Even though their new right side has yet to line up in team drills, the culture shift on the revamped, re-built and re-invigorated Bengals offensive line continued to dig in during Friday's training camp on the Paul Brown Stadium practice fields.
As right tackle La'el Collins vowed "offensive linemen are trained not to take crap from anybody," second-year left guard Jackson Carman is no longer hearing the refuse from last season's grueling rookie season as he settled in for a third straight practice with the ones at his new position.
"Night and day," said offensive line coach Frank Pollack of Carman's two camps. "He learned a hard lesson last year. I'm excited where he is."
Meanwhile, Pollack, who says he's looking for salty players and not bitter ones, likes the vinegar supplied by new center and de facto captain Ted Karras ("He loves the mundane") as Pollack took advantage of right guard Alex Cappa's rehab and put fourth-rounder Cordell Volson in there for the second straight day.
"I'm rotating," Pollack said. "He's getting an opportunity to rep. Everyone is getting an opportunity. Take advantage of it. Cappa is only working in individuals, so it gives (Volson) a chance to go against the ones and he's got to learn both sides. It's just part of the process. Nobody is ahead of anybody, but you have to start somewhere."
That's why Pollack rolled out Isaiah Prince at right tackle Friday a day after he put D'Ante Smith next to Volson. He's trying to find a swing tackle behind Collins and left tackle Jonah Williams and he wants to see how they work with individual guards.
The new combos and new faces have put the line in a different place from last year's various adventures. The free agents Collins and Cappa, of course, are ahead of everybody but it's unclear when they'll be working with the team.
Cappa can go in 11-on-11 at any point, but Collins first has to come off the non-football injury list (NFI) after tweaking his back away from the facility during the summer break. On Friday, Collins insisted he'll be on the practice field before the Sept. 11 opener against the Steelers.
Pollack, who coached Collins for three seasons in Dallas, is certain he'll be ready when the bell rings. He admits it's not ideal, but he's placing Collins and Cappa next to each other in film sessions and walk-throughs. Pollack knows Collins needs at least some snaps to, at the very least, knock rust off while getting work in a new scheme.
"LC is a veteran I've coached before. He does a great job in the classroom," Pollack said. "I want guys to sit next to guys they play with so they can talk and communicate on the field. We want to expedite that process. It's going to be a challenge to get going fast, but I'm confident him and Alex are veterans and they're always communicating. That's going to make that process a little smoother even though its shorter than normal."
Karras can help. A free-agent who spent all but one of his six previous seasons in New England, Karras has been careful to flex his muscles too quickly here. But quarterback Brandon Allen can already see the younger players gravitating under his wing.
"He'll be a good coach," Pollack said.
Allen shook his head before practice. He has yet to see Karras "blink," in any situation.
"I learned a lot from my first time as a center (for a new team in 2020)," Karras said of his stint with the Dolphins. "When you come into an organization that has had success, you don't want to come in like a drill sergeant. I've relied on Jonah Williams very heavily. He was the first pick of the new regime and he's been here the longest. I'm just working my way in and then adding some of my nuances. I'm just trying to get everyone one on the same page in a way that breeds confidence in the other linemen as well as the quarterback."
Williams, the 11th pick in the 2019 draft, has a big fan in Karras. "A great leader," Karras calls him, noting he's the senior Bengal in the room "and that means something."
If Karras can help Cappa and Collins ease in, then Williams can do the same for the suddenly rejuvenated Carman.
"I was impressed with how he worked in the spring on his details and technique," Pollack said. "He's got a lot of the natural athleticism you covet in a lineman. With his size and talent if can he apply the technique and athleticism together, you become an offensive lineman and he's done a great job. He's on an ascending curve. "
It will be recalled that Carman had a rocky transition from second-round-national-champion-left-tackle-who-played-hurt to a rookie guard switching sides coming off back surgery.
"I'm not making excuses," Carman said.
Not only that, he infuriated the coaches when he came in at 340 pounds. On Friday he was at 325 and saying, "I feel good … I think a year of experience has definitely helped me a lot. Just having so many reps at guard gives me lot more experience to play the position better."
But Carman is uncomfortable saying he's more comfortable.
"Everything is uncomfortable every day because it's the NFL," Carman said. "If you're comfortable, you're in the wrong place."
Just the pinch of salt Pollack seeks.
PLAYER OF THE DAY: RE Trey Hendrickson
Even though he didn't show for the spring voluntaries, Hendrickson showed Friday in his third practice back that he's still as hot as the guy who has 23 sacks in his last 25 games and coming off a Bengals-record 14 sacks. In red zone work late in the day, he had back-to-back sacks working against left tackle Jonah Williams, beating him each inside and outside. And Williams had been doing a solid job on Hendrickson until then. It took Hendrickson, who has high regard for Williams, a few days to get a bead on him.
Hendrickson, heading into his second season as a Bengal, remains a big factor in and out of the locker room. When the veteran defensive linemen showed up for work Friday, they had zero gravity chairs in front of their lockers via a gift from Hendrickson. Tight end Drew Sample appeared to start the zero gravity trend, but Hendrickson's fellow end Sam Hubbard had some fun with it,
"No," Hubbard joked. "It was Trey's idea. Don't give the tight ends any credit."
PLAY OF THE DAY: WR Mike Thomas
It was almost the biggest disaster of the day on the first pass of the team period. Thomas ran what was basically an out and up and got great separation on cornerback Mike Hilton. Quarterback Brandon Allen put it right there and Thomas caught it over his shoulder, but then their feet tangled and Hilton stepped on Thomas' foot.
After a frightening few moments in which the trainers appeared to be checking Thomas' Achilles, Thomas took a while to walk off what appears to be a bone bruise. Thomas had an inkling of going back in, but they told him to wait until Saturday. He ended the day getting some new gloves from wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase.
"He's always got all kinds of gloves. I've seen these before but never had them," said Thomas as he tried on a pair. "I've got some brand new gloves. I think I'll catch another go ball tomorrow with these."
QUOTE OF THE DAY
LG Jackson Carman on being more comfortable in his second season:
"Everything is uncomfortable every day because it's the NFL. If you're comfortable, you're in the wrong place."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Chase made two hellacious catches in the red zone that were just barely out of the end zone. On one he leaped high on the back line and snagged it, but cornerback Eli Apple and free safety Dax Hill were able to keep him from getting both feet down. A few snaps later Apple had terrific coverage on Chase slanting into the back right corner and Chase caught it in a maze of arms but couldn't get both feet down …
With Tee Higgins (shoulder) not yet ready to go in team drills and Thomas out early, some of the undrafted rookie receivers had a chance to make some plays in the red zone and did. Coastal Carolina's Jaivon Heiligh had a couple of catches, one working against second-round cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt, having a good camp by all accounts. Kansas' Kwamie Lassiter II scored a wide-open touchdown running down the seam …
After having a good day Thursday, first-year wide receiver Pooka Williams, Jr., sat out Friday with a tweak that's not expected to keep him out long …
Veteran Stanley Morgan, Jr., had a mixed bag. He made a tough touchdown catch jammed into the left corner, but he also couldn't secure a ball Allen threw behind him over the middle and Apple intercepted …
The plan had been for Evan McPherson to kick at the end of practice. But when rookie defensive end Jeffrey Gunter went down with what appeared to be an ankle injury on one of the last plays, the field goal team was scrubbed. Gunter limped off the field into the locker room …
Plenty of national scribes are expected this camp to document the defending AFC champs. On Friday two of the more estimable were here in The Athletic's Mike Sando and Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer …
PBS opens Saturday for the 2:15 p.m. "Back Together," practice …