Cordell Volson, the Bengals' gargantuan and gifted left guard, couldn't quite digest what someone had just relayed to him.
Joe Mixon, along with Tyler Boyd the offense's most tenured Bengal, had just said Volson can be a Pro Football Hall-of-Famer even though he's just two years into his career.
(OK, here's exactly what Mixon said earlier this week:
"I'm a very big fan of Cordell Volson just to make it clear because I just love everything about him. He filled in a big void last year and just since day one, he's been a pro. Since day one, he walked in and he always looks to get better. He's always picking Ted (Karras') and Alex Cappa's (brain) and just the relationship that me and him have together, it's a great thing … I think he's going to be around a long time and I believe that as long as he's on the right track of doing what he's doing he's a potential Hall of Famer.")
"Wow. That's a really big compliment. I don't even know how to take that," Volson said. "Obviously, I'm not even close to that."
But it does show just how close Mixon is to his offensive line in a relationship that reflects his leadership style. Some lead by example. Some lead by presence. Mixon leads by personality, a bubbly and contagious force that infects the locker room and offense. If Joe Burrow is the soul of the Bengals of the 2020s, Joe Mixon is the heart.
"I love him as a teammate," said Volson, once he recovered. "He runs extremely hard. He's someone who has been really good to us. Just giving us his best. I really appreciate that. He takes care of us."
It must be a Norman, Okla., thing, the hometown of head coach Zac Taylor. Both Mixon and Taylor have an innate ability to negotiate locker rooms fraught with the potentially toxic brew of ego and talent. New Bengals Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. played with Mixon in Norman at the University of Oklahoma and has been watching him take care of his linemen since he can remember.
"Back then it was college stuff," Brown says. "You know, Chili's, Applebee's. He'd take us out to eat."
Now it is the pros and Volson says it is at the high end. Now that the season is about here, Mixon can soon be found hosting his O-line dinners at Cincinnati five stars like Jeff Ruby's and Council Oak.
"We appreciate that," said Volson, a large 6-7 vat poured with 325 pounds of concrete who is said to have the lowest body fat on the line.
When Mixon re-structured his contract last month and took a hit, Brown called him, "The best teammate I've had on all three levels." He thinks he's matured as a man, but he sees the same guy. This is Brown's third stop in the league and when he heard that Mixon has been known to convene weekly informal meetings with his line on Fridays, Brown called that "very rare. That's the stuff that makes him special." But it also doesn't surprise him.
"This is who he is as a football player," Brown said. "He's been this guy. Catching, running, and crazy intense. He loves the game and that's always been his personality trait."
Mixon, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher and an AFC rushing champion poised to become the Bengals' third all-time leading rusher this season, can read his room. He thinks Brown is the final piece.
"It's a great thing to see. He's hungry. Tenacious. The attitude that he brings, that's what I felt like we've been missing and I think that we found it," Mixon said. "Big O.B. I've known him for about ten years. It's a blessing to be here with him and I've got very high expectations for him as he does in me."
Mixon thinks Brown is just what Volson needs next to him.
"They've just got that one-two connect," he says and Volson says the bonding with Brown on and off the field has been percolating through the spring and summer.
"He's a really smart player. Plays the game the right way," Volson says. "Plays really hard. He's an elite player. One of the best in the league, so to play next to him can only be really beneficial."
Volson may not be working on any induction speeches, but if anyone knows what a blossoming NFL guard looks like it is Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham. Lapham, a guard who played every position on the Bengals line during 140 games that helped put him on the Ring of Honor ballot, says Volson's future is "big-time bright."
"He's got such a huge frame, I'm telling you," Lapham says. "He's broad, he's long, he's strong. He's big everywhere you can be big. But he moves well. Not a stiff what so ever. He's got good feet. He's a talented guy."
Only one NFL guard (the Eagles' Isaac Seumalo) took more snaps last year than Volson's 1,305. Plenty to grade and improve, but what Lapham likes about Volson is his desire to be the best.
"He just doesn't want to play. He wants to be at the top of the league," Lapham says. "One thing he did early on was he bit on things. Because of his size, you don't have to bite on every single move a guy makes. He's a guy that can be patient and not commit to everything. The thing is, he's a guy that wants to keep getting better."
If anyone knows what a Hall-of-Fame guard looks like, it is Brown. He broke in five years ago as a right tackle in Baltimore next to Marshal Yanda just as Yanda was finishing a decade he would be named a guard on the Pro Football Hall of Fame 2010s team.
Brown, a four-time Pro Bowler seeking his first All-Pro team, believes he and Volson can get there together.
"I believe we're going to have a lot of success together because of the system that we're in, where he's in his career, where I am in my career," Brown says. "I haven't made All-Pro yet. He hasn't made All-Pro yet. He has what it takes to be that dominant left guard. Very strong. He has an incredible way of bending for his size, which is why he's able to play inside and have success. Very long for a guard and I think he moves really well, too. Most importantly, I think he understands his strengths and weaknesses. When you're an offensive lineman and you understand that, the sky's the limit."
And their running back is talking about limitless possibilities.
"(Mixon) can run any scheme," Volson says. "He can make you miss, he can run over you. One of the league's premier backs."
While Volson is leading him up the middle, Mixon is trying to lead him to Canton.
"I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around that," says the appreciative Volson.