Spain sees a big difference in the offensive line this year and attributes part of that to his push to do more bonding as a group outside of work.
When Spain arrived last year, he was surprised to find the guys weren’t really hanging out once they left Paul Brown Stadium for the day. He understood COVID-19 might have impacted that, but he thought players could have at least met for dinner at each other’s houses. He said he asked center Trey Hopkins why he wouldn’t want to do more of those things, and this year, Hopkins agreed it was a good idea.
“It started from then,” Spain said. “It started clicking ever since. I’m like, how am I supposed to trust you and can’t even hang outside of football? I understand it’s work, but what we do outside of work, it’s a bond.”
“It was a big difference from last year. We hang out and do O-Line dinners and talk about stuff. We all have been the same family wise, so we can all play on the field together. I know that Trey, Jonah (Williams), they’ll have my back. If there’s something in the B gap, they’ll be right there for me. It’s chemistry.”
Spain said the linemen go to dinner every Thursday and they each get to take a turn picking the restaurant and picking up the tab. Right tackle Riley Reiff was the first to choose and picked Jeff Ruby’s. Spain took the group to Ruth Chris’ Steakhouse.
This week it was Fred Johnson’s turn. The players inform the restaurant a week in advance that they will be coming – linemen aren’t easy groups to feed.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said he can see a difference in the offensive line chemistry and the correlation to the unit’s improved performances this season.
“All the great lines I have been around have been that way,” Taylor said. “They spend a lot of time with each other. They have the weekly dinners. There is a culture within the culture there in that O-line room. It’s something I have been around my whole life, Frank has done a great job with that. I hear it firsthand because I share a wall with that room, so I hear it over the course of the week whether I like it or not. We’ve always had good leadership in there. That’s one of the things Riley has done a great job kind of coming in and pushing over the top. You had good veterans, Xavier, Q, Trey Hopkins and Jonah is in his third year now he’s really playing ball. You get that 10-plus year vet like Riley who is in there and pushes the whole thing right along piggybacking off what some of the other guys had already been establishing. We have a lot of young, impressionable rookies, too, we had to bring in the mix. They were right there and you could kind of form them the direction you think it needs to go from a culture standpoint. I have been really proud of how that room has evolved over the course of the season and it does show with some of the synergy they have in that room.”
Spain was one of the veterans who spoke to rookie right guard Jackson Carman this summer to give him advice about how to work and prepare in the NFL. Spain saw how Carman was struggling at first after coming in overweight and decided to try to push him along – like he wished someone would have done for him.
As an undrafted player, Spain found it difficult to transition as well but knew he had to earn his way. The Bengals have more invested into Carman as a second round pick, but Spain didn’t want to see him squander his opportunity.
“I told him, bro, this is not college,” Spain said. “This is the business side of things and at the end of the day if you’re not doing your job you’re going to be out of here. I told him: ‘Block the outside and focus on you and worry about you. At the end of the day it’s about you, not anybody else outside of football. It’s about you. Because they see you as a football player, so if you’re not doing your job, what are they going to see if you’re not going to be here?’ I just had a one-on-one talk with him and just get his mind right. Ever since then Jackson’s been coming to work and doing his job.”
Carman and Spain both will need to be ready for the Jets. Defensive tackles Quinnen Wiliams and John Franklin-Myers account for 6.5 of the team’s 14 sacks, and the Bengals don’t want to overlook them just because of the Jets’ early struggles.
Bengals at Jets, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7