INDIANAPOLIS _ Returning Wednesday to the spot where at last year's NFL scouting combine he declared he was on the look out for "Glass-Eaters," Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack said Jackson Carman chewed enough chards in his two playoff starts to be in the mix at right tackle if La'el Collins isn't ready Opening Day.
Collins, one of those four "Glass-Eaters," that started on the offensive line after being obtained in last year's free agency and the draft, suffered an ACL tear in the Christmas Eve win in New England. Collins, who turns 30 the week training camp opens, is on a tight rehab timeline for the opener. Left tackle Jonah Williams, who has undergone surgery for the dislocated kneecap that knocked him out of the last two playoff games, is expected to be back in time for training camp and Pollack says he's the starter if healthy.
But Pollack said if Collins isn't ready, Carman played well enough in place of Williams that he could make the move to the other side in a battle that would no doubt include Hakeem Adeniji, who did replace Collins for the stretch run.
"He could be the right tackle. Absolutely. He's in the mix," Pollack said. "He's definitely in the mix. Hopefully L.C. can make it back in time and who knows how the offseason plays out, but we've got to prepare to have a guy ready and Jackson's a guy in the mix.
"He certainly did some good things those last two games that he played. I'd say he is certainly in the mix to compete. I'm really excited about his progress and what he did last year especially with some of the adversity he experienced early in his career. It really showed kind of the mental toughness that he's got and real excited about him moving forward."
Pro Football Focus rated Carman as the Bengals' best offensive line blocker in the AFC Divisional win at Buffalo and the AFC title game loss in Kansas City after he was inactive for most of the regular season.
"We've always felt like Jackson is capable," said offensive coordinator Brian Callahan. "He's grown up a ton. He's done a lot of things better. We really felt good about what he put on tape against Buffalo. There are some things he can clean up technically and all that stuff. Not a complete player by any stretch but we really felt good about where he was at. I'm excited about his trajectory."
Adeniji struggled in Kansas City, but both he and Carman looked better at their college positions of tackle than at guard, where they were moved after they got drafted.
"(Adeniji) showed a lot of good things at right tackle," Pollack said. "He looked comfortable in some weeks, and in some spots in games he didn't look very comfortable. He's a young player that's still trying to find his groove and develop. I'm still excited about him. Still like the way he works every day. There's a lot of things to be excited about and a lot of things, like everybody else, he needs to improve on."
But Pollack is pretty certain there's not an Opening Day right tackle at No. 28 in the first round, although he did find an Opening Day left guard last year in the fourth round in Cordell Volson. But that's not tackle.
"Those kind of guys are going to go in the top five picks, top 10 if you are lucky," Pollack said. " I've worked with some of those types of guys and they are coming in having to develop on something in their tool box, if you will. Not that it can't be done. Never say nothing can't be done, you can find a starter in the third day of the draft. Just depends on who that guy is, what's he made up of."
SIMMONS AGAIN EYES PUNTERS: The Bengals went into last year's draft ready to take a punter as high as the fourth round, but the best ones got pilfered before they got to the board. With special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons on Wednesday declaring an open competition, it would be nice if the same depth was available, but Simmons says last year's class was uniquely deep.
The nice thing is he'll have one of the best looks at the group as the man who runs the combine's kicking and punting drills on Friday. This is the 20th combine Simmons has been the lead coach and he knows exactly what he wants. He's only drafted one punter, but he was a good one. Before Drue Chrisman came off a two-year stint on the practice squad and replaced him in midseason last year, Kevin Huber set all the franchise records in a Bengals-record 217 games.
"I think we're looking for somebody that's consistent first and foremost. I think that's the true measure of a specialist, especially a punter or a kicker is the consistency," Simmons said. "Obviously our climate and our weather conditions figure into that, too. Sometimes it's more difficult to take somebody or have somebody come in that's played in the south, or played in warm weather climates a lot. That's why I've kind of always leaned, not necessarily to local guys — it's been very unique, our last two punters are from Cincinnati — that's just kind of fallen that way. But we're also looking for somebody that can get the ball up in the air with the level of hangtime that's acceptable for me. There's a couple of big traits."
Chrisman, who had the bigger, younger leg, didn't get the ball up in the air consistently enough during his ten games, particularly on the Chiefs' killing 29-yard punt return down the middle of the field with 30 seconds left in the conference championship. The punt was representative of why the Bengals hung so long with Huber. He may have had problems with length, but he rarely put it in a place bad enough to get beat.
"(Chrisman) got thrust into a role to play right away. If you're not playing for a couple years, after not playing in his first year out of college, I thought he came and was solid to start with," Simmons said. "I think the level of consistency has got to keep improving. I do believe that we'll bring in competition for that spot, I don't think that spot's completely settled in my mind yet. All in all, I think he did a good job in certain situations getting the ball down the field. I can point to a couple of punts, he had a really big one in the New England game, he had a big one in the Tampa game. He had several good punts for us at opportune times for us. I think there was one in the Baltimore game maybe too that was an important one there late. I still think we want to try to improve our team, and if that means Drue's apart of it, then he's going to have to win the job again."
ABOUT THAT RETURN: How many times do you think Simmons has replayed Chiefs wide receiver Skyy Moore's 29-yarder in his mind? He didn't talk about gunner Stanley Morgan, Jr., getting buried on an illegal block in the back, but he did talk about how Morgan and safety Dax Hill saw a wrinkle on the play.
"Unfortunately we got stuck in a lot of spots in that Kansas City game where they were in fourth and long where they could double vise us. We haven't faced a whole lot of double vise, where both of our gunners are doubled," Simmons said. "We didn't get off the line of scrimmage great, we had a couple guys that were out of their field lanes, frankly. I don't think the punt was exactly the punt we were looking for. It was more down the middle of the field and it was lower than what we really wanted. We just didn't do a good job of covering it up. We didn't stay in our lanes. It's difficult with the height of the punt that's difficult to defeat blocks fast enough to get back over the top and get back in the proper leverage positions. We did a poor job of that, and it cost us big time."
COOL CAL: Two guys who look to have a secure job for Simmons are kicker Evan McPherson and rookie long snapper Cal Adomitis. Simmons indicated that 14-year long snapper Clark Harris, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury Opening Day, is going to end his Bengals career with 202 games, fourth most in franchise history.
"Everybody when they see a rookie snapper they try to take advantage of him. They try to come after him. He saw a variety of rush looks and different things. I thought he came through it pretty darn good. Cal's a guys being there for his team and excelling at his position, his position is very, very important to him. I think he'll just continue to improve. His biggest jump will come between his first year and second year, because he really knows what to expect."
Simmons also thinks having Adomitis again is going to help McPherson, who had to adjust to a new snapper and holder during a season he got better as it went. McPherson missed four extra points as opposed to two as a rookie and he was just 24 of 29 after hitting 28 of 33 field goals last year. But in Money Mac fashion he hit all five from 50 and all five in the playoffs, extending him to 19-for-19 in the postseason.
"We tried to keep that together as much as we could at the beginning of the season and then Clark gets hurt, so now a third of the puzzle has changed," Simmons said. "Midway through the season, we make a change at punter. So, the second-third of that puzzle is all changed. I thought he did a good job for the most part of adapting and trying to get up to speed with those guys as fast as he could. It would be like a quarterback getting his center taken away and a couple of his receivers. It takes time to develop. So I think he was hitting the ball okay. I still think if you ask him that he'd still be disappointed in his overall performance from what his expectations was."
LOU SOOTHES OSSAI: Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo saw edge Joseph Ossai at Paycor Stadium last week as he rehabs a labrum injury and made sure he has pumped him up after Ossai was so distraught over the unnecessary roughness flag following his tackle of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes with eight seconds left that gave the Chiefs the winning field goal.
"I just gave him a hug and said, 'Move on. Just move on and make a play next year,'" Anarumo said. "I just go back to I don't even bring it up. He knows what happened. We all saw it. Just move on. Let's get ourselves back in that situation so you can make a play next year."
PLAYOFF P: The man they call "Playoff P," linebacker Germaine Pratt, is headed to free agency and apparently he's still tweeting about the damage he could do if he plays on third down. Anarumo chuckled ("Because I don't read tweets") and said it's nothing personal. It just comes down to the situation of the game and the tendencies of the opponent.
Pointing to the 2020 draft of Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither and Markus Bailey, Anarumo says he likes the linebacker depth. But he also loves Pratt and wants him back. He also remembered how he was a stand-up guy following his criticism of Ossai walking off the field in Kansas City.
"That's Germaine. That's Germaine. He's a guy that wants to be out there every snap," Anarumo said. "He is a guy that's as competitive as they come but also got a little bit of a bad rap on the end of the Kansas City game. But (he) came back the next day and stood in front of everybody and said, 'Hey, I wasn't a good teammate.' To me, that's who and what we're all about. (Pratt felt) 'I had a moment but let me let everybody know that's not who I am. I'm a great teammate, and so on. I love Germaine. I hope he's back, too. He's one of our leaders and he's a heck of a football player."
MORE GLASS: We began with Glass-Eaters so let's end with a few more chards. Pollack says right guard Alex Cappa, signed as soon as the Bengals could get going in free agency last year, was playing at a Pro Bowl level before he hurt his foot in the regular-season finale and missed the playoffs.
But Pollack says Cappa and Williams would have played in the Super Bowl with the two-week break.
"(Cappa has) an uncanny ability to know where to help in pass pro. He's excellent 1 on 1 in pass pro, but he knows where to help, where his eyes need to be, the depth of the pocket as far as his relationship with the center and tackle, where he needs to help," Pollack said. "He understands stunts very well, dogs or pressures that are associated with that, where he needs to help. He's excellent with his eyes.
"That was obviously a guy we missed. Everyone would miss a guy at that level. He was doing really well. He's a talented guy. He's a smart guy. He's got great awareness. He understands the complexity of not only the scheme, but what we're attacking on the defense and what they're doing and where some of the issues might show up and the adjustments that's coming around the corner and getting some other guys on the same page."
Indeed, Callahan recalled how well Cappa played against Chiefs game-wrecker Chris Jones in the Bengals Dec. 4 win at Paycor. With Cappa out, Jones dominated and came up with his first two postseason sacks, as well as five pressures in the AFC title game.
"He played really well against him the first time, and Chris Jones didn't do a lot in that game," Callahan said. "Obviously, he did a lot in the second game, and having Cappa would've been helpful. L.C. would've been helpful, too. Just having those guys play together, and playing well at that point. Losing them at the end was tough to overcome for, unfortunately for us."