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2021 NFL Draft

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Bengals Spend Draft Friday In Trenches And More Work Looms With Seven Saturday Picks

Joseph Ossai: off the edge.
Joseph Ossai: off the edge.

The Bengals did what they had to do in Friday's second and third rounds of the NFL Draft and stayed in the trenches with Clemson left tackle Jackson Carman and Texas edge rusher Joseph Ossai, respectively.

The Cincinnati-bred Carman is poised to block for another overall No. 1 pick after watching teammate Trevor Lawrence go to Jacksonville and Ossai is looking to build on his collegiate sack of Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.

And just wait for Saturday's final day, when then the Bengals have three of their seven picks in the fourth round after Friday's second round trade down with New England.

There are still linemen out there on both sides of the ball, like Pitt edge man Rashad Weaver, Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon, Cincinnati tackle James Hudson and Tennessee guard Trey Smith.

"What we've done is put ourselves in a position to take the best players available," said head coach Zac Taylor. "You can double up at some positions. You can take some guys that maybe followed other positions that really help us as a football team. But we've put ourselves in a good spot. Those were two areas of need that we just addressed. It didn't mean that we were hell bent on taking a player in that round if they didn't fit us with the value there. But they did, so we took them. We just feel really good about how we're positioned the rest of the way."

Plenty of time, also, to find a punt returner. But Friday was about filling needs up front. In Carman, they got the kind of massive, nimble offensive lineman they didn't take No. 1. In Ossai they got an explosive 4.6-second-40-yard athlete with a bottomless motor that is just beginning to learn to rush the passer with 11 career sacks.

"I came to college, and in my first three years, I was asked to stand up and do a little bit more dropping. But in my third year with the defensive staff change, I was asked to rush the passer more," Ossai said. "I don't mind it. I didn't mind the switch-up, but I do know that I need a little bit more refining. And that's something I'm open to doing.

"I love working. Working hard is my M.O. If I was perfect in everything I did, I'm pretty sure I'd be bored because there's nothing to look forward to and get better at. There's nothing to work at. So, I can't wait to get to Cincinnati. I can't wait to get developed with these coaches and just to put in work."

CBS and The Sporting News both gave the Bengals an 'A,' for the Ossai selection since they see what the Bengals see. He's ascending. Value pick, they say. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo needed an edge to back up Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard on a team that had the fewest sacks in the league and even though Ossai has jumped around with different positions, it doesn't sound like they're going to ease him into that role as the first rusher off the bench.

The 6-4, 256-pound Ossai is here for his intangibles as much as he is his for his measurables.

"Just how he plays the game. His physicality, his effort," Anarumo said. "You can see his explosive first step off the ball. His length shows up as well. Any great pass rusher has good length, so we're excited about those elements he brings."

This is why they like. Ask him where he got that motor.

"The motor came from freshman year of high school. There was a pass that went out to a tight end and I didn't chase the ball," Ossai said. "The coach pulled me off and said, 'You have to chase that ball, because there's that slim chance that it might happen.' So, even the next play or another play before, the same play happened. I ran, I punched the ball out and ever since then.

"It was like euphoria when that happened. So, ever since then, I have to get to that ball. It's like Road Runner. Who does he chase? The cartoon — when he's chasing that bird. That's how I feel when I'm chasing that ball. So, maybe that could be a nickname. Road Runner, something like that."

Better yet. Ask him why he went to Texas.

"Being a first-born son, I felt a need to lead my three younger brothers," said Ossai, whose family came to America when he was ten. "I wanted them to be around the game-day atmosphere. I wanted to surround them with college football so I could encourage and help them go through it on their own. That, and they had to be close.

"Everything else was really far from Houston. I would ask the staff at each school: I want to bring my family with me and get them to games, can you help? They said all they could help with was game-day tickets, and those stipends were not near enough. We eliminated far schools solely for that reason. Texas was a good fit. It was close to home; the game-day atmosphere was great."

Carman has a shot at starting this year. Maybe one day at right tackle, but not as a rookie with Riley Reiff signing a one-year deal. But offensive line coach Frank Pollack says he's in play at guard. Maybe right. Maybe left. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is never maybe about anything. Particularly Carman. He says he's ready now.

"The Bengals are getting a first-round talent. Like Tee Higgins last year. Tee Higgins went in the second round, but he was a top-15 talent and I think you saw that in how he played," Swinney said. "Tee Higgins was a ready-to-go guy right out of the gate with his best football still in front of him and he left early right after his junior year, and I would say the same exact thing about Jackson.

"We have had him here for two-and-a-half years and Jackson is a 'day one' guy. He is going to play day one; he is not a guy who is going to redshirt. He is ready to play and that is because you can't find what he has. It is hard to find offensive linemen, first of all, but especially offensive linemen that are incredibly athletic, big, strong, and can play literally four positions — and more importantly has the knowledge to play four positions. He just gets it."

Taylor doesn't think people get it about his offensive line. With the addition of Reiff and the return of healthy left tackle Jonah Williams, he thinks they're fine and not beleaguered. 

"I think we're moving in a great direction. I'm anxious for Frank to get on the field and work with these guys," Taylor said. "Now we're at a part of the draft where players you have value on could slide, and you get opportunities to keep adding quality to your team. We'll see how the rest of the draft shakes out for us."

It would surprise no one if it keeps shaking out into the trenches.

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