The return of left tackle Jonah Williams has Bengaldom buzzing about having two first-round picks when the season opens and that includes Hall-of-Famer Anthony Munoz, the greatest left tackle who ever lived during a Bengals career that began 40 years ago.
"They're young, but I'm excited about that," says Munoz, who is also thinking about sophomore left guard Michael Jordan. "You'll go through some growing pains, but I think eventually you're going to be pretty good over there."
All eyes, of course, are on this season's overall No. 1 draft pick, Joe Burrow, who not only means so much as LSU's record-breaking quarterback but also as the first Ohio-bred quarterback to start a Bengals opener in more than 50 years.
Then there is Williams, the first tackle taken in the 2019 draft with the 11th pick who lost last year to injury, and if you've forgotten why the Bengals took him, offensive line coach Jim Turner hasn't.
"I feel as good about Jonah Williams as I did the day we drafted him," says Turner of his first draft choice as the Bengals line coach. "Just the character he brings. The work ethic. We're 180 degrees from where we were last year there."
Williams still has yet to take an NFL snap, but even that day he arrived (now more than a year ago, if possible) he carried himself like a 10-year vet and life-long perfectionist. He still does. His meticulous weekly preparations were SEC legend by the time he was drafted. So he knows he's not going to be able to make his debut stage left while Burrow takes the spotlight.
"Everybody is going to be watching me if I hinder him from doing his job," Williams says. "I don't take any pressure off myself. I think it's exciting. We obviously had a very active free agency and picking up Joe and the other great players in the draft. There's a lot of excitement, a lot of new blood and a lot of new energy with a new, young coaching staff. It's exciting to be a part of it. It's cool to feel a part of it.
"It sucked. I was upset I couldn't contribute last year. But it feels good to be part of this new infusion."
Williams, out of Alabama, knows all about Burrow.
"He's obviously a great player. Watching what he did in college last year was remarkable," Williams says. "It seems like he brings a good energy and confidence and all that. It's exciting. All the new faces and fresh blood and making a lot of changes, it makes it looking up."
Remember now? This is why the Bengals took Williams No. 1 and were so devastated when he injured his shoulder in a spring practice and was basically done when he underwent surgery. He returned for practice in December, but it still says zero games played on Pro Football Reference.
"He's not your typical rookie," Turner says. "He knows the offense backwards and forwards. It's like getting a guy after he has a mega minicamp."
And Williams is thinking the same thing. As advertised during his career in Tuscaloosa, he's showing up in the Zoom meetings with his notebook and ready for Turner's questions about the calls or which techniques to employ on what blocks.
(This, by the way, doesn't happen very often. According to Elias, the last time a rookie quarterback lined up with a rookie left tackle on Opening Day is 2015 with Tampa Bay's Jameis Winston, another overall No. 1 pick, and second-rounder Donovan Smith, although Williams technically isn't a rookie but it is his NFL debut.)
"My goal," Williams says, "is not to play or feel like a rookie when I go out there. If I can take little bits of information and kind of become experienced vicariously, that's the best way for me to be prepared."
Remember now? This is why the Bengals took Williams No. 1. He's vacuuming up those bits and pieces while working out in San Diego with Joe Staley, the six-time Pro Bowl left tackle for the 49ers.
Staley recently retired after 181 games, but he's meeting Williams twice a week to go through drills and Williams thinks it's a terrific match. Staley not only found a way to play 13 seasons after being a first-rounder himself, he did it with a style that looks familiar.
"It's a huge benefit for me. Joe's a guy I like to model my game after," Williams says. "Joe's extremely athletic but he's also extremely technical and a very smart player. That's kind of the tact I like to take. Just being the most prepared guy out there. There's a lot of nuggets out there that I can take from him and be able to combine them with Coach Turner's coaching and then hear it from Joe.
'"This is what you have to be wary of when you do this,' or anything he tells me he's probably experienced in a game 100 times."
The elephant in the room is the inability to sync up his footwork with Michael Jordan on the left side or communicate with center Trey Hopkins before the snap or even attack a bag as assistant offensive line coach Ben Martin barks him through the technique.
But remember now? This is why the Bengals took Williams No. 1.
"It's early. It's kind of this OTA vibe where we're installing the offense, installing basic techniques we use. Assuming everything goes normally with training camp and hopefully we get a little bit of time back before then, I don't see it being a huge issue, assuming guys are all working out and doing what they can and from all I know they are.
"Honestly, there's a lot you can learn watching tape and learning guys' tendencies … You can kind of learn and put myself in the film and see how I would work together with these people. It's not the same as being out there on the field, but I don't think we can just sit back and not try."
Munoz never faced a pandemic, but he did play in two strike seasons. He barely missed any time racking up 185 games in his 13 seasons, but he missed nearly his entire senior season at USC with a knee injury. He can certainly offer advice.
"He's had a full year in the system. He knows the system. That's an advantage. He's not coming in cold," says Munoz, who has yet to meet Williams. "He's in unchartered waters, no question. From what I hear he's got an unbelievable work ethic. My advice is, 'It's your spot. Get after it like you were there last year. Continue with that work ethic. Believe in your technique.'"
Munoz is on the same page with the pressure. Turner knows it's coming. In fact, he has told Williams (and maybe he's kind of not joking) not to read anything or listen to what anybody says.
Munoz, the third overall pick in 1980, knows pressure up front. He also arrived amid a massive transition. It was future guru Jim McNally's first season coaching an NFL offensive line, when he moved a second-year tackle named Max Montoya to right guard and they were trying to keep quarterback Ken Anderson upright after two seasons he had been sacked a total of 76 pummelings.
The club's pre-season TV analyst and a frequent media subject, Munoz knows there's no way Williams can avoid the attention given the fugitive-like scrutiny the line endured this offseason.
"I never looked at it as pressure. I looked at it as my job," Munoz says. "I wanted to over prepare and be in great shape and win the job quickly and prove they were right to have faith in me as the No. 1 pick."
Now remember? This is why the Bengals took Jonah Williams No. 1.
"I've talked about that with him," says Williams of the conversations with Turner about the approaching hype. "There's a lot of benefits to being a perfectionist and somebody who wants to do everything the right way. But I also think that can be a hindrance if you let it get to you in a negative way.
"My big thing is doing everything I can to prepare and then trusting that preparation when I got out there. I appreciate Coach Turner taking that stance on it and alleviating some of that pressure that I'm already putting on myself. When you're stressed out you don't play as well as you can. Just creating really positive muscle memory that gives you a real nice foundation to build off."