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2021 NFL Draft

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Big Willie Re-Surfaces 25 Years Later In A Draft As Tobin Dukes Out A Trade For Bengals O-Line

Jackson Carman poised to compete.
Jackson Carman poised to compete.

Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin had a heck of a good afternoon Friday as the start of the NFL Draft's second round loomed about three hours away.

With the edge rushers picked over after a furious end-of-round run and his scouts and offensive line coach Frank Pollack giving high marks on Clemson left tackle Jackson Carman, Tobin called Bengals all-time right tackle Willie Anderson to get his take on one of his prized pupils. The Bengals believed they had their guy with the same type of M.O. as Penei Sewell, the tackle they passed on to take LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase in the top five. Big. Mobile. Nasty.

When Tobin asked Anderson if he thought the 6-5, 330-pound Carman could come in and compete right away, Anderson said he felt he could. That call came 25 years after the Bengals called him at No. 10.

At 6-5, 330 pounds, Anderson calls Carman a "guard, right tackle type."

"Very intelligent. High football IQ," said Anderson, who could have been talking about his 21-year-old self.

So Carman, a product of suburban Cincinnati, was their guy at No. 38. But in a draft with so many question marks and a short list of prospects, Tobin sensed he could get Carman later and win some extra picks in what is looking to be Saturday's fertile, urgent fourth round for a league that is facing a truncated pool of players.

Tobin didn't get one, but he got two fourth-rounders in the Bengals' fifth trade with the Bill Belichick's New England Patriots and still got the Cincinnati Kid from Fairfield.

"It's a really good pick for the Bengals and not just because I worked with him," Anderson said. "I think because of his personality. He can make that change and go in and compete at guard because he's an intelligent guy. Once you show it to him and you work with him, he can take that teaching and put it back on the field."

Carman agrees when it comes to the guard transition.

"I don't think there's a significant challenge. I think just getting used to it and getting reps," Carman said. "I think it's going to be fine. I think it's going to be great."

Tobin knew that Carman is one of the young players that Anderson, whom runs an offensive line academy in Atlanta, has worked with down through the years. Anderson, 45, in the silver anniversary year of the draft the Bengals took him with the 10th pick, has known Carman for two years after working a national Nike camp.

He says the three best players there were Carman, Penei Sewell, the draft's seventh pick, and Georgia left tackle Jamaree Salyer.

He says what stands out about Carman is his willingness to learn. At one time Carman fought his weight and Anderson said Carman researched the problem on social media and found the proper way to have his food cooked and prepared.

"The guy re-made his body," Anderson said. "When he was in high school, I saw somewhere they called him 'The Bully.' If you're a big guy and the opponent is beating you, you're soft. If you're bigger and dominating everybody, you're doing what you should be doing. To kill a fly with a sledgehammer. That's what he was doing in high school."

Anderson's take backed up what the Bengals coaches and scouts felt they had in Carman. Offensive line coach Frank Pollack says he'll compete to start at guard but has the flexibility to play tackle.

"He's a big, physical lineman that has big, nimble feet," Pollack said as he ticked off what he looks for in an offensive lineman "Feet, No. 1. Use of hands. Does this guy show a love of football, look to finish (and) play with some (nastiness)? Change of direction — can he bend? Does he sink his hips? Those are some of the top ones."

Pollack likes to get his hands on prospects at pro days and see them on the field at the NFL scouting combine. Except there was no combine and when Carman missed his March 11 pro day because of Jan. 19 surgery for a herniated back disc, Pollack wasn't there for the re-do two weeks ago.

But the medical checked out and Pollack saw enough.

"I had multiple Zoom calls with him. Typically, from where I've been (in the past), it's been the combine from the stands watching a guy, and then you make your decision on tape, and then you visit with him maybe 15 or 20 minutes at the combine, and that's about it," Pollack said. "I've had more interaction with this guy than (others) I've had all my other years normally, so I'm not concerned with not going to see him in person, per se. I've had enough Zoom meetings and evaluated enough tape."

Enough that Pollack has no problems with Carman only played guard in college in practice.

"He's going to have to take on guys sooner, a little quicker — he's not going to have the time and space he's used to working with," Pollack said. "He's going to have to anchor a lot faster. He's going to be dealing with a little more powerful, stronger players inside. He's shown to have all the strengths to be able to make that transition."

Carman has been to Paul Brown Stadium just once and that was for a preseason game against the New York Giants. He didn't have a favorite team, just favorite players, and his all-timer is the greatest Bengals offensive lineman of them all. They met once, when he was nominated for the Anthony Munoz award, given annually to the best lineman in the high school football at U.S. Army All-American Bowl banquet.

And Anderson, the greatest Bengals right tackle ever, has been a friend and mentor the past two years. So plenty of Bengals O-line karma.

"I love the way he ques himself up," Carman said of Anderson. "Meaning by that like the different mental things you think about to help prepare your body for the rep or the play or whatever, going against whether it's your mind or engaging your core, just like activating different muscles and points. He was very in tune with his body and his mind when he was playing. Definitely great things to be able to learn."

It sounds like Carman is already in tune. Which is why Tobin, the coaches, the scouts and Anderson thought he was ready.

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