On the day North Dakota State played its 13th straight FCS quarterfinal, one of the greatest Bisons of all planned to do what he does every Friday as the Bengals rookie left guard on one of the NFL's hottest offenses prepped for Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against Cleveland at Paycor Stadium.
Usually on Fridays, Volson sits at his locker while right guard Alex Cappa sits at his and since center Ted Karras' locker is the only one in between them, it's pretty convenient
"The film study of the week is pretty well wrapped up," Volson says. "We'll talk about the guys we're playing against. It's a great thing we do every Friday sitting in here. Cap just helped me mentally playing fast and helped me understand that everyone gets beat. At some point everyone gets beat. Even the best players in the league. You always have to not worry about what just happened, but focus and lock in on what's next."
Volson and his offensive line have rarely been beaten in this four-game winning streak that has shot the Bengals into the upper tier of NFL offensive rankings, such as scoring (seventh), total offense (seventh), passing (fourth), red zone (fourth) and third down percentage (third).
The last time the Bengals lost, Browns Pro Bowl rusher Myles Garrett wrecked the game and Cleveland had five sacks. The offensive line, paving the way for a revived running game, has since blocked for a 241-yard rush game and a 152 while allowing just six sacks. As the O-line has settled in, Volson is adapting more and more to the big leagues.
"I feel like I'm seeing more and able to just play faster," Volson says. "And try to improve every week."
Karras on Volson's biggest gains: "Footwork and hand placement."
Volson, a fourth-round pick, is another example of how the Bengals draft room has owned the 2020s. Volson and second-rounder Cam Taylor-Britt, a cornerback from Nebraska, are starting for what very well could be a playoff team. And third-rounder Zach Carter, a defensive tackle from Florida, has played significant snaps because of injuries.
Last week, the Bengals knocked off the then top-seeded Chiefs in a fourth-quarter where 2021 third-rounder Joseph Ossai, an edge from Texas, and 2021 sixth-rounder Chris Evans, a running back from Michigan, supplied the winning plays. Classmates Ja'Marr Chase, the first-rounder, is the defending NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year while fifth-rounder Evan McPherson has hit all five field goals from 50 yards and beyond this season to pad his NFL-best 87 percent from that distance over the past two years.
And the 2020 class is the best draft in team history with first-rounder Joe Burrow ranked second in touchdown passes and completion percentage in an MVP push, second-rounder Tee Higgins is zeroing in on his second straight 1,000-yard receiving season and third-rounder Logan Wilson leads all linebackers in the decade with seven interceptions.
Karras calls Volson "a home-run pick."
"He's a long-time guard. A decade of excellence at the position," Karras predicts. "He still has a lot of work to do. But look at the players he's played and how he's adapted to the scheme and league and it's a home-run pick. He's the type of guy you want to build a team with. It's a testament to the people in the front office that found this guy. He's a big reason we're winning games and he's playing at a really high level of football."
Christian Sarkisian, the Bengals scout who patrols that chunk of the country, has made a stop at the Nodak Insurance Football Performance Complex an annual must. Since COVID protocols allowed Volson to play six seasons, Sarkisian was on him like snow in one of those relentless Fargo winter.
In the 2020s, the Bisons have had five players drafted in the first four rounds and when the Bengals visited the school last year and were writing up guard Dillon Radunz (a 2021 second-round pick of the Titans), Sarkisian already had his eyes on the mammoth 6-7, 320-pound Volson and was letting his fellow Bengals know what was there. They had to wait a year when Volson decided to go back to school.
"I wanted to improve my status," Volson says, but he had already sold guys like Sarkisian.
"With what that program is putting out every year with NFL prospects, it demands full coverage. It's a championship caliber program" Sarkisian says. "He's a big kid. He's not 305 pounds. He's 320. And before he made the switch to tackle we saw him rotating in at guard."
Offensive line coach Frank Pollack read the scouting reports and watched the game tape and knew that was a guy he wanted to get to know at the NFL scouting combine and do more work on before the draft.
"We had known about him for a few years. He played in a variety of run schemes that gave him a lot of great exposure to stuff we do here," Pollack says. "We watched him in the East-West (all-star) Game, where he was exposed to more NFL coaching there."
Not only did they think they would get a guy who had the obligatory high ceiling, Pollack says the presence of Cappa and Karras, with three Super Bowl rings between them, have been immeasurably helpful to his development.
"The guy works his butt off. He's ascending every week and you get veterans like that, that's what you hope to get out of your veterans," Pollack says. "It not only helps Cordell, but the whole team."
Sarkisian discovered Volson's list of intangibles is as long as those 6-7 measurables. He worked summers and vacations at his family's excavation business. His older brother Tanner played at North Dakota State and won the 2018 Rimington Award as the nation's best center in FCS. One of the things his friendship with offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl turned into was Volson sticking around last spring to help the offensive line.
"You knew the kid was touched by a lot hard working people who had a deep passion for whatever they were doing and they were successful," Sarkisian says. "He has the high caliber and character to match."
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor says the communication with director of player personnel Duke Tobin and his scouting staff and the coaching staff is "as good as you can possibly have it. There's a real dialogue back and forth. The coaches are expected to do a lot of work on players in the offseason, which is good thing. It's healthy conversation. And if you don't see eye-to-eye, you do a deeper dive. It's been great for us. I've got a lot of respect for how Duke does it. I've got a lot of respect for how the scouts communicate."
The scouts do the bulk of the work, but the coaches are still a key piece in putting the picture together. For instance, it's doubtful they would have drafted Volson despite his high grades from the scouts if Pollack didn't see a spot for him in the scheme.
"From (the scouts') point of view, you don't want to put a wrong peg in a square hole," Taylor said. "They may love a guy, but if we don't have a great vision on how to use him, then that's where you get frustration. Duke does a real good job of pin-pointing those potential situations and just talking though them until we get a resolution on a player."
Volson checked everyone's boxes.
"He's got the game appreciated by the old timey scouts as well as the analytics people," Sarkisian says. "Because he plays so hard and stands out."
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