Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack has been tough on left guard hopeful Jackson Carman and that's fine by Carman because in his second season he's asked him to do just that.
"I want to go to the next level and he's been there. He's trying to take me and that's what I'm trying to do," Carman said after Tuesday's voluntary session.
"That's the really big thing is having Frank. You're going to learn, have him on you. You're growing. None of our paths are the same. That's life. In anything. Being able to have a guy with so much experience and knowledge and want to is a blessing no matter what form it comes in."
One of the many reasons Pollack, the former 49er backup who got in 90 games during the '90s and won a ring, has become one of the NFL's top offensive line coaches is because he knows what players are faced with and how they can cope and he won't lower the standard he had as a player. He says he treats them all tough.
Call it tough love.
"I'm coaching him like I coach everybody. I coach them hard. Hopefully, they feel me love them up when I think they do some good things and feel me when I'm on them to do it a little bit better. That's coaching," Pollack said. "They know when I'm excited, proud of then, fired up. We had a really good day today and I let them know that."
Pollack also lets it be known that he thinks after a rough rookie season Carman lost his job twice, he is "progressing, taking the next step." Pollack also said plenty when he put Carman in the one spot on the line that's up for grabs.
"He's working really hard. It's evident," Pollack said. "Focusing on doing some drills and applying what we're teaching as far as fundamentals, technique, and footwork. Where his eyes should be and all that good stuff.
"He's working hard. I'm excited about it."
Even more importantly, Carman says he plain just feels better and more comfortable after the Bengals drafted the linchpin left tackle for national champion Clemson and homegrown product from nearby Fairfield in the second round 13 months ago.
"I learned a lot, a tremendous amount," Carman said of last year's learning curve. "Anything from off-field stuff and how to be a professional to being on the field learning techniques and just learning more socially, interacting with my teammates, my coaches. I learned a lot. "
Last year was more frustration than fairy tale. He wasn't able to have much of an offseason program as he rehabbed from back surgery. Not only that, the Bengals changed his positon (tackle to guard) and his side (left to right). As he said Tuesday, that was tough after "five years of reps pressing off my right foot more than my left foot." Not only that, the baptism was immediate and intense. His first start came at right guard in just his third game,
But now, "it's fun … I definitely feel a lot more familiar just being over there for the course of my career in college and high school."
They've kept him at guard and while Carman is currently the starter, Pollack promises everyone is going to be in the derby at training camp. That includes fourth-rounder Cordell Volson, Super Bowl starting right guard Hakeem Adeniji and 2021 sixth-rounder Trey Hill. And if Hill plays center, new center Ted Karras, with two rings, of his own can play left guard.
But Carman doesn't plan to give it up. Not after a healthy back allowed him a pain-free offseason and the ability to work with offensive line guru Duke Manyweather in Dallas, where he spent a month working on "a lot of O-line specific stuff and really helped build my body. We have different things I've been working on."
One of the major things has been playing at the right weight and he says he's there now, between 323 and 325 pounds. The diet and nutrition part wasn't tough at all, he says, since he can often be found cooking in the kitchen and considers himself a "foodie."
He's even concocted his own healthy dish. Call it the "Jackson Carman Pizza Pie."
"A cauliflower pizza. Low carbs, but still tastes the same," Carman said. "Spinach, plant-based sausage, low fat mozzarella."
His line mates can see what the Bengals saw in that 2021 draft.
"He's working really hard and he's a great athlete. It's fun to get to know him and connect," said Karras, one of the three new starters. "It's interesting coming in and being an older guy and getting to impart knowledge. We all start over every year."
Karras and new right tackle La'el Collins are also the two oldest and most experienced linemen they have. Instead of waiting for his brain to be picked, Collins does the picking with as many guys as he can. (Alex Cappa, the new right guard, is out with what head coach Zac Taylor indicated is an injury that won't keep him out of the start of training camp.)
"He's a little quiet, but I can tell he's got the right mentality. He's got the same intensity every day and as long as he and the rest of us in the room keep that up, we're going to be fine," Collins said. "He's got really good feet, really good quickness. I can't wait to see what he's like once we get going. I love the way he comes to work every day."
Last year Carman became close with departed veteran guard Xavier Su'a-Filo, but he still remembers how much a vet can teach.
"I've got great relationships with all the guys, top to bottom. I learn different things from all of them," Carman said. "Xavier was a little different. It was unique because we were in the same spot and things like that, but I feel like the things I learned from X last year definitely stuck with me and I'll be able to use that this year.
"Whether it's technique stuff, or off the field stuff, or just managing things like that. That can really help me."
Su'a-Filo was the ultimate pro. That's what Pollack has seen from his guys this spring and that includes Carman.
"He's responded not so much to what I'm telling him," Pollack said. "He's learning and feeling what it is to be a pro and what his teammates need from him and he's all about being there for his teammates.
"The one thing about this stuff is it is voluntary, so I take my hat off to all these guys. They've been nothing but true pros. That's the biggest compliment I can give all these guys."
Carman appreciates that it's not going to be all bouquets.
"I've asked him to be (tough on me)," Carman said.