Head coach Zac Taylor's weekend appointment of Frank Pollack as his offensive line coach/run game coordinator is a significant hire for a host of reasons as the Bengals spent Monday meeting on how they plan to scout the Senior Bowl at the end of the month.
It marks the biggest change the play caller has made to his playbook since Taylor arrived two seasons ago. In a move as wide reaching as Pollack's signature wide zone, Taylor displayed a fresh, bold approach to improving the offense when he reached out beyond his staff and turned to a coach that was on the staff he replaced after the 2018 season.
He also gave Pollack a title in the kitchen cabinet of Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan that cooks up game plans, although Pollack said in his Monday Zoom with the Cincinnati media that the run game is at the heart of any NFL offensive line coach's job description.
"It's the first time I've had that title. Most O-line coaches kind of play that role across the league. It is what it is. It's just a title," Pollack said. "It's not going to change, in my view, what I do, what I have been doing everywhere I have been for the most part. There always have some little nuances with every staff in how that rolls out throughout the week but it was nice that was something they added."
From the locker room all the way up to the radio booth, the Pollack add is a popular move throughout the organization. Even in Adam Knollman's equipment room, despite Pollack deploying numerous contraptions in practice for his linemen to get more work.
"He's not a guy that is going to say that one size fits all," said long-time Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, the club's Super Bowl guard who studied Pollack during the one season he spent as the Bengals line coach in 2018.
"He played. He knows everybody is not the same. Each guy has a different body type. He does a real good job adjusting technique. I don't think there'll be a huge overhaul, but I think he'll put in some of his own stuff, that's for sure."
The Bengals have struggled for consistency running the ball the last two seasons with and without two-time 1,000-yard rusher Joe Mixon.
In 2019, the Bengals were at the bottom of NFL rushing for the first half of the season before shooting to sixth over the last half. This past season, before Mixon suffered a season-ending foot injury in the sixth game, he was averaging 3.6 yards per carry before the team finished the year 27th in the league at 4.1.
Center Billy Price, the Bengals' first-round pick the year Pollack coached him, doesn't see different plays, but a different approach.
"Every NFL team has the same menu of run plays," said Price, an enthusiastic Pollack supporter from day one. "A wide zone. Inside zone. Counter. Power. The biggest difference Coach Pollack brings is the technical aspect of understanding it and to execute it. He's got very high expectations for us in the room and we need to elevate ourselves to his standard and rise above that standard."
Pollack, 53, played 90 games on the line in the NFL of the '90s and won a Super Bowl with teams that had effective West Coast run schemes. He has honed his own philosophy playing and coaching under run game gurus such as Bill Callahan, Gary Kubiak and Alex Gibbs while coaching successful run games himself as the offensive line coach for the perennial top ten rushing Cowboys during his three seasons in Dallas.
"The way I teach and my philosophy is you really have to master the mundane," Pollack said. "You've got to find a few things, master them, own those and the adjustments off of those and not really be a jack of all trades. There are plenty of schemes out there and plenty of ways to skin a cat, but you can't do them all."
Jim McNally, a guru himself who has been the Bengals offensive line consultant and worked with Pollack in 2018, is impressed with his range in his return after coaching the Jets offensive line.
"Frank is good coach with a lot of experience," McNally said. "Now you look at it and he comes back with two more years of experience."
Pollack's belief in the wide zone, a run play that targets the area outside the tackles, summarizes his philosophy and plays to the strengths of Mixon.
"It's a stretch run that allows you to take advantage of the defense and makes them wrong. They can never be right if you are doing it the correct way," Pollack said. "It's something that really allows you to have more margin for error. The back can make the line or a linemen correct and vice versa. I think it adds a little more flexibility in that regard and it promotes the unit to play better.
"If you've got talent it just makes it that much better and more efficient. It's a forgiving scheme for lack of a better term and it allows you to come off the ball and strike. It's a physical run game. Some people might consider it a passive or lateral run game, but it's on a downhill angle and we're getting after people."
The Bengals ran the zone this past season, but most of them were inside zones through the guards. If you're looking for a difference, you'll see more of the wide stuff in 2021.
"Every offensive line coach across the league has an emphasis on that," Price said. "That's what you see all great teams have in their pocket to run the wide zone efficiently. With a great running back like Joe Mixon, it makes it very fun to do that. You give him cut-back lanes. You saw what he did in 2018 with us and Coach Pollack. It makes it fun."
In '18, with the Bengals tossing it to him near the edge and stretching runs, Mixon gobbled up 4.9 yards per while becoming the first Bengal to win the AFC rushing title with a career-best 1,168 yards.
And he made big dents in divisional games. In a win over Baltimore, he averaged four yards per his 21 carries and in the finale with backup Jeff Driskel at quarterback, he racked up their fourth 100-yard game of the century against the Steelers with 105 yards on 13 carries.
Mixon, who led the charge to re-hire Pollack, became close with him in 2018 because getting the tracks of the linemen and the back synced up are musts in executing the wide zone. So they spent a lot of time together.
"The big thing Frank wants is for his guys to get off the ball hard," Lapham said. "He's not losing ground or going lateral. He's going downhill with his wide zone. He wants aggressiveness. He doesn't want guys to worry about 'If they do this, we do that.' Just get off the ball and apply your rules.
"Joe Mixon did a good job with it. Joe read it out … The stretch play, the wide zone, it spreads people out. You've got a better chance finding a crease, or running somebody past a gap they're supposed to control and Joe can cut it back. You've got three or four places you can hit it."
Pollack is no stranger to Taylor and Callahan. Pollack and Taylor both played in college for the father of Brian Callahan, Bill, and Pollack worked under Taylor's father-in-law when Mike Sherman was the Texans offensive coordinator the season Pollack broke into NFL coaching.
"One of the little phrases I have in my room is let the coaches play chess on Monday and Tuesday night and I want you players playing checkers," Pollack said. "There is more than one way to skin a cat in the wide zone system. It's flexible. It presents a multitude of looks to the defense, but the offense at the end of the day is really running the same thing over and over. It's kind of grown in that regard as far as personnel groupings and what you can put on it from a window dressing standpoint.
"The jet sweep actions off of it has opened up a whole other avenue to take it and grow with and add complements. It's really runs off of runs or plays off of plays. It's really complementing the passing game from a play-action standpoint."
Which of course fits into what Taylor and Callahan have crafted since they've arrived as they build a reversible playbook. Note the 27-17 win over the Steelers last month when they threw just 13 passes.
"He's got flexibility and he's open-minded on what we need to do schematically. It's not just wide zone," Pollack said. "There are some other areas that might complement our personnel better than we need to spend more time emphasizing on and majoring in and then just how I fit in that big picture and how I can be part of the solution going forward. I like hearing what he had to say about all those."
Price is one of just four linemen left who worked under Pollack in 2018 along with center Trey Hopkins, right guard Alex Redmond and right tackle Bobby Hart. But he doesn't see a long adjustment period and believes they have the type of linemen fitting what Pollack wants done.
"Players always have to adjust to a new coach," Price said. "But I think with the standard and the leaders we have in that room, Trey, Bobby, Xavier (Su'a-Filo), we'll get guys up to speed very quickly. There are guys that play multiple spots and are very physical and there's not a dull bulb in the room. Guys are smart. They understand how to execute.
"This is going to be fun."