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Bengals Left Tackle Jackson Carman's Postseason Of Opportunity And Mind Over Matter

Jackson Carman exulting last Sunday.
Jackson Carman exulting last Sunday.

Jason Krause, who loves Jackson Carman like he's one of his own, has named the text message thread with his other family "Road Trip To Arrowhead."

But his old head coach, more than most, knows the trail his blue-chip player took from Fairfield High School to Sunday's AFC title game (6:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in Kansas City wasn't as smooth as the drive he took with Carman's cousins to last Sunday's AFC Divisional in Orchard Park, N.Y., to watch his first NFL start at left tackle.

"He had faith. He kept doing his job and working his tail off," Krause says of that stretch Carman didn't play a scrimmage snap until the season's last game. "That's exactly why I'm so proud of him. He didn't (go in the tank.) His mindset was unbelievable through the entire thing. That's probably what I'm most proud of."

Since it's the playoffs, things are screeching fast and loud. Carman says since it is the NFL, all the stadiums transform into "white noise," anyway. With Jonah Williams (knee) not yet practicing, it looks like he may be across one of the NFL's most estimable pass rushers in Chiefs edge Frank Clark, a three-time Pro Bowler whose rookie year of 2015 found Carman beginning to help define Krause's program in the Cincinnati suburbs.

"Great player. One of my favorite players when I was coming out watching him," Carman said after practice this week. "I remember I used to watch him do like slo mo head spins. Great player. Great technician."

But this is no autograph session. Carman took 35 snaps in this game last year, most in the second half, and he helped the Bengals into the Super Bowl with a cut-throat overtime drive that featured the powerful running of Joe Mixon behind a grooving O-Line.

Carman wasn't lined up against Clark that day, but he got a taste of him and the dangerous tackle Chris Jones, another perennial Pro Bowler now coming off a massive 15.5-sack season.

Still, that was at right guard. The other side of the world from the spots Carman played on the left side for Krause and then at Clemson blocking Trevor Lawrence's blindside.

"At that level, to have to flip slides, that changes everything you do," Krause says. "The muscle  memory. The hand that used to be your strong hand (isn't). Your stance. All that changes in your mind and your body."

Or as Carman put it last week getting ready for the Bills: "It's kind of like skateboarding. You've got a natural side that you take a lot of reps and if you flip you have to kind of learn the reverse muscles. But over time, when you're learning all those positions, you kind of build all those muscles equally, so it makes it easier to translate from slot to slot."

But it's been more mind over matter and Carman has a quick, interesting one.

Remember, here's a guy that's taught himself nearly double-digit instruments to play. Krause once saw him bring the always buzzing Jungle Jim's to a halt when he picked up a ukelele out of the toy section and serenaded the place while shopping for his draft party.

"Loving yourself. Forgiving yourself and being able to move forward. Stack days. Get better," said Carman, who can break down his mindset like a pass set so you can see it.

"You try to eat healthy, right? Then all of a sudden you're going to snack on some pizza. Then you get all mad at yourself. Then you go again and eat a burger the next day. You forgive yourself for that and say, 'OK, I'm going to get back on track and you move forward.' You love yourself."

There was a lot to chew on last Sunday and not just the 27-10 win where the Bengals three new offensive linemen ruled the day. It was Carman's 23rd birthday, a birthday he shares with his mother Mary. She flew into Buffalo and met the guys at the stadium gates.

The birthday was also a reminder that the Bengals drafted him in the second round when he was just 21. So when this year's fourth-rounder Cordell Volson beat him out at right guard during training camp, it got him thinking.

"Even though Cordell's a rookie, he's still two years older than me. I knew I still had a lot of room to grow and future ahead of me to make improvements," Carman said. "There's no sense going down in the dumps because things don't go your way in the moment. Let God take his course.

"You think about it, if that had happened in that moment, I might not have had the opportunity to step in at left tackle when I did. God works everything out."

At the moment, Krause is trying to work on this Sunday's logistics for what is looking to be about an eight-and-a-half hour drive. That's about two hours longer than last week, when "Once you get past Cleveland, it's easy."

It looks like it's going to be the same crew and maybe Carman's brother. They'd like to do what they did last week and get there in time Saturday night to visit him at the hotel for about a half-hour between meetings and curfew.

"We were going to go get something to eat," Krause says, "and he said, 'No, I'm not leaving, I'm dialed in. I'll just talk to you guys for a little bit.' Then he said he was going back to his room to watch film."

In his 12 years as Fairfield's head man and even in his entire 29 years of coaching, Krause had never watched a game like he watched last Sunday's. He has never coached from the press box, so it reminded him what he tells his guys upstairs. Don't watch the game. Watch your area.

"I was that guy. I had no idea what was going on in the game. I was just watching his reps," Krause says. "I was like coaching in the box. I thought he played lights out for a guy that hasn't been repping at tackle all year. To me, that says a lot about his ability. He looked like a veteran that's been playing it all season. I know he's played it in the past, but obviously that was on a different level, different speed and I thought he handled himself tremendously. The conditions weren't ideal. They were slippery."

Carman says he'll use the Arrowhead crowd noise to fuel his own energy. It's a vibe it sounds like he already has captured from his teammates.

"We have a culture of winners and extremely humble, hard-working men," Carman said. "It's crazy to see what type of men. I'm walking with amazing people. I can't overstate that enough."

This Sunday is another day that must be stacked.

"It's going through adversity and learning more about yourself," Carman said. "Being able to pay attention and read the different signs. Everybody has different signs."

The thread has just begun. The signs to Kansas City are pointing up.