Bengals strong safety Vonn Bell likes to call his boss, defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo "a mad scientist." But he's locked his lab when it comes to discussing the beaker filled with Dax Hill, on track to be the Bengals' first first-round pick to play on defense on Opening Day in 14 years.
Michigan's Hill thrived as a starter in a scheme that waited for Jessie Bates III to sign his franchise tender and now with Bates and Bell back together as one of the NFL's top safety tandems, Anarumo says he'll find a way to get Hill on the field.
But he's not going to give the formula.
"You have to wait and find out on that one," Anarumo said after Thursday's practice.
But Anarumo did say as "the third safety," Hill is going to play special teams. He also says the return of Bates hasn't altered Hill's role.
"Dax has his role. Jessie has his. They are two separate entities" Anarumo said. "We've been practicing Dax at the things he's going to do through the year even before Jessie got here."
He says Bates is in terrific shape and has picked up where he left off, which is the postseason's interceptions leader, and against the Steelers Sept. 11 at Paycor Stadium he's on track for his fifth straight Opening Day start as a Bengal, the longest streak on the club.
"I just think Jessie is going to do what Jessie has done the last four years here and we'll plug in Dax in certain areas," Anarumo said. "Sometimes they'll be on the field at the same time, sometimes they won't. We have to see how it plays out."
Anarumo won't give it up, but one thing we know. A defensive player taken in the first round hasn't played in a Bengals opener since linebacker Keith Rivers had ten tackles in the 2008 opener in Baltimore.
O-LINE IN MOTION: Offensive line coach Frank Pollack came off the field pleased with the work the first unit absorbed the past two days. He said Thursday from an offensive standpoint head Zac Taylor emphasized that the first team get after it with plenty of snaps.
Taylor called his players up after Thursday's stretch and before practice and told them if it was a good practice, meetings were cancelled and they could get an early start on their three-day weekend. They came in about ten minutes after the scheduled end of the workout and were off.
"(Taylor) over-emphasized it so we could get the guys rolling in sync when it comes to communication," Pollack said. "It was good. We got a lot of work in.
"It's early. We haven't got to official week one. We're on the bye. We still have a lot of things we have to work through and continue to work on. But I like the way the guys are working, the way we're communicating and we're headed in the right direction."
It's the second week that the first line has worked together in pads and it includes rookie left guard Cordell Volson. Pollack has no problem starting rookies in openers.
He did it in his first tenure with the Bengals in 2018 and got a win with center Billy Price in Indianapolis. In 2020 with the Jets he went with left tackle Mekhi Becton in a 27-17 loss in Buffalo. He didn't start a rookie left guard named La'el Collins until the third game of the 2015 season in Dallas, but he likes the way the seven-year vet named La'el Collins is rounding into form at right tackle after his second week back in pads.
"He's still getting his sea legs, his pad legs," Pollack said. "Last week was great for him and we had really good work schedule the past two days and Coach got after the first group and it's been really good work for him and we'll get more next week."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Pollack and the assistant line coach he brought over during the offseason, Derek Frazier, scouted guard Max Scharping for the Jets during the 2019 draft with Frazier going to the workout at Northern Illinois. So when the Bengals claimed the second-rounder from the Texans and his 33 starts, it wasn't blindly.
"We liked his work ethic. He's smart," Pollack said. "He plays squarely and has stoutness in his movements and obviously he has a lot of tape in the league playing games. It's nice to get another vet in the mix." …
Anarumo is happy his first teamers won't play until the opener and while he admits there might be some rust early, he think it will progress effectively fast enough.
"We played 12 to 15 snaps as a starting group," Anarumo said of the last preseason. "Does 12 plays really matter in long run?"