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Bengals Offensive Line Embraces Pollack's Player Approach

Frank Pollack: He's been in the trenches.
Frank Pollack: He's been in the trenches.

There are times you can tell the many moods of old-new Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack when he opens his teeming Pandora's Box of music at the end of a long X-ing and O-ing day.

A little old school country now and then. (Marty Robbins' El Paso.) Get a little Motown '60s going. (The Temps.) Crank up some '80s rock. (Maybe Guns N' Roses.) You can also get some Sinatra crooning an offensive lineman's "That's Life."

And the Eagles are always perched in the que for an adopted son of the desert.

"I like any song that references the great state of Arizona. There's plenty out there," Pollack says. "Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona. I've done that."

But for the most part in this first week of training camp there has been a lid on Pandora. "I can't remember really putting anything. I've been pretty focused on football." Maybe a little "Taking Care of Business," by Bachman-Turner Overdrive is the order for the day.

"BTO," Pollack says. "I like it."

Pollack's mix matches what he's got going on in the Bengals offensive line room, where the players swear by him and, maybe just as importantly, where his wall adjoins the office of head coach Zac Taylor.

Pollack, 53, an old school plug-and-play NFL guard sifted out of the 1990 sixth round and Northern Arizona, is making music with new age analytical offensive linemen like Jonah Williams, the Bengals' cerebral and organized left tackle.

Pollack went to him in the spring and suggested Williams go into his third season weighing about 315 pounds instead of 305. If you're light, Pollack told him, there's not as much room for error. Williams feels like he has handled the bull rush pretty well, but he also knows his technique has to be perfect.

On his end, Pollack had no worries that Williams could maintain his first-round strengths of quickness and athleticism despite the new bulk.

"He needed to put on some weight. He's a smaller, undersized tackle for this league," Pollack says. "He's athletic, he's quick, he's smart, he knows how to use angles. So adding just a little more mass to his frame is going to help him in the run game and the anchor. Just to get a little bigger and still play fast and move and generate force with leverage and this I think is going to help him."

When Pollack barks (and he's got a bite that is not disrespectful but decisive), these guys listen. Although the two most successful and longest tenured offensive line coaches the Bengals ever had, Jim McNally and Paul Alexander, never played higher than Division III Upstate New York football, Pollack's 90-game career during eight seasons with the 49ers has drawn their attention.

"He brings a lot of energy to practice. He played in the NFL. He kind of carries himself like an ex-NFL player," Jonah Williams says. "So we all buy in to what he's saying and that energy is definitely contagious. I can feel guys are, even little things, like the drills that we do before walkthrough at the very beginning of practice have as much tempo and energy as the drills we're doing in the actual individual period in practice. I think that's going to be huge for us."

Xavier Su'a-Filo, the eight-year vet Pollack has put at right guard played under Pollack disciple Marc Columbo in Dallas.

"He put his hand in the dirt. He played. He gets it. He's been in an offensive line room and he knows what our job is. He knows how important it is," Su'a-Filo says. "Our room takes pride in our no-nonsense attitude. We have fun but we know our job, we are smart, we have to be the smartest guys on the field. I think that's the most important thing. We are having fun on the line when we are all doing our job and we are executing. Coach Pollack likes to have fun to, but when it is time to work it's time to work."

Center Trey Hopkins already knows. During Pollack's one previous season in Cincinnati in 2018, Pollack moved him into center in the wake of rookie Billy Price's injury and a second contract later he's still there.

And that muscle memory from what Pollack did in 2018 is still fresh around here even though Hopkins and Price are the only linemen left. Remember, Pollack was signed after the Bengals' worst rushing season in history and then promptly produced their first AFC rushing champion on running back Joe Mixon's 4.9 yards per carry. And that was after he commandeered the Cowboys to a run of top 10 rushing rankings.

When the O-line job opened after last season, Mixon lobbied on all floors of Paul Brown Stadium to get Pollack back. When Pollack moved to the Jets for the 2019 season, Mixon famously went across the field to give him his touchdown ball after a Bengals win and Pollack has tenderly kept it in a memorabilia box still unopened after yet another move.

"Coach Pollack is the offensive line coach who has actually played offensive line at a high level," Hopkins says. "He's not just drawing up stuff and saying, 'Well, this is how it should go. This is what was kind of what feels right. This is what I see.' He's saying, 'I've done it and this how it works.' So, he knows they said when he tells you something, he's telling you for that from experience."

All of this doesn't surprise the man Pollack calls "The Diesel." Derrick Deese, who calls Pollack "My guy," played four seasons with Pollack on San Francisco's offensive line coached by the legendary Bobb McKittrick.

"He had an attitude about himself. A tenacity. He wanted to be a perfectionist," Dees says. "You had some guys that wanted to cut corners. He wasn't that guy. He was prepared. He always wanted to be prepared and ready to go.

"He never had any days off and a lot of that has to do with the way we were brought up. The way we learned things, the way the guys who came before us taught us ... The things he learned from watching other guys is impressive. Because sometimes guys aren't the strongest guys. They can still play. There's a difference between field strength and weight room strength and Frank picked that up against certain players. It's all technique."

Coach Pollack's scouting report on player Pollack is characteristically a gag for a guy that likes to keep the spotlight on his guys: "Wasted draft pick. Too many injuries. Small school. Light. Doesn't anchor real well. Calves are too small, man. Self-awareness. I've got that."

But don't buy all that. If you want to know why Pollack grabs guys during individual drills and makes them step with him, it's because Pollack and Deese played for another demanding, detail guy in McKittrick.

Deese still remembers how every lineman had to know everyone else's job on the line. Although the center had to pick up the safety, the tackle had to know the center had to pick up the safety. And Deese remembers McKittrick handing out quizzes on the plane rides to games. He also remembers in one of those away games Pollack being told the night before he was going to start at right tackle. Jolting news for a guard with six career starts.

But, the way Deese remembers it, Pollack was unfazed going against one of the league's estimable rushers in the Rams' Leslie O'Neal in St. Louis' domed noise machine. There's no record of a Pollack start against O'Neal, but that's not to say it didn't happen or maybe Pollack came off the bench. But this is what Deese knows.

The 49ers won and O'Neal didn't take advantage.

"(Pollack) wasn't mad that he had to go in and he didn't have many reps that week. Maybe none at that position," Deese says. "It was tough. We've all been there if you're an offensive lineman. Just a tough situation against one of the better players in the league.

"This was before you could come back to the sidelines and see every play. You'd have to ask, 'What did they see up in the box?' He'd come off and say, 'What did you see? This is what I saw.' He communicated and always talked. It shows how much he really loves the game. When I found out he was coaching, I thought, 'That makes perfect sense.' You never have to worry about understanding what he's saying. And it's not in a way that's disrespectful. It's very respectful. Open ended. He wants to listen when you discuss something with him. He doesn't want to be a dictator. A team-oriented guy."

Much is being made of second-round pick Jackson Carman, a left tackle out of Clemson, not starting right away at right guard. Su'a-Filo is, but it most likely says more about Pollack's tutelage under McKittrick in the '90s than Carman in the summer of 2021.

Remember, one of Pollack's teammates was Jerry Rice.

"He struggled his rookie year, small school, first-round draft that year. Everyone thought he was a bust. Well, that was a comical thought," Pollack says of the stories he heard. "So I mean, that's an extreme example that just comes to mind. But everyone's got their own little learning curve, if you will.

"My belief is we've got to put the best group out there that's earned it and deserve it. I get the business side, guys are going to get more opportunities who've been higher draft picks, than maybe another guy who was a street free agent or some small school sixth-round guy," says a guy who is actually a small school sixth-round guy. "But they've got to earn it … When its year one or year ten, you're competing for that job. You have to maintain it, hold it and no one is going to be handed anything."

Taylor gave Pollack the title of run game coordinator, but just like he says every team pretty much runs the same running plays, Pollack says offensive line coaches are pretty much always immersed in the run game.

"I'm kind of taking the lead and managing the scripts and when we want to install this play. From a teaching progression it's really helping me as an offensive line coach," Pollack says. "Because then I can dictate the drills I want to do in a progression I like throughout camp, so it helps me as opposed do what they want to put in today. Then it's like, oh it doesn't really go with what we've done the last two days I've been doing. That's nice, it's very O line coach friendly and I'm appreciative to the Brown family and Coach Taylor that I get to do that."

One night near the end of another long, hot day planning and tweaking and the midnight oil about to burn, assistant offensive line coach Ben Martin took a page out of Pollack's script. With temperatures in the wilting 90s predicted all week, Martin punched up the 1970 summer hit "In the Summertime."

But there was no time to wax nostalgically about Mungo Jerry's one-hit wonder.

Taylor popped in on Pollack from next door.

"You got two minutes?" he asked.

A Hard Day's Night as the Bengals O-line keeps searching for Pollack's perfect mix.

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