Bengals head coach Zac Taylor isn't looking at his roster's biggest battle and his team's tune-up for the Sept. 11 opener in the context of the final two preseason games.
He's counting the rest of his seven padded practices left in training camp just as much, if not more. So after Taylor switched the left guards Monday for the first time in this offseason and preseason and put fourth-rounder Cordell Volson with the first team and second-year starter Jackson Carman with the second team, he cautioned caution.
"Everybody wants us to name one," Taylor said. "People should not read too much into this. We're getting these guys work. Depending on the day. We've got a long ways to go."
They split the snaps and the halves in the Friday night preseason opener: Volson, the huge, physical rookie from North Dakota. Carman, the athletic second-year college tackle. Volson looked more consistent in pass protection than Carman, but Carman, who got nicked in the game and missed Sunday's practice, also showed up with some powerful run blocking.
"A little bit of both. A little bit of both," said offensive line coach Frank Pollack when asked if Volson got Monday's nod off Carman's injury or his own performance. "We're just evaluating everybody, still seeing who's the guy who's going to take that job."
Pollack echoed what Taylor said. Monday didn't mean Volson had the job.
"That's the nature of today's reality TV. The NFL has become one big, giant reality TV show," Pollack said. "I guess that's good for the fans and for everyone involved in the league, and all the trimmings that come along with that. But at the same time, it can be a distraction, too.
"Everything is a competition. Guys understand that. They are told that on a daily basis," Pollack said. "They compete. Everything they do is getting evaluated. That's just the nature of the NFL. Everybody is saying the same thing to all the young guys trying to earn jobs. That's nothing unique to the Bengals."
It's a new game and Pollack gets it. A sixth-round pick of the 1990 49ers, Pollack grew up in the league with punishing two-a-days in training camp. Now the Bengals go once a day two days in a row before they get a day off the field. There is more to it than the games, now. Because the games are so dangerous, practices have become an even bigger evaluating tool.
"Every day they're competing. They're going against good players here with Bengals, too," Pollack said of practice. "Everything is being evaluated. Everything is going to be under consideration on who's going to eventually win that job."
So this is just one day in the Carman-Volson evaluation. Plenty of practices left and that's how Taylor wants it after studying his first three camps.
"Our experiences and looking back at the history, a lot of the soft tissue stuff has happened on that third day," Taylor said. "Where you're really... guys have had a second day and then they get it. It happened to us last year. We did go three days in a row after that three day ramp up and on that third day we lost a lot of skill guys.
"We've been better with the soft tissue stuff," Taylor said. "We go two days on, we're going to be in full pads, we expect a lot out of you. We want you coming off the field the second day exhausted. And knowing that the third day is going to be a walkthrough day or a day off. Then we're going to hit it again for two more days. They understand the intent of why we do it and they've really bought into it."
Volson discovered that the way the Bengals practice prepared him for the speed of his NFL debut. And, yes, he says. No question the speed is different in practice than his college games.
"You're going against the best players in the world. Here, you consistently have a real good player against you," Volson said. "At the college level, maybe there are one or two good players on a team."
Now Volson finds himself in a daily competition where the practices are just as fast and as important as the games.
"I don't think of it that way," Volson said. "I'm just thinking about showing up every day and being the best Cordell Volson I can be."
PLAYER OF THE DAY, CB Allan George.
It's been quite a couple of days for George, the undrafted rookie from Vanderbilt. In Friday night's preseason opener against Arizona, he played all 66 snaps, 15 more on special teams, and on his first series as a pro got hit with a 40-yard pass interference penalty when he didn't turn his head on a deep ball.
"Man, 81 snaps. But I loved it. Blessed with the opportunity," George said. "I just have to have trust in my ability. If I turn around and look for that ball, I can easily pick that off."
The Bengals signed him because they feel like he's a mature and more polished player than a lot of rookies at a premium position. George reflects it when he says, "You need to hit the re-set button at corner," whether it's a good or bad play and he didn't back down the rest of the way.
He didn't practice Sunday as he recovered from some soreness and on Monday he was in there with the ones because Chidobe Awuzie was getting a break. Re-setting Friday night in Monday's Joe Burrow seven-on-seven, he broke up Burrow twice, once each on balls to his 1,000-yard receivers.
On the first one he surprised Burrow and Tee Higgins had to outjump him and out-muscle George to prevent an interception. Then, George interrupted that great Ja'Marr-and-Joe mind-reading act with some anticipation of his own on their telepathic back-shoulder fade.
His interlude with the monstrously gifted 6-4, 220 pound Higgins shows you how hard he is to contain. And he was in just his second team practice coming off shoulder surgery. As George found out, Higgins' brute strength won't allow any finesse plays.
"I've got to finish that one on Higgins," George said. "I should have picked that for sure … I couldn't believe Joe had thrown the ball. Just shocked. I went up kind of soft, Tee came over the top of the play.
"I was already in position. I thought there was no way Joe is actually going to throw it. I thought he could see me, but I guess he couldn't see me."
The Bengals' scouts also liked George's work in the Ivy League-like Vandy classroom and that trait showed up, too, Monday. George studied enough film to know when Chase and Burrow get together, they're going to wear out Chase's back shoulder. Especially when cornerback Eli Apple is out there in everyone's favorite Twitter battle.
"In practice, he's known for his back-shoulder fades and Eli has gotten a couple of breakups on his back shoulders. I was waiting for it just a little bit," George said. "I knew he was going to show his hands late because Chase is a great receiver and working with Joe and the chemistry they've had for so long. I knew he was going to his hands late, so I just went for the pocket and punched it out at the last second."
So George hit re-set as the Giants, his dad's favorite team, come into view.
PLAY OF THE DAY: CB Tre Flowers
Straight from the head coach. Zac Taylor put the ball down on the 5 for the last play of practice and announced, "For the win. Fourth-and-five. Last play of the game."
Naturally, the defense blitzed slot cornerback Mike Hilton from the right side. There was a lot of traffic to get through and quarterback Brandon Allen got rid of it quickly to the right front pylon and Chase looking for room. But Flowers stepped in front of Chase and would have had a pick six if he didn't step out of bounds with Chase in hot pursuit.
"I knew there was a pretty good chance they were throwing to Chase," Flowers said. I was just able to get a clean break."
"Has to be, "said Taylor when asked if that was the play of the day. "It won the game."
QUOTE OF THE DAY
CB Allan George on his dropped interception:
"Turnovers change games. Turnovers change lives. I have to catch all my opportunities."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Higgins and rookie wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh just missed out on The Play of The Day. Higgins looked to be in mid-season physicality when he launched himself over Apple and rookie safety Dax Hill to pull in a long Allen pass as the DBs griped about pushing off. But his big body is what makes Higgins so tough to defend.
Heiligh, undrafted out of Jerome Simpson's Coastal Carolina, make like Simpson with a highlight score. He took 26 snaps and didn't have catch Friday night. But on Monday he made a leaping catch inside the 5, ripping it out of the hands of cornerback Delonte Hood, and then turned and leaped back into the end zone …
Quarterback Brandon Allen's concussion from Friday night barely lingered and he was back out there Monday. Rookie cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt was not out there and he hasn't been out there for a week ….
Edge Sam Hubbard continued to do only individual drills and Taylor said Sunday he's looking to give the younger players more reps. The other starting edge, Trey Hendrickson, did some team work, but they also backed him off with Joseph Ossai getting a lot of work and he looked good with a sack and some pressures he did a nice job sniffing out a shovel pass for no gain.
"Put that stuff on the shelf," Hilton barked at the offense.