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OL Coach Pollack's Blank Slate: 'Irrelevant What You Did Last Year'

New offensive line coach Frank Pollack looks to add some techniques to left tackle Jonah Williams' developing game.
New offensive line coach Frank Pollack looks to add some techniques to left tackle Jonah Williams' developing game.

The word has Zoomed to the Bengals offensive line via its meetings with new line coach Frank Pollack.

"I told these guys, everybody gets a clean slate. We're starting everything from day one and it's really irrelevant what you did last year," Pollack says. "And that's what every team's approach is. Players. Coaches. If you're not looking to prove yourself every day, you're going to be on the outside looking in."

Pollack, known for his detailed practices that are surrounded by enough equipment to take to the space station, has a to-do list.

It includes, among other items, putting second-rounder Jackson Carman into the mix at right guard before kicking him to tackle, arming left tackle Jonah Williams with more moves to enhance what he says is an already impressive "tool box," and planning to change some of center Billy Price's techniques while continuing to have confidence in his first-round pick from three years ago.

"In my opinion," Pollack says, "we'll make some people proud."

Pollack is at ease taking over the most scrutinized position on the Bengals. As a guard he started four games for the 1994 Super Bowl champions 49ers, played in nine playoff games, 90 regular-season games and in his last 47 games he didn't have a holding penalty.

As coach, he came to the rescue in 2018 after the Bengals' worst rushing season in history with a resume of three straight seasons in the NFL's top ten in rushing as the Dallas offensive line coach. He helped guide Bengals running back Joe Mixon to his first 1,000-yard season on 4.9 yards per carry.

After a two-year hiatus as the Jets offensive line coach, he's back as head coach Zac Taylor's run game coordinator with only two linemen left from 2018 in Price and fellow center Trey Hopkins.

That's the kind of turnover that doesn't impress Pollack in the least.

"That's the NFL. It's never the same. I learned that a long time ago. It doesn't matter who you are," says Pollack, part of a rather celebrated change in San Francisco. "When they moved out Joe Montana to Kansas City, I was thinking, 'If they can do that to Joe Montana, they're going to do that to me.' It's a business. Learn how to deal with it and move on."

The business at hand is integrating three drafted linemen into a rebuilding line recovering from a rough season it lost its rookie quarterback on a season-ending sack. Quarterback Joe Burrow got hit an average of eight times a game in his first nine weeks, but this Opening Day offensive line won't be that Opening Day offensive line.

Free-agent right tackle Riley Reiff replaces Bobby Hart. Carman figures to make a rookie Opening Day start at right guard. Price may be starting at center in the late stages of Hopkins' ACL rehab. Left guard is shaping up to be a free for all with incumbent Xavier Su'a-Filo taking on veterans Hakeem Adeniji, Michael Jordan and Quinton Spain. Jonah Williams may be the only returning Opening Day starter.

"He's a guy that we identified early and really liked," Pollack said of Carman. "Intelligent player. Obviously he competed at a high level at Clemson. He knows what a winning program looks like. He's good-sized, athletic, he can move. I expect those traits to develop.

"We like him at guard to start to compete and he's got the potential to swing out to tackle if and when we need it. That may be the case. He's a pretty good position flex, but right now let's start him out at guard."

All three draft picks, Carman, fourth-round tackle D'Ante Smith out of East Carolina and Georgia center Trey Hill, a semi nod to the Hopkins' injury in the sixth round, figure to make the roster. With Smith projected as a developing fourth tackle getting ready for 2022 with added weight, you can already see the tight squeeze and the fact they may have to keep ten linemen instead of the usual nine.

"(Smith has) outstanding length, 35-inch plus arms," Pollack said. "He shows great play demeanor on the field. He likes to finish. He brings that good, nasty disposition. He competed at the Senior Bowl mainly at guard, but he's more of a tackle. He showed his position flex. A real bright kid with a good football IQ.

"(Hill) played center at Georgia but he's big enough to play guard. He had great production in the SEC, by far the No. 1 college conference."

Now's a good time for a reminder on what they're facing with Pollack.

Last month Hopkins recalled, "It's a grind throughout the year. It's not like just because it's week five you're going to slow down because it's the season. Pretty much the majority of the year we were doing the same stuff we started with in camp. It makes the games easier."

During the 2018 training camp former running back Giovani Bernard observed for, "I think the biggest thing is the urgency of the offensive line. When they pick up speed or it goes a little bit faster, it forces the running backs to go a little bit faster as well. So we're all just playing with a little more urgency."

And Pollack gives a little synopsis of the upcoming grind: "We've got a lot of good players still developing. I can't wait to get them out on the grass and teaching guys different techniques that may be they haven't been exposed to the last two years."

He's looking forward to getting his hands on Jonah Williams, the left tackle that has played just 10 games since they took him with the 11th pick in 2019.

"Really, last year was his rookie year. It's always a learning curve for every rookie," Pollack said. "I'm real excited about teaching him some new things that he can add to his tool box. He's a smart player. He's very technique aware. He takes pride in being a technician. He's got great feet, great balance. He can use his hands independently. He's got a lot of tools to work with. His better day are ahead. Nothing but up for Jonah Williams."

Pollack also has high regard for Price, the first-round pick when he was here. Since then, Price lost his job to Hopkins but he's certainly the center heading into training camp as Hopkins gets healthy.

"I've got confidence in Billy. He should have confidence in himself and he'll continue to grow and get better and develop as a player," Pollack said. "Billy's a strong player. He's still a young player developing. He'll be changing some things as far as those techniques of what we're going to ask him to do. He's shown he can bump out and play guard if needed, but I think ultimately he's a guy that is a center-guard type of guy and can play in this league. He's proven that."

As for the roster of guards, it's intriguing. Young, promising big men who have flashed enormous talent but whose confidence has also been bounced around early in their careers in Adeniji and Jordan. Salty, seasoned veterans in Su-a'Filo and Spain.

"They all bring something unique to the table," Pollack said. "And they're quality guys who I get to develop and make better and see where we are to give us the best five."

Not only is the personnel different. But what they're doing is also going to be new. Pollack says his run game isn't going to be shockingly differently in Taylor's offense than it is was in Bill Lazor's scheme in 2018, when Pollack hauled the run game ten spots in the league rankings from 31-21. A leap like that from last year's No. 24 would be nice. Since Pollack left, Mixon is averaging a yard fewer per carry at 3.9.

"Here's the secret to the NFL running game," Pollack says. "Everybody runs the same tuff. Everybody runs the wide zone scheme, the tight zone scheme, the perimeter runs. Everybody runs gap schemes. Everybody runs traps and draws. Everyone."

But, he does allow there are three differences.

 "No. 1, some of the techniques you teach," Pollack said. "No. 2, what do you want to emphasize and No. 3, how do you want to attack your opponent. You can't do it all. It's impossible to do it all and master it. You have to do what's best for your personnel and master it and execute it. They had a great system here. They have a great system here now. We've added a few things, we've dropped a few things that we feel best fits us. That's what our run game is going to look like."

It may sound nuanced. But the results aren't if it comes out the way they want.

"Make the defense adjust to us with an attacking style," is how Pollack wants the run game and his linemen to work on a blank slate.