuffling through rotations.

The bulk of the Bengals' first team took six snaps against the Bucs while Jordan took 13 on the right. The idea is finding the consistency for his enormous skills that has eluded him since the Bengals traded up in the fourth round to get him out of Ohio State in 2019. After losing his job late last season, Jordan wasted no time making changes. That involved two trips to Atlanta to visit Anderson before he reported to PBS in the spring. Anderson is quick to point out as a trainer, he's not the driving force in Jordan's development. "That comes from the guy coaching him for six months."

But it's nice to have a Hall of Fame sounding board.

"The first time he came down he was on a fast. He was kind of real weak, so we couldn't work him out a lot because he was trying to lose the weight," Anderson says. "He came the second time, he put it on in muscle. The kid has a plan for himself."

They certainly talk about the matter stuff. Techniques, for sure.

"He helped me a lot with footwork and all the things Pollack is teaching, of course he's got that stuff for sure," Jordan said before a practice this week.

Take hand placement.

It's one of the many details Pollack has focused on, more so than what Jordan was used to early in his NFL career. Jordan believes the one thing he worked on the most in the offseason is tinkering with his hands in pass sets.

"Coach Pollack has given us a plethora of techniques to use with hand placements so I just wanted to take that and run with it," Jordan said. "It wasn't organized. It wasn't planned. 'Get your hands up.' Now it's a little bit more direct with Coach Pollack."

So just the other day, Anderson and Jordan were talking hands.

"Using different hand techniques," Anderson says. "I believe all great O-linemen understand how to use their hands. For certain guys. Certain rushers. Certain rushes. And in the run game. I talk to pro D linemen … and they love to play those guys only using one hand technique. They love it. That's what I was saying to Mike this offseason. Learn how to use different hands against different guys."

Jordan has been a sounding board himself for one of Anderson's students from the Cincinnati area, Princeton High School's Paris Johnson, Jr., making his own transition at Ohio State from tackle to right guard as Jordan changes sides for the first time since high school under a new position coach.

"His biggest thing is mastering the mundane, and that's doing the little drills every single day," Jordan said of Pollack. And he has another saying where he says, 'Great players do the little things uncommonly well.' So that's always sticking with us in the O-line room."

While Jordan was re-making himself in the offseason, so were the Bengals. One of the first and biggest changes was hiring Pollack.

"The offensive line group, the whole team," said Jordan of where he's seen the attitude shifts. "Obviously, last year our record wasn't where we wanted it to be. But as a team, we want more. And then to narrow it down to offensive line, we changed our mindsets from what it has been in previous years in terms of finish(ing), your will and always working to get better. Nothing's ever perfect. Always learn something new."

Jordan has a diverse support group. Both Pollack and Anderson played in the league, Pollack as a valued backup and Anderson as the highest paid offensive lineman at the turn of the century. If Pollack is "The Master of the Mundane," Anderson is the "Tsar of Think."

"The biggest thing that he expressed to me, he said a lot of young players like myself, we put too much pressure on ourselves," Jordan said of Anderson. "He said, 'You don't need to do that. You got here, continue to be who you are and walk with confidence.'"

Anderson sees the game through a pragmatist's lens. He believes there is no tougher challenge in the game or more unnatural football act than an offensive lineman backing up trying to defend himself while getting attacked. Unless it's a cornerback in one-on-one coverage.

"It's not about confidence, it's about understanding you can't be perfect," Anderson says. "You want to be perfect.

"(But) cool the brakes. The guys who have the hot brakes, when the stress comes, they overheat. The really good guys are going to calm themselves down. Cool the brakes. They're not worried about the bad stuff, because they're going in thinking only about doing their best."

The Bengals offensive line has returned to the scene. But Jordan and his guys are in a different place. He has kept the faith in the changes.

"Because I'm out in practice doing the same thing with my teammates, the drills, over and over and over and over," Jordan said. "We get plenty of reps. Pollack makes sure we get plenty of drill reps every single day."