Bengals Get A "Train-Mover" In Volson As Offensive Line Gets On Track

Cordell Volson brings the edge.
Cordell Volson brings the edge.

Bengals position coach Frank Pollack's pursuit of "glass-eaters," became well known during last month's free agency when they signed three starters across the right side of his offensive line.

On Saturday during the fourth round of the NFL Draft he added a "train-mover," to the mix when the Bengals took North Dakota State tackle Cordell Volson at No. 136 and promptly made him a guard.

"The toughness he plays with, the power he plays with. I think he'll have no problem going inside," said Pollack after the Bengals took their first offensive player of the weekend. "(He's) the best offensive lineman available. There are a lot of guys that play tackle that I don't think can play inside."

"They don't have the power or the strength or the anchor to go down inside. Or I question it. If someone fell to us who was just a tackle, that would be a different conversation to have at that point. To me, the interior need was a little more glaring for lack of a better term for us."

The 6-6, 315-pound Volson proudly hails from the small town of Drake, N.D., population 300. His mailing address is in the even smaller town of Balfour, pop. 27.

"I grew up in a really small town, right?" Volson said shortly after Pollack added him to the mix of candidates for the Opening Day left guard job. "I played football and basketball in high school. They were the only sports offered and then I worked."

He didn't have far to go. His father runs an excavation business and RV (Ralph Volson) Enterprises gave him more than a job.

"I didn't have a personal trainer or special weight programs growing up," Volson said. "I got a lot of it from working. Moving railroad ties, swinging hammers, moving blocks. It's definitely what has helped me get to this point. The work ethic that has been installed in me from them."

Like everyone else, Volson spent a chunk of 2020 at home when his school was shut down because of COVID and he still got some good workouts in since the business responds to trains that go off the tracks.

"Mum came downstairs at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning and told me there was a train derailment," Volson said. "I didn't get home until Tuesday at 5:30 a.m. We got the train back on the track, got the debris out of the way. Hauling rock, moving rail and all that stuff."

The Bengals believe he's ready for the heavy lifting up front.

"We had targeted Volson as a guy that would fit somewhere here, and this last day in the draft, it just came up that this was the spot for him," said offensive coordinator Brian Callahan. "I don't know that he'd probably make it much longer if he was still on the board. I know a lot of people around the league had a high regard for him. That's just how it goes with the draft. You never know exactly when and where you're going to add pieces. (It) depends on where your grades have guys, and where the other positions fall, but we were certainly hoping to add a lineman earlier than later. (Volson is) someone that we felt like could really come in and compete. We feel good about Volson and what he brings to us."

Pollack put everybody in the mix at left guard, the only starting vacancy left after the free agent assault. Head coach Zac Taylor has indicated last year's second-rounder, Jackson Carman, gets first dibs but it's clearly an open-door.

"I would say that Jackson is maybe just a little more athletic overall. Just looking pure at testing numbers, if you will. It can make a difference there, but he's a good football player," Pollack said of Volson. ""He's tough, he's physical, and he's a finisher. You'll see him pull out on a perimeter and run pretty well. He's productive out in space when he did pull. He comes from a winning team (and) winning culture. You love his intangibles. He's a worker. That's how he was raised, (which is) what you're looking for."

Pollack, who played nearly 100 games as a backup with the Super Bowl 49ers of the '90s, went to great lengths Saturday talking about intangibles and how he could tell Volson had the proper "stuff in the neck," and that offensive linemen need to play with a long nasty streak.

"Oh, I agree 100 percent," Volson said. "Coach seems like that type of dude that, like I said … (he) has a really high standard and demands you to play hard and physical. That's the type of player you're going to get with me. To play offensive line, I think you've got to be wired just a bit different, and that's the way that I am. To have an opportunity to play for a coach that's the same way, I'm really looking forward to it."

Usually, the Bengals like young players from big schools. Volson turns 24 the week before training camp and he comes from the FBS, but he hits so many other markers they like, such as individual experience, position versatility, experience with a pro scheme and team success.

Using the extra year brought by COVID-19 and North Dakota State's relentless postseason runs, Volson played in a school-record 65 career games and had 41 straight starts over his final three seasons while playing on five conference title teams and four national championships during his six-year career.

Last season he started all 15 games at right tackle after a 2020 season that saw him move to right guard for the two NCAA playoff games in wake of injuries. In 2019 he started all 16 games at right tackle.

And he's not your typical small-school guy. North Dakota State has a heritage of producing top collegiate lineman, including older brother Tanner Volson, a Rimington Award winner as the best center in the country.

"I've had a lot of really good resources throughout this process. Dillon Radunz got drafted last year by the Titans. He and I are really close friends and we were roommates throughout college," Volson said. "I've leaned on him really heavily. And then Billy Turner and Zack Johnson. I trained at the same gym as those guys for the combine prep process, and they were great resources just continuing to teach me the game and teach me about what to expect in the upcoming weeks. My brother had a short stint in the NFL, too. So I've had a ton of resources that helped get me to this point."

Although NFL scouts perpetually talk about the challenge of projecting small-school players, Pollack thinks it might have been easier scouting Volson.

"They run a lot of pro-style stuff in the run game. They're dotting the "I," they're running to two-tight end sets on the wing. He's pulling out on perimeter stuff," Pollack said. "It's all things that we do. He does wide zone, he does tight zone, and he did a little gap scheme to complement that stuff.

"You see him on tape doing everything that we're going to want to do with him here as well. He should have an easy transition from that standpoint. It won't be real foreign to him like some of these other kids that come in from different systems. That definitely was fun to watch. It eased my decision to get more excited about this guy. It's easy to watch his college tape."

Volson got a whiff of the Bengals offense last season and liked the aroma.

"They throw the ball with (Joe) Burrow and like to run downhill with (Joe) Mixon," Volson said. "I'm really excited, because when you can go to an offense that likes to run the football, and run the duo, and run between the tackles, I'm really looking forward to that."

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