Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack noticed it, too.
As he gets ready to possibly head into Sunday's AFC Divisional in Buffalo (3 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) with a group put together in the last three weeks, it's not a minor detail.
Jackson Carman announced himself two weeks ago in the regular-season finale against the Ravens when he played his first four snaps of the season.
One was as the extra left tackle next to Jonah Williams and even though the play was away from him, the 6-5, 320-pound Carman kept drive blocking 6-3, 242-pound outside linebacker Tyus Bowser into the Baltimore sideline and didn't let up because he didn't know the play had been blown dead and soon he was engulfed by angry Ravens.
"He's got some stuff in his neck," Pollack said before Thursday's practice. "He's not afraid to get after people and compete."
Pollack loves the intensity and it seems to capsulize the maturation of Carman, a 2021 second-round pick who came in a young 21 and is set to turn a much older 23 on the day of a game. It's a birthday he may very well get his first NFL start at left tackle, the spot he played at Clemson when he protected Trevor Lawrence's blindside on the way to a national title.
"I feel like the whole year last year was a crazy year. Top to bottom. I couldn't even begin to count the things I learned," Carman said this week. "I'm glad I've been able to pull it all together. If anything, I feel I've grown closer to God through this whole experience … Closer to God than I've ever been."
With the release of Thursday's injury report, it looks more and more like Carman is going to have a unique 23rd birthday. The lineup that never changed from the overtime opener through the 15th game of the season on Christmas Eve in Foxborough could be transformed a third straight week with left tackle Jonah Williams (dislocated knee) and right guard Alex Cappa (ankle) again not practicing Thursday and right tackle La'el Collins (ACL) in his third week on injured reserve.
If the report holds, Carman would get his first start of the season, right guard Max Scharping would get his second and right tackle Hakeem Adeniji his third. But Pollack considers them more seasoned than that.
Carman, who started six games last season at guard, rotated in the AFC title game in Kansas City with Adeniji at right guard. Adeniji started all four playoff games last season. Scharping has more playoff starts (3) than Bengals starts (1).
When Pollack made the decision after the preseason to go with fourth-rounder Cordell Volson at left guard instead of Carman, it was the third time since the Bengals drafted Carman that Pollack opted for someone else. Then he watched Carman keep maturing when he put him as a backup for every spot but center.
"He responded like a pro," Pollack said. "(Left tackle) is his natural spot. He's really letting his athleticism shine. He's been diligently working at that tackle spot all year and slowly learning the position from a playbook standpoint. He's been approaching things the right way and he did a lot of good things when he came off the bench last week.
"I told him that (after training camp). You're still early in your career. You've got all the upside we saw coming out of the draft. We had a pressing need at guard, so we're going to see if he takes that spot. Otherwise, we're going to bump him out to tackle. We said that from day one. That's where we're at. He's done a nice job getting himself here. He's matured a ton. A ton. He's grown like a lot of those young guys last year as far as being a pro, their approach, how they work. He's one of those guys."
Carman agrees going back to tackle is like riding a bike. While his rookie struggles were well chronicled, his challenges were not. He switched sides and positions and he was coming off back surgery. Plus, he came into the league heavy and drew praise even before this season started for the offseason work in the gym.
"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," Carman said. "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."
Carman comes right out and tells you the past two years have been about a lot of learning. "A very humbling experience." He also thinks his stint at guard has made him a better tackle.
"It's helped me with my body awareness. Take what I learned at right guard and apply it to left tackle," Carman said. "At guard, it's a lot faster. Being faster with your hands is more imperative. Being able to take those fast hands out at tackle is a good translator. I think I'm a whole year more experienced. My body's better."
Buffalo is loud. But louder than Arrowhead? All three new linemen have experienced the jet-engine-noise-silent-count of the playoffs in the NFL's loudest stadium in Kansas City. Scharping played an AFC Divisional game there as a rookie in 2019 and in last year's AFC title game, Carman (35) and Adeniji (34) split the snaps at right guard with Carman on the field in the crazed din of the second half and overtime.
"That was loud. We played in that little dome in Syracuse. That was loud, "Carman said of his college days. "I'm used to loud crowds."
Head coach Zac Taylor put the Bengals in Paycor Thursday on the game field and Scharping said he pumped some noise at them during practice.
RAND MCNALLY: He says he's the only Bengals fan in Buffalo these days, but Jim McNally is still going to get one of the best seats in Highmark Stadium when he settles into the press box for a playoff game between his long-time employer and his hometown Bills.
McNally, a University of Buffalo Hall-of-Famer who went to the Bills' first practice in 1960 and a pioneering offensive line mind during his 15 seasons coaching the Bengals front that included two Super Bowl appearances, has worked as a consultant with the club for the last several years and is quietly doing his part as Pollack faces the potential of playing with three new starters two wins away from the Super Bowl.
He's bringing good vibes. In both Super Bowl runs McNally was the offensive line coach when they beat the Bills in the playoffs. He'll have a seat of honor at Bengals president Mike Brown's table Saturday night for the team meal at the club's Buffalo headquarters.
"Great karma. Great karma," Pollack said before Thursday's practice. "He's a great resource. Every week he does a big cutup study analysis on the D-linemen's pass rush and how they play run concepts and puts it together and we send it to our players' iPads.
"We use a lot of those cutups in our meetings. I bounce things off him during the season and offseason, whether it's a scheme concept or helping evaluate college free agents coming out. He's been a mentor of mine. It's been fantastic. Love it."
The injuries bring back some Deja vu for McNally, who didn't lose three starters heading into the 1988 playoffs but he lost right tackle Joe Walter (ACL) in the last regular-season game.
He turned to a former first-rounder who had been backing up and down four spots on the line and Brian Blados book-ended with Hall-of-Famer left tackle Anthony Munoz to help the Bengals rush for 175 yards in the AFC title game win over Buffalo, 21-10, at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium.
"Big guy. Athletic. He went in there and played well in the two playoff games and the Super Bowl," McNally said. "I thought Jackson Carman played well last week when he came into the game. Quick. Good feet. He's a big guy. Second-pick so you know he's got talent."
A young 79, McNally isn't afraid of continuing the grind. "I'm in better shape than most guys in the league," says the fitness freak.
Working from his Buffalo home, McNally has spent the season scouting the opposing defenses and crafting projects at each level of the defense. With the help of Bengals assistant video director Kent Stearman back at Paycor Stadium, McNally highlights clips for a lineman's weekly study of the guy across from him.
"They can see it on the video if there's a particular move. They can look at it nine, ten straight times. You can see that move back to back to back," McNally said. "You try to categorize it by putting the same technique together whether it's pass or run and see if there's any tendencies. It's more of a personnel evaluation."
McNally also coached the Bills offensive line for four seasons early in the century, but it's all orange and black amid the Bills mania. He remembers the Bengals bench coming to the rescue against the Bills 34 years ago and he sees the size and athleticism of Carman and Adeniji and Scharping and he thinks it can happen again.
"Absolutely," said McNally, who won't be alone for long.
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Three of the NFL's top safeties are in this game. The Bengals' Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates III are playoff heroes and the Bills are 13-0 this season when Jordan Poyer plays.
It turns out Bengals safeties coach Robert Livingston played safety at William and Mary ten years after Bills head coach Sean McDermott and considers him a role model. Livingston, heading into his senior year, actually hosted McDermott at the 2008 dedication of William and Mary's Jimmye Laycock Football Center when McDermott was the Eagles linebackers coach.
Livingston saw early what the rest of the country found out about McDermott three weeks ago on the Paycor turf when Bills safety Damar Hamlin was fighting for his life.
"A class guy," Livingston said. "I was asking a lot of questions about how to get into coaching that day and he was very nice about it. Whenever I come across him, he's always that way. He's a guy I strive to be like in this profession. How he teaches, the kind of person he is, the kind of father. Everything I hear and see, first class." …
Two games away from a repeat Super Bowl appearance? Ho-hum for another Clemson guy, Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins. Why not? He's ice this time of year after going for 103 yards in AFC title game and then for 100 in the Super Bowl.
"Dating back to college days, I've always been a part of the big games," Higgins said. "That's what I wanted to do coming into the league. Having Joe (Burrow) as my quarterback and the guys around us, it's just put us in that situation again to play in those big games. "
Higgins says he hasn't "really spoken," to Hamlin since Jan. 2, when Higgins was the last person Hamlin came in contact with before he suffered a cardiac arrest. Hamlin is expected to be at Sunday's game.
"I'm pretty sure we're just going to (chop) it up, laughs and giggles and just be happy to see him," said Higgins of seeing him Sunday. "(Hope to) talk to him a little bit and chop it up a little." ….