When it comes to salt and vinegar, the Bengals' overhauled offensive line started its second week together in pads Wednesday out here on the edge and head coach Zac Taylor got it going before practice when he surprised no one and announced rookie Cordell Volson as the Opening Day left guard.
Volson officially joins the three free agents making their Bengals debut Sept. 11 on the right side of the line at Paycor Stadium against the always salty Steelers defense, making left tackle Jonah Williams the only one of the five in the same place he was in last Opening Day. Not to mention Super Bowl LVI.
"He ascended the whole training camp period. He played well, practiced well," said offensive coordinator Brian Callahan. "He continually got better. He showed the things we want to see from a starting guard for us. He's tough, he's physical, he's dependable … He's earned that job."
Volson also seems to come with the right amount of spice. After ripping up the line in the offseason, the Bengals think they've added some extra salt that hasn't been there for a while.
"As a collective group,' Callahan said, "this is the edgiest group we've had,' and that goes back to 2019, the last time they started a rookie (Michael Jordan) on the Opening Day offensive line.
Right tackle La'el Collins, 29, who along with center Ted Karras is the senior man up front, showed it last week in the last part of the joint practice with the Rams. Three times he didn't back down against Leonard Floyd in separate scrums and while the practice got cancelled the edge didn't.
"What would give you that impression?" Callahan kidded when asked about the attitude Collins brings. "That's always been his M.O. Tough. Physical. Always finishes everything. Finishes everyone. That's sort of what makes him who he is.
"That's a good thing. We need that on our team, on our offense up front. Those other guys are like that, too. Ted's like that. (Right guard Alex) Cappa's like that. Those guys we brought in have that mentality. Where they're always taking it to the edge a little bit."
Collins has one of those outgoing personalities that plays well in an offensive line room where there always seems to be more strong, silent types. And in the locker room. Taylor ordered a really nice, leather-bound card table for his guys when he saw the defensive backs had resorted to a table from the training room.
Collins stepped right up from the offensive line lockers and showed off a nifty card trick when he surveyed the deck spread all across the table. He told a reporter to pick out a card in the mess and went to work. A few minutes later, he pulled out (four of hearts) the right one.
Collins is quarterback Joe Burrow's third right tackle in as many openers and he's glad to have him. Burrow has been known to shake some salt, too.
And an occasional cigar.
"He brings toughness. Big, strong athletic guy," Burrow said before practice. "We know exactly what we're going to get out of LC. He's going to know exactly what he's doing, he's going to block his guy, he's going to bring toughness, physicality and all of that. He's a great guy to have."
Callahan says Collins has been excellent blocking people in pass protection and with getting his third and fourth padded practices Wednesday and Thursday, Callahan thinks he's on pace to hit his stride next week, their first game week.
Even though Volson is about to play his first NFL snap (according to Pro Football Reference he's the first Bengal born in North Dakota), Callahan says he fits right in on Collins' edge.
"Cordell has little bit of that himself," Callahan said. "Don't sleep on that aw-shucks thing he's got going. He looks to finish people all the time. So I think that's a good mix and to finally get those guys coming together, it's fun to watch."
Volson is all in on the edge.
"That's the way I like to play the game. I think that's the way you have to play the game," Volson said. "There's a lot of emotion involved. You have to have a little edge to you. I think there's a lot of guys in our room that have and I'm excited to play with them."
Volson is downplaying that first NFL start with not aw-shucks, but he's not awed, either.
"That's the biggest thing. Being a better version of myself every day," Volson. "I know I keep saying it, but that's what it comes down to. There are a lot of things I have to get better as I keep going."
Burrow, no stranger to North Dakota, says Volson will. He lived there when his dad coached at Volson's college, North Dakota State, about 15 years before Volson would play for four national champions.
"Really excited about what he's going to become. He's a big North Dakota boy that is fun to play with," Burrow said. "High energy. He's in his playbook, you can tell. Knows his stuff so he's going to keep getting better and better."
The Bengals think so, with just the right pinch of salt.