Like Joe Burrow, Jonah Williams, the Bengals' other first-round pick, is immersed in the first training camp of his career that won't have a preseason game. So that means their NFL debuts are for real.
The opener. Sept. 13 at Paul Brown Stadium. Against the Chargers.
Unlike Burrow, the first player drafted this year, Williams, the first offensive lineman drafted last year, starts off the first five days of his career with two huge individual matchups. Williams begins his run as the Bengals left tackle against two of the most dangerous pass rushers in the game, the Chargers' Joey Bosa on Sunday and then Thursday night in Cleveland against the Browns' Myles Garrett.
"I'm aware of it. I haven't really gotten into the weeds of it yet," Williams said in Monday's Zoom media call. "I'm kind of staying on the pace of the whole team as we install the offense and start to roll into it. There isn't so much game planning right now.
"I think that's kind of what you want in the NFL. That's what you expect that every week you're going to be playing a great player. Obviously, those two guys are exceptional. It's going to be a challenge, sure, but I think that's what you want. I think that's what I expected coming into this."
Williams didn't play at all last year when his rookie season was cut short by a shoulder injury during spring workouts. So, according to Elias, for the first time since 2015, when another overall No. 1 pick, Jameis Winston, teamed with Donovan Smith in Tampa Bay, a rookie quarterback is lining up with basically a rookie left tackle in the opener. Williams, technically, isn't a rookie. But it is his debut.
Williams proved tough to rattle during his high-profile career at Alabama and the lack of a preseason isn't doing it, either.
"We are not the only team not having pre-season games. Even if it's a little bit slow to start off, I think all teams are going to go through that," Williams said. "I'm not worried about not having enough reps, though. I think two weeks of padded practices, let's say the practices are two hours or so, you can get in hundreds and hundreds of reps in that amount of time. Our D-line is obviously one of the strengths of our team, so I think as an O-line we are going to be tested against the best in practice."
Former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Mike Daniels is on the verge of becoming a Bengal, according to multiple reports.
And you have to thank new Bengals linebackers coach Al Golden for what appears to be a very solid signing hinging on a physical and Covid-19 testing.
Last season, Golden was the linebackers coach in Detroit, where Daniels landed with a one-year deal for $9.1 million after being surprisingly cut by the Packers. Despite Daniels playing just 18 percent of the snaps in 2019 because of a foot injury and landing on injured reserve (arm) for the second straight season, Golden enthusiastically endorsed the 6-0, 310-pound Daniels, 31, to the Bengals brass.
Probably because Golden not only saw him up close, but he also remembers what Daniels did in Green Bay from 2016-18. He was voted Nos. 95, 84 and 93, respectively, by his peers on the NFL Top 100 Players list. After three alternate Pro Bowl berths, Daniels was tapped to replace Aaron Donald in the 2018 game.
Although Daniels has been hounded by injuries the past two seasons, before 2018 he had missed just four games in his first six seasons. The shot with the Bengals, which is probably a one-year deal with incentives, gives him a stage to prove he's still a top player.
The need for Daniels surfaced two weeks ago when they lost a pair of backup tackles in Josh Tupou (opt out) and Ryan Glasgow (knee). Glasgow, a three technique, had been limited the last two seasons with knee injuries. But Tupou, a 350-pound pure nose tackle, was arguably their best run player last year while playing 44 percent of the snaps.
In Daniels the Bengals get a back-up three technique that can hold up against the run who made a name for himself being athletically disruptive on the pass rush. He'll be spelling a Pro Bowler in Geno Atkins and a Pro Bowler-on-the-verge in D.J. Reader, a nose that can move up and down the line. Their fourth tackle would project to second-year nose Renell Wren.
A byproduct of Jonah Williams' decision to work out with former 49ers Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley this offseason in San Diego
Staley could give him a clinic on how to block the wide zone running play San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan used to torch the NFC on the way to last year's Super Bowl, a run that included 259 rush yards in a win at Paul Brown Stadium.
It's a play that Bengals running back Joe Mixon ran enough during the second half of the season to reach 1,000 yards for the second straight year. It's not lost on Williams, known for his NFL-like prep during his days at Tuscaloosa, that head coach Zac Taylor and offensive line coach Jim Turner, along with offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, needed that first half of the season to see what they had.
And, Williams says, the revamped scheme is good enough to match good talent.
"We kind of learned what we were good at, and I think in the back half of the season we found out we were a great running team," Williams said. "We have a great running back and our line blocked up really nice. We kind of changed our scheme a little bit. I think this year we are trying to maximize the things we were good at last year and kind of replace things we weren't so good at, while also adding in the things that Joe Burrow was so good at in college. It's a mix of everything. I think Coach Taylor has his base offense that he wants to run, but it feels like we are playing into our strengths really well. And I think that maybe last year we didn't know what our strengths were until we played."
And Williams, who re-tooled his 310 pounds over the offseason into the more bulked-up category, believes that power style suits him even though his strengths are viewed as quickness and agility.
"I think it fits it well. I think that's kind of the point of what Coach Turner did," Williams said. "What are we good at on the offensive line? What are our running backs goods at? A lot of it is just moving bodies and getting the ball downhill. No bells and whistles. Just what technique do we take to displace people from their gaps and move people off the ball and give Joe lanes to run. If you give him lanes he's going to make plays out there. That's what he did all of last year.
"I think that complements my game, too. Obviously at Alabama we did a lot of just hard-nosed run the ball and I like that as much as any other O-lineman."
Before Burrow (LSU) and Williams (Alabama) make that bit of history in the opener, they share some history as national champions from the SEC.
"I haven't gotten to know him super well on a personal level yet," Williams said. "But I've been really impressed with how he's handling this offense and handling the huddle. I think it's easy to say, 'Oh, this guy, he doesn't act like a rookie.' But I think he's a few notches above that. He's very comfortable. It's as if he's been here for years.
"He's very comfortable with the system. He's always kind of very engaging. Most of the receivers, running backs, tight ends and the o-line as well, just keeping an open line of communication. If he wants something about the protection, if we're seeing, 'What are you comfortable with doing?' or 'What responsibilities do you want us to control as o-line and what are you more comfortable with to give you a little bit more confidence when you're sitting back in the pocket?' So I think that's been great. Some guys wouldn't want to speak up like that."