Bengals offensive linemen ‘making each other better’ in battle for starting jobs

Cincinnati Bengals' offensive line coach Frank Pollack yells to his team as they participate in a drill during NFL football practice in Cincinnati, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Caption
Cincinnati Bengals' offensive line coach Frank Pollack yells to his team as they participate in a drill during NFL football practice in Cincinnati, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals guard Michael Jordan said the return trip to Washington D.C. this week is just “another opportunity to get better and fix last season’s mistakes.”

But it’s not lost on the Bengals what happened the last time they played the Washington Football Team. It was the Week 11 game last year when Jordan and two defenders fell back on quarterback Joe Burrow’s planted leg as he threw an incomplete pass and tore his ACL and MCL.

It was an accident just waiting to happen as the Bengals struggled all year to protect their No. 1 overall draft pick in the pocket. Jordan no doubt wants to move on from that particular moment, but as Burrow continues to work back, on track for a Week 1 return to action, the offensive line still remembers its shortcomings.

The Bengals travel to Washington for their second preseason game Friday with that in mind.

“When your quarterback, your franchise quarterback, gets hurt, I think the only mindset you can have is ‘We can’t allow this to happen again,’” backup right tackle Fred Johnson said Monday. “It’s as simple as that. You’re supposed to protect the quarterback at all costs. When something like that happens, it makes the whole room feel (crappy), for a lack of a better term – sad, a little bit of upset like each person could have did something a little better. This year, I think our mindset is protect everybody at all costs – running backs, receivers, run to the ball, help everybody up, don’t let anyone get bullied or get swarmed by defensive players. Keep improving and attack each play.”

Johnson said players are better about finishing their blocks and playing through the whistle this training camp, and he believes that is a “testament to remembering what happened last year.”

The Bengals still haven’t gotten that taste out of their mouths.

“It still lingers,” Johnson said. “Joe still has the scar on his knee. I mean, I see it every day. I wasn’t even playing that day. It’s just something in the back of our minds. We can’t allow this to occur again. He’s putting a lot of trust in us, we have to have him, let him have his faith and confidence in this o-line.”

All eyes are on the offensive line this year, after the Bengals ranked 28th with 48 sacks allowed in 2020. The organization passed up on a chance to address that in the first round of the draft, taking standout receiver Ja’Marr Chase fifth overall instead, and now second-round pick Jackson Carman is trying to work his way up the depth chart from a third-string spot.

Veteran free agent signee Riley Reiff is expected to shore up the right side of the line at tackle, but the guard positions are the biggest battles in camp. Quinton Spain seems a near lock for the left guard job that Jordan held for large chunks of his first two seasons, but there is competition at right guard with Xavier Su’a-Filo, Jordan and Carman competing. And rookie D’Ante Smith seems to be earning more opportunities as well, currently from the second-string left guard spot.

“They’ve done a nice job,” offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said Monday. “The competition is bringing out the best of those guys inside, between Mike Jordan and Xavier and Quinton. The two veteran guys, the competition makes them go a little bit, more than some veterans do. So it’s pushing them to get better. And Mike Jordan has done a nice job of really trying to improve his game. And then it makes it hard on the young guys coming in with D’Ante and Jackson trying to earn a spot. There’s a lot of competition in the interior of our line.

“…I think we’re going to come out of there with an interior that we feel good about and those guys are competing and making each other better. I’m happy with the progress we’ve made. I think we’re better now than we were this time a year ago. But they’ve got to continue to get better because we’re not nearly where we need to be. But we’ve got time to get there.”

Jordan has been listed as the starting right guard in the first two depth charts released by the team, and he got the start Saturday in the team’s 19-14 win at Tampa Bay to open the preseason slate.

The former Ohio State University center/guard said he hasn’t played on the right side of the ball since high school but he came into camp ready to do anything to earn a job. Offensive line coach Frank Pollack is looking for the “five nastiest guys” to play on the line, according to Jordan, who remains confident he can win a job despite his ups and downs the past two years.

“My confidence hasn’t really changed,” Jordan said. “It’s always up. It’s a mean stain and it can’t wipe off.”

FRIDAY’S GAME

Cincinnati at Washington, 8 p.m., Ch. 12 (CBS, Cincinnati), Ch. 22 (ABC, Dayton), 1530, 102.7, 104.7