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Combine Quick Hits: Frank (Pollack) Tackle Talk For Bengals; A Great Joe Burrow Yarn And Bonding With Your QB


INDIANAPOLIS _ Go back to the Joe Burrow Draft of 2020 and Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack sees some similarities with this high-end tackle class. If it works out like it did that year, when five tackles went in the first 18 picks, he may get his next right tackle at No. 18 if Jonah Williams leaves in free agency.

"You can argue and debate how those five guys were ranked," Pollack said Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine. "They were all worthy of an early first-round pick. I think this year seems to be shaking out to a similar year."

Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin calls this the deepest crop of tackles he can remember four years after Andrew Thomas went to the Giants three picks in the line following Burrow at No. 4. Then, Jedrick Wills Jr. went to the Browns at No. 10 and Pollack's Jets took Mekhi Becton a pick later. Tampa Bay grabbed Tristan Wirfs at No. 13 before Austin Jackson went to the Dolphins at No. 18.

That was it, according to the board. One more tackle went until the 58th pick.

The thing is, picking them and then expecting them to play is another matter. Not even Bengals Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist Wilie Anderson started his opener. And then there's growth. Of those five tackles, there is one first-team All-Pro and three Pro Bowls. All belong to Wirfs. Three of the five (Thomas, Wills, Wirfs) have been primary starters their entire career.

An NFL coach in the past three decades, Pollack remembers doing it twice on Opening Day starting a rookie tackle. In Houston in 2008 with Duane Brown, the 28th pick in the draft, and Becton, not expected to stay with the Jets this free agency season after losing two of his four seasons to injury.

"The game's faster, the opponents they're going against are a lot more technically sound and faster. They're stronger, the game's more complex," Pollack said of what a rookie faces. "The pressures they'll see are more complex. The volume from a playbook standpoint is more complex. Yeah, I mean it's a little bit of a difference."

If you ask Pollack what he's looking for, it's heart and feet. In that order.

"It's their intangibles, by far, it's not what you see on tape. It's not what you see a lot of guys are coming in with all the talent in the world," Pollack said. "And they get drafted in the first three rounds because of it, but they drift away, and they disappeared, and you get guys who were late-round draft picks, because you had the bare minimum talent, but they had all the other stuff off the charts."

But they still have to play in the AFC North, home to two of the last three NFL Defensive Players of the Year in pass rushers Myles Garrett of Cleveland and T.J. Watt of Pittsburgh.

"They've got to have range, got to have very quick feet. Length helps. Length will help you overcome some of your deficiencies in your feet and your athleticism," Pollack said. "Balance is a big one. Being able to bend is a big one. Out there on the edge in space, you're going to face the cream of the crop as far as what this league has to offer. Left side, right side is irrelevant these days. I'm sure all the guys that face the Watt kid in Pittsburgh think that they're facing the elite just as much as everyone faces the other guy in Cleveland on the left side. So, either side is going to be important. It's not like it what it used to be back in the day. Left side was kind of the premier (tackle) and it's not that way anymore."

Which, by the way, is the crux of the Willie Anderson Hall of Fame argument. And that takes Pollack back to the intangibles. Anderson had top-ten talent, but it was his intangibles that set him apart.

"They carve out a little career for themselves, whether it's backup role players, or developing the starters, or whatever it is," Pollack said. "Or some of those guys even are wearing (gold) jackets."

ORLANDO PART II: The Bengals solved left tackle back in March when they inked Pro Bowler Orlando Brown Jr. to a four-year, $64 million deal. He didn't make the Pro Bowl in his first season in Cincy, but he has been vowing he wants more than that. He's looking for the coveted first-team All-Pro vote and Pollack hasn't been surprised to see him at Paycor pretty much daily ever since the season ended.

"He had some up-and-down stuff. I think he'd tell you that as well," Pollack said of Brown's 2023. "I know he's been in the facility this season, already working out. I'm excited to do a little bit more with him this offseason a little bit earlier.

"He's a guy that has a lot of good football ahead of him. I think he was maybe a little disappointed in how he came out. He's got a lot of ability obviously, and maybe he can clean up a couple of things and help him get a little cleaner on some of his technical stuff."

VOLSON ON MOVE: The combine has been a stage for endorsing left guard Cordell Volson as he heads into his third season. Pollack circles the Dec. 10 win over the Colts that rookie running back Chase Brown ignited with his blistering 54-yard touchdown catch and run of a screen pass that had him motoring at 22.05 miles per hour for one of the NFL's fastest GPS of the season.

If you look, Volson is almost even with him as they run into the end zone. Pollack just wishes Volson, one of his intangibles guys, had been in that kind of groove earlier in the season.

"I think he was overthinking, and it was just making his feet play a lot slower than what he's capable of. I kind of busted his chops a little bit on the screen to the rookie running back when he was the second-fastest guy in the league," Pollack said. "Running behind him was Cordell. I was like, 'Where the hell has that been the first part of the season? Let's go. When you're not thinking, looking at you. Just quit overthinking and play fast.' So I think that was kind of a little bit of an opener for him.

"He's wired the right way. He's going to grind. He's a worker."

GOOD YARN: New Bengals quarterbacks coach Brad Kragthorpe had a great Joe Burrow story Wednesday as he talked about a relationship that began in 2018 when he was helping coach the LSU quarterbacks. It was in a practice when Burrow was still competing for the job and he faced a challenging blitz.

"He had to drift back in the pocket just to be able to throw a hot (quick) throw. It was really the third progression in the concept and all the players and coaches on the offense are kind of standing behind and so he drifts all the way back," Kragthorpe said. "He completes the shallow cross as his hot answer, and I happened to be standing in the vicinity of where he finished the play.

"I said, 'Hey, nice play, that was really impressive.' He kind of smirked and was like, 'That was easy,' and turned around and jogged back to the huddle. That was kind of one of my first real impressions of Joe and obviously it's pretty similar to how the rest of his career has gone so far."

Kragthorpe and new offensive coordinator Dan Pitcher met the press Wednesday and if there's one takeaway it is from Kragthorpe's old high school coach in Louisville who advised him to be the thermostat and not the thermometer. Both guys responded to the cameras with easy room temperature.

Kragthorpe says that flat-line demeanor comes from playing quarterback and, come to think of it, Burrow is the same flat-liner.

"Joe is a very, very smart football player and a very smart quarterback. You've always got to be on your stuff," Kragthorpe said. "You have to be consistent every single day. You have to know what you're talking about. You have to maybe admit when you don't have the answer to a question he has and tell him that you'll get one as fast as you can. Being open and honest. There is certainly an element of Joe enhancing the coaches that are around him."

NEW SPOT: Justin Rascati, who is a new coach and has a new title as the passing game coordinator, also checked in. The word is his responsibilities are "evolving," but he has certainly attacked a specific set of tasks since he arrived from the Vikings offensive line room a month ago.

"The first week I kind of dove into our roster and watched 10 or 11 games," Rascati said. "And then quickly from there moved on to free agency and started diving into watching free agents, and now I'm working on the draft. It's been a busy few weeks."

But there was time for a Burrow intro.

"Saw him in the office last week. He was in working out. Just introduced myself and talked to him for a few minutes," Rascati said. I'm really excited to get to know him and work with him. I know he's having a good offseason."

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