As a Cincinnati guy, Bengals rookie guard Jackson Carman will tell you he's been blessed to meet and talk with Bengals Hall-of-Fame left tackle Anthony Munoz down through the years. So that probably made it easier for him to pop the question at the end of practice Tuesday.
Offensive line coach Frank Pollack gathered the left side of the Bengals' first Super Bowl offensive line, Munoz and Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, and asked them to say a few words. It was all set to break up as the thank- yous and good-lucks and nice-to-see-yous and we're-rooting-for-you-guys began. But then Carman stepped forward with a question.
Consistency, Carman asked. How do you find consistency in your career?
Two of the many things the Bengals admire about their second-round pick are Carman's intelligence and confidence. He flashed both in speaking up in front of the Greatest Who Ever Lived in a rookie training camp he's been seeking that consistency while dealing with the inconsistency of rotating in and out with the first group.
And he's not afraid to ask under a crushing weight of expectations. Imagine any bigger than the ones that were born on draft night three months ago a half-hour away from Paul Brown Stadium in Fairfield when the call came at No. 46? Pollack has spent the days since reminding everyone that Opening Day starts are earned, not drafted.
"I wouldn't say it's been hard or easy. I think it just is what it is, and I've just been having lots of communication," Carman told the press before Tuesday's first day of practice in pads. "As far as what I was expecting on draft night, I feel like my entire process in totality at times has been crazy. It's gone from having surgery to not being able to get to play at first. Just a whole bunch of different things. So I've just basically been expecting the unexpected. Just going along with and seeing where life takes me."
Life has been kind and taken him next to Xavier Su'a-Filo's locker. Su'a-Filo is the guy rotating with Carman and seven years ago he was the hot-shot second-round pick in Houston. As the top pick in the round, the expectations were scalding, too, and now in 2021 Su'a-Filo has become a grizzled, gentle sounding board for the rookie next to him.
When the Bengals went after Su'a-Filo last year in free agency, director of pro scouting Steven Radicevic lasered in on Su'a-Filo's bountiful intangibles. Both played at UCLA and Radicevic was well aware of his terrific locker room rep. Not only a smart, solid player, but a generous teammate as well.
"Duane Brown, Chris Myers," said Su'a-Filo Tuesday, remembering the older vets that helped him. "There were a couple of guys a few years older who were real cool. Brandon Brooks. Derek Newton. They gave me advice on how to make sure to be a pro. Study habits. Taking care of their body.
"I'm just trying to do for Jackson what was done for me as a rookie," Su'a-Filo said.
He appreciates it. Munoz talked about remaining "coachable," and "teachable," down through the years, no matter how many, and at 21 of them, Carman is more than smart enough to get all that. He can play half a dozen or so musical instruments and counting, so he's spent his life getting taught.
"Coaches just tell me flat out you just have to take things one day at a time and build the plan and stack your chips every day," said Carman, wearing a Juice WRLD T-Shirt honoring the late rapper. "Every day you come in, don't make the same mistake you made yesterday and always be progressing. I think that's something I've been working on this camp and been doing good."
The transition is more complicated than most because he's changing positions. As the left tackle at Clemson, he bloomed under the immense pressure of protecting Trevor Lawrence's national championship blindside. Now he's inside at guard against much stronger and older men.
"There's really no one thing," Carman said of the position switch. "It's just everything in totality, just working on technique, learning the plays, just everything coming together."
And then there is trying to find the right weight. People forget that he chose to play with an injured back until his Tigers won it all and that the surgery pretty much knocked him out of the pre-draft training loop. He protected Lawrence at about 330 pounds, but it's a different game, now, where bulk isn't always the answer.
"I'm still feeling where I want my weight, especially switching positions because I played at a different weight in college," Carman said. "Still getting to that point exactly where I want to be and find out where my best playing weight is at. Come time for the season, it'll be where it needs to be."
Lapham, who played up and down the Bengals' line for a decade and has spent the last four analyzing what has come after, is bullish on Carman.
"He's definitely got a lot of ability," Lapham said after Tuesday's practice. "He's got size, he's got movement, he's got power. It sounds like he's willingly taking coaching, which is the biggest part of the battle. I think he's smart enough to understand he's got a pretty good coach (in Pollack)."
But Lapham also knows NFL technique isn't churned out in the first week of training camp. Even the most basic of things, such as a solid base, have to be developed in a new environment.
"It's almost crazy to say, but sometimes his feet look too good," Lapham said. "In other words, sometimes you've got to get them on the ground in a planted fashion. Sometimes he's overly light-footed. There's the balance between foot movement and then you still have to be able to plant to establish a foundation. In this league, if you get caught with one foot off the ground, the other one will be off the ground soon. He can learn to do it and I think he will."
Su'a-Filo is helping, channeling Duane Brown and Chris Myers.
"Little stuff," Su'a-Filo said. "Lending an ear to Jackson, talking about little nuggets here and there. He's a confident kid. It's cool to see that as a young player. You always want to be sure of yourself and you're wanting to put it all together. I can imagine (the challenge of the position switch), but he's got an awesome coach to help him do it. I think all of our rookies understand what Coach Pollack wants done in that room and the older players have to be examples. The best way to lead is by example."
Munoz answered Carman with a story about one of his contemporaries, Steelers offensive lineman Tunch "The Punch," Ilkin.
"Tunch Ilkin's wife said he would look into the mirror and do 1,000 punches," Munoz said with a little punch of his own. "Oof. Oof. He had the best punch in the league. You have to do it over and over again."
Munoz reminded him what Lapham had just said. The Friday practice before Super Bowl XVI, the Bengals offensive line went through the same steps and drills they did on the first day of training camp.
"Repetition," Munoz told Carman.
"The game doesn't wait for anybody so you always have to be prepared," said Carman, ready to do it again at the end of the first week of the rest of his career.