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Camp Notebook: Rookie Smith Steps Up As Bengals O-Line Evolves; Ossai Still Getting Checked; Burrow And Chase Have A Day

Wide receiver Tee Higgins went up to get one Monday.
Wide receiver Tee Higgins went up to get one Monday.

Rookie D'Ante Smith, drafted as a tackle a few months ago, is now a guard. Fred Johnson, claimed off waivers as a guard two years ago before starting at both guard and tackle last season, is now a tackle.

Such is the clarity of the world according to new offensive line coach Frank Pollack, where at Monday's practice Smith worked with the first group at left guard just 48 hours after his NFL debut of 40 solid snaps.

If you had gone to Tampa Friday predicting Tom "The GOAT," Brady would have taken just six snaps and still been sacked by the defense with the fewest sacks in the league last year while the Bengals offensive line that gave up the third most would have blanked the Super Bowl champions, you might have been committed.

But that is what happened and the guys playing for Pollack expect it to happen. Head coach Zac Taylor liked the fact they got the bulk of their 118 rushing yards late in the game.

"Each guy had his moments probably where he needs some things to clean up," Taylor said after Monday's practice. "But he's also going to have a lot of positives. It wasn't perfect. We didn't expect it to be. But then in the second half those guys just going. That's what happens in a real NFL game. I looked up in the third quarter and we had something like 50 yards rushing. We needed more than that if we were going to win that game. In the second half they started getting in a groove and getting adjustments from the sidelines. I just liked the way it ended. There are a lot of things we can clean up, but there were a lot of positives."

The next assignment just may be tougher Friday in Washington (8 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) against the vaunted four first-round pass rushers that rung up 47 sacks. One of them claimed quarterback Joe Burrow's left ACL and Johnson, who didn't play in that game in Washington back on Nov. 22, said the offensive line still hasn't forgotten about it.

"I don't think we have that taste out of our mouth at all. It still lingers," Johnson said. "Joe still has the scar on his knee. I mean, I see it every day. I wasn't even playing that day. It's just something in the back of our minds. We can't allow this to occur again. He's putting a lot of trust in us, we have to have him, let him have his faith and confidence in this O-line."

It's an O-line still evolving as Smith, a fourth-rounder out of East Carolina, keeps getting more and more love from the coaches.

"I think everything's out on the table at this point. We're trying to find the best five guys we can to start come Week 1," said offensive coordinator Brian Callahan before Monday's practice. "He's a young player and made a lot of young player mistakes, technique-wise and targeting, things like that, but as far as raw ability and getting off the ball and climbing to the second level and getting on guys and covering them up, really positive first step for a D'Ante playing a position he hasn't played a lot."

Johnson, who strained a quad early in training camp, is set to make his season debut in Washington working behind starting right tackle Riley Reiff. The 6-7 Johnson, who shed 15 pounds in the offseason to get to about 340, can feel the difference. The defense has former Steeler nickel cornerback Mike Hilton and since the Bengals claimed Johnson off waivers early in his rookie year in 2019 from the Steelers, when he was listed as a guard, the Bengals are 4-1 when he starts a game at either tackle.

"You have to be versatile in every league," Johnson said. "I've been told I'm just a tackle and taking guard reps as far as OTAs, now that's not hinting at the possibility of that. I could move there going forward. Just trying to stack chips."

Johnson is plenty comfortable with Pollack doing the dealing. He credits his techniques for making him a "40, 50 percent better player than last year." And he's not the only one. Johnson says plenty of his mates have adapted to "The Pollack Way," of which he defines thusly:

"Technique, for sure. Technique has to be to a tee what Pollack wants. You try to do everything correct the first time. I say, 'You do it right, you do it light. You do it wrong, you do it long.'

"Just the way the offensive line unit moves throughout the building, on the field, outside of the building, guys coming together to be a unit that is all together and not individuals. That just translates to on the field; you've got to play nasty, you've got to play with an attitude, you've got to have a certain swagger about you and that's just what comes along with it."

NO BURROW YET: If Burrow is going to play this preseason, it's not going to be until the finale Aug. 29 against the Dolphins at Paul Brown Stadium. And since the opener is two weeks away at that point, if he does play don't go to the concession stand because he won't be in for long.

Taylor says his decision-making hasn't been affected by watching Brady get sacked.

"In my mind I've kind of known all along when I was going to play him at a certain time. Regardless of who the opponent is," Taylor said.

OSAAI STILL GETTING CHECKED: Rookie edge rusher Joseph Ossai wasn't at practice Monday and Taylor said his injured wrist is still being evaluated. Ossai had a monster game with five pressures and half a sack on his first 22 snaps Saturday night and Taylor has been mum on any preliminary findings.


Burrow may not be playing in Washington, but he has the coveted Player of the Day to put next to the Heisman. He bobbed and weaved, feinted and fired on his way to 11 of 15 passing in team drills. And he has old pal Ja'Marr Chase to thank.

Chase had a monstrous day himself and scored three times on tight goal line fades despite blanket coverage by cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Trae Waynes that was defeated by perfect Burrow lofts.

Chase and Awuzie staged some great duels. On one fade, Burrow sailed it to the back pylon and Chase hauled it in right before his back foot ran out of bounds. In the other end zone, to Burrow's right, Burrow rolled that way to wedge in two touchdown throws as Chase danced with Waynes on the sidelines.

Chase, who really has looked good the past week, set the tone for the day on the first play. It didn't look like Burrow got a lot on an out pattern and Awuzie jumped it. But Chase fought through it when Awuzie didn't time it up and ripped it away running down the sideline.

Callahan has noticed the strides since the early struggles of August.

"The great thing about Ja'Marr is he's super, super coachable. He listens to everything that (wide receivers coach) Troy (Walters) tries to get him to do offensively where he fits," Callahan said. "The biggest jump that you make is the technique has to be on point. You don't get to beat people just because you are better than they are in the NFL. The technique has to be good, and he's learning to use his hands, learning how to release vs. press. The great thing about our defense is they are really aggressive at the line of scrimmage and so he's had to expand his toolbox. I think every day he's been out there he's gotten better and better learning how to use his speed, how to use his technique and leverage has been fun to watch."

PLAY OF THE DAY: CB Chidobe Awuzie

Awuzie had the final word. Chase and Burrow ran a double move on the last play of team and Chase got behind Awuzie. Burrow rifled a pretty good rainbow deep, but Awuzie had a great recovery and was able to get his hand in there and knock it away as Chase tried to pull it in before they rolled on the ground.

Maybe Burrow could have thrown it a tad longer. Maybe Chase could have gone and got it sooner. But, in the end, you just have to credit Awuzie because all three guys did a nice job.


Johnson staying away from his nemesis while losing 15 pounds during the offseason:

"I think the craziest thing I had to stay away from is sweets, and particularly Double Stuff Oreos. Those are my Kryptonite, like Double Stuff Oreos, the golden or the regular kind. No crazy flavors. No red velvet cake. Just the regular and it's got to be double stuff, like the party pack or the family size.

"I don't even know. I don't remember the last time I had an Oreo. I can't even tell you. I don't remember the last time I ate Oreos or binged ate Oreos. It was probably like January; I think it was."

SLANTS AND SCREENS: Callahan loved how the Bengals basically killed the last 3:25 in Tampa despite a hold on center Keaton Sutherland. That's a great time to use 230-pound running back Jacques Patrick.

"It was a two-point game and we had some time to burn and we took the clock down. We should have been able to take a knee after Jacques' third-and-two conversion run, but we called for a hold and we didn't get to finish it out with the ball in our hands," Callahan said. "But ultimately that was a good way to finish the game. So situationally we got to see our guys compete there in the fourth quarter to grind the game out and finish with the ball in our hands, and we almost did that. So that work was good."

Rookie running back Chris Evans did some impressive things, but remember after the game when he said he has to get used to making a decision, sticking his foot in the ground and getting vertical? Callahan said the same thing Monday.

"He bounced a couple balls to the perimeter when we'd like him to make a cut and get vertical," Callahan said. "Sometimes it's not a pretty run and the job of the running back is to get us back to zero and not lose two. We had five negative plays involving the backs, and he was on four of them. Those are the things that he's got to get better at."

After going 2-for-2 Saturday night, rookie Evan McPherson came back Monday to go six-for-six on field goals ranging from 30 to 54 yards.